Song of Solomon 2:1
I am the rose of Sharon, and the lily of the valleys.
The best of the best
It is a marvellous stoop for Christ, who is “God over all, blessed for ever,” and the Light of the universe, to say, “I am a rose; I am a lily.” O my blessed Lord, this is a sort of incarnation, as when the Eternal God did, take upon Himself an infant’s form! So here, the Everlasting God says, “I am”--and what comes next?--“a rose and a lily.” It is an amazing stoop, I know not how to set it forth to you by human language; it is a sort of verbal rehearsal of what He did afterwards when, though He counted it not robbery to be equal with God, “He took upon Himself the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of sinful flesh, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” “I am God, yet,” saith He, “I am the rose of Sharon, and the lily of the valleys.”
I. The exceeding delightfulness of our Lord. He compares Himself here, not as in other places to needful bread and refreshing water, but to lovely flowers, to roses and lilies. What is the use of roses and lilies? They are of no use at all except for joy and delight. With their sweet form, their charming colour, and their delicious fragrance, we are comforted and pleased and delighted; but they are not necessaries of life. You are to find in Christ roses and lilies, as well as bread and water; you have not yet seen all His beauties, and you do not yet know all His excellence.
1. And first, He is in Himself the delight of men. He speaks not of offices, gifts, works, possessions; but of Himself: “I am.” Our Lord Jesus is the best of allbeings; the dearest, sweetest, fairest and most charming of all beings that we can think of is the Son of God, our Saviour. Eyes need to be trained to see beauty. No man seeth half or a thousandth part of the beauty even of this poor, natural world; but the painter s eye--the eye of Turner, for instance--can see much more than you or I ever saw. “Oh!” said one, when he looked on one of Turner’s landscapes, “I have seen that view every day, but I never saw as much as that in it.” “No,” replied Turner, “don’t you wish you could?” And, when the Spirit of God trains and tutors the eye, it sees in Christ what it never saw before. But, even then, as Turner’s eye was not able to see all the mystery of God’s beauty in nature, so neither is the most trained and educated Christian able to perceive all the matchless beauty that there is in Christ.
2. But next, our Lord is exceedingly delightful to the eye of faith. He not only tells us of what delight is in Himself--“I am the rose, and I am the lily”--but He thereby tells us that there is something to see in Him, for the rose is very pleasing to look upon. Is there a more beautiful sight than a rose that is in bud, or even one that is full-blown? And the lily--what a charming thing it is! It seems to be more a flower of heaven than of earth. Well now, Christ is delightful to the eye of faith. To you who look at Christ by faith, a sight of Him brings such peace, such rest, such hope, as no other sight can ever afford; it so sweetens everything, so entirely takes away the bitterness of life, and brings us to anticipate the glory of the life that is to come, that I am sure you say, “Yes, yes; the figure in the text is quite correct; there is a beauty in Jesus to the eye of faith, He is indeed red as the rose and white as the lily.”
3. And next, the Lord Jesus Christ is delightful in the savour which comes from Him to us. There is a spiritual way of perceiving the savour of Christ; I cannot explain it to you, but there is an ineffable mysterious sweetness that proceeds from Him which touches the spiritual senses, and affords supreme delight; and as the body has its nose, and its tender nerves that can appreciate sweet odours, so the soul has its spiritual nostril by which, though Christ be at a distance, it yet can perceive the flagrant emanations that come from Him, and is delighted therewith.
4. Once more, in all that He is, Christ is the choicest of the choice. You notice the Bridegroom says, “I am the rose.” Yes, but there were some particularly beautiful roses that grew in the valley of Sharon; “I am that rose, said tie. And there were some delightful lilies in Palestine; it is a land of lilies, there, are so many of them that nobody knows which lily Christ meant, and it does not at all signify, for almost all lilies are wondrously beautiful. “But,” said He, “I am the lily of the valleys,” the choicest kind of lily that grew where the soil was fat and damp with the overflow of mountain streams. “I am the lily of the valleys: that is to say, Christ is not only good, but He is the best; and He is not only the best, but He is the best of the best.
II. The sweet variety of Christ’s delightfulness. He is not only full of joy, and pleasure, and delight to our hearts, but He is full of all sorts of joy, and all sorts of pleasure, and all sorts of delights to us. The rose is not enough, you must have the lily also, and the two together fall far short of the glories of Christ, the true “Plant of renown.” “I am the rose.” That is the emblem of majesty. The rose is the very queen of flowers; in the judgment of all who know what to admire it is enthroned above all the rest of the beauties of the garden. But the lily--what is that? That is the emblem of love. The psalmist hints at this in the title of the forty-fifth psalm. “Upon Shoshannim, a Song of love. Shoshannim signifies lilies, so the lily-psalm is the love-song, for the lilies, with their beauty, their purity, their delicacy, are a very choice emblem of love. Are you not delighted when you put these two things together, majesty and love? A King upon a throne of love, a Prince, whose very eyes beam with love to those who put their trust in Him, a real Head, united by living bonds of love to all His members--such is our dear Lord and Saviour. The combination of these sweet flowers also suggests our Lord’s suffering and purity. Jesus when on earth, could say, “The prince of this world cometh, and Lath nothing in Me.” The devil himself could not see a spot or speck in that lovely lily. Jesus Christ is perfection itself, He is all purity; so you must put the two together, the rose and the lily, to show Christ’s suffering and perfection, the infinitely pure and infinitely suffering. In which of the two do you take the greater delight? Surely, in neither, but in the combination of both; what would be the value of Christ’s sufferings if He were not perfect? And of what avail would His perfections be if He had not died, the Just for the unjust, to bring us to God? But the two together, the rose and the lily, suffering and purity, fill us with delight. Of both of these there is a great variety. Jesus possesses every kind of beauty and fragrance. “He is all my salvation, and all my desire.” All good things meet in Christ; in Him all the lines of beauty are focussed. Blessed are they who truly know Him. Further, Christ is the very essence of the sweetness both of the rose and of the lily. When He says, “I am the rose,” He means, not only that He is like the rose, but that He made all the sweetness there is in the rose, and it is still in Him; and all the sweetness there is in any creature comes to us from Christ, or else it is not sweetness such as we ought to love. All good for our soul comes from Him, whether it be pardon of sin, or justification, or the sanctification that makes us fit for glory hereafter, Christ is the source of it all; and in the infinite variety of delights that we get from Him, He is Himself the essence of it all.
III. The exceeding freeness of our Lord’s delightfulness. I have been talking about my Master, and I want to show you that He is accessible, He is meant to be plucked and enjoyed as roses and lilies are. He says in the text, “I am the rose of Sharon.” What was Sharon? It was an open plain where anybody might wander, and where even cattle roamed at their own sweet will. Jesus is not like a rose in Solomon’s garden, shut up within high walls, with broken glass all along the top. Oh, no! He says, “I am the rose of Sharon,” everybody’s rose, the flower for the common people to come and gather. “I am the lily.” What lily? The lily of the palace of Shushan, enclosed and guarded from all approach? No; but, “I am the lily of the valleys,” found in this glen, or the other ravine, growing here, there and everywhere: “I am the lily of the valleys.” Then Christ is as abundant as a common flower. Whatever kind of rose it was, it was a common rose; whatever kind of lily it was, it was a well-known lily that grew freely in the valleys of that land. Oh, blessed be my Master’s name, He has brought us a common salvation, and He is the common people’s Christ I And now, poor soul, if you would like an apronful of roses, come and have them. If you would like to carry away a big handful of the lilies of the valleys, come and take them, as many as you will. May the Lord give you the will! Even to those who do not pluck any, there is one strange thing that must not be forgotten. A man passes by a rose-bush, and says, “I cannot stop to think about roses,” but as he goes along he exclaims, “Dear, dear, what a delicious perfume!” A man journeying in the East goes through a field that is full of lilies; he is in a great hurry, but, for all that, he cannot help seeing and smelling the lilies as he rushes through the field. And, do you know, the perfume of Christ has life in it I He is “a savour of life unto life.” What does that mean but that the smell of Him will save? (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The best flower
We find flowers of some kind or other growing everywhere. They spring up in the sandy desert. On the tops of bleak and snow-capped mountains, where even trees will not grow, the little flowers may be seen. Travellers who have gone near the North Pole, where ice and snow last all the year, have been surprised to find in some places red snow. And when they came to examine it with a microscope, they were still more surprised to find that the colour of it was owing to an exceedingly small kind of plant, bearing a flower too little for the naked eye to see. But among all the multitude of flowers which grow on the earth, there is none like this which Solomon speaks of in the verse before us. “I am the Rose of Sharon.” This, we suppose, refers to Jesus. He is the “Rose of Sharon.” Sharon was the name of a large plain, or level tract of country in Palestine, famous for the number of flowers which grew there. And if we consider this “Rose of Sharon” as referring to our blessed Saviour, then we may well say that this Rose is the best flower.
I. Because it will grow everywhere. This flower does not grow in the ground like other flowers. You must not look for it in the beds of the garden; nor in the fields, the valleys or the mountains. The soil in which it grows is the human heart. And when any person learns to love and serve Jesus, and is made happy by Him, then we may say that the “Rose of Sharon” is growing in that person’s heart. This flower is sometimes found growing in the hearts of very young people. And the old as well as the young--the poor as well as the rich, may have it if they will. It is growing now in the hearts of people in all the different nations of the earth. John Williams, the martyr-missionary of Erromanga, planted it in the sunny islands of the South Seas. Robert Moffat planted it far up into the southern part of Africa; and other missionaries are planting it all along the western coast. Dr. Livingstone carried it into the very centre of Africa, from the East. The great wall of separation, which kept the missionaries so long out of China, has been thrown down, and now all that vast country is waiting to receive the Gospel. The servants of Jesus are going about over the burning plains of India, and planting this best flower there. The heat is dreadful there sometimes, but still it is not too hot a climate for the “Rose of Sharon” to grow and flourish in. The Moravian missionaries have carried it to Greenland’s ice-bound shores; and that climate, even, is not too cold for it. For above a hundred years it has been blooming sweetly there. And now, this very day, it is growing and flourishing equally well in all these different countries. Oh, what a wonderful flower this is! There is no other like it in all the earth.
II. Because of its many uses.
1. It is beautiful to look at. When Jesus was on earth, most people saw no beauty in Him, that they should desire Him. But those who learn to know and love Him, find Him to be “the chief among ten thousand, and altogether lovely.” The greatest happiness of heaven will be to “see His face.” There is nothing in all the world half so beautiful as the sight of Jesus will be in heaven.
2. It is useful for its fragrance, as well as for its beauty. Every one knows how sweet it is to smell a beautiful rose. And we read in the Bible, that the name of Jesus is “as ointment poured forth.” This means, that it is just as pleasant to the souls of those who love Jesus to think about Him, as it is to their bodily senses to smell the sweetest flower, or the most fragrant ointment.
3. The “Rose of Sharon” bears fruit as well as flowers, and its fruit is wholesome and pleasant. It is made to be eaten, as well as looked at, and its “fruit is sweet to the taste” of those who partake of it.
4. The “Rose of Sharon” yields pure water to drink, as well as food to eat. There is a singular plant in the East Indies called “the pitcher-plant.” It has leaves, or flowers, in the form of small pitchers. Each pitcher has a lid to it, and at certain seasons these pitchers are filled with a sweet, pleasant liquid, which is very good to drink. The “Rose of Sharon” is a pitcher-plant. It is full of pitchers. These are not only always full, but they never can be emptied. The water of salvation flows into them as fast as it is taken out. And oh, it is delightful water! It is cool, clear and refreshing.
5. The “Rose of Sharon” is good for medicine, as well as for food and drink. When Jesus, who is this “Rose of Sharon,” was on earth, He opened the eyes of the blind; He unstopped the ears of the deaf; He made the lame to walk, and went about “healing all manner of sickness and disease among the people.” Then, He cured all kinds of bodily diseases. Now, He cures all kinds of spiritual diseases.
6. The “Rose of Sharon” is good for clothing. This is a very singular use to make of a flower. We often hear of people making wreaths of flowers to ornament or dress the head with. But no one ever heard of an earthly flower that was good to make clothing off The “Rose of Sharon,” however, is good for clothing. We read in the Bible about “garments of salvation”--about “robes washed and made white in the blood of the Lamb”--about “clothing of wrought gold--all-glorious within.” These all refer to that righteousness of Jesus, which He puts upon all His people as the dress they are to wear in heaven. Oh, the clothing which is made out of the “Rose of Sharon” is very beautiful! It is so in God’s sight. There never was any like it.
7. And then the “Rose of Sharon” is good to make people rich. Nobody ever thinks of feeling rich because he has a rose. Why, you may have a bunch of roses; yes, a whole garden of roses, and yet not be very rich. Sometimes we hear of a king making a present of a golden rose to one of his friends. Yet that would not make him rich. But every one who has the “Rose of Sharon” is rich. Nobody can tell how rich Christ makes His people. “They shall inherit all things.” What more could they have?
III. Because it makes people happy when nothing else can. What a dreadful thing it must be on board a burning ship, far off on the ocean! We all heard about that dreadful calamity--the burning of the steamer “Austria. She was full of passengers. The fire spread almost like lightning. Could anything make persons calm and happy on board that burning vessel? Yes, there were some there who loved Jesus, who had the “Rose of Sharon with them and that made them happy.
IV. Because it never fades. Its beauty never decays. Its leaves never fall off. Winter never comes in heaven. The flowers are blooming all the time there. And chief among them is this beautiful “Rose of Sharon.” Ah! my dear children, if you want to love one who never dies and never changes, then love Jesus. He is the “Rose of Sharon,” and this is the best flower, because it never fades.
V. Because its beauty is always increasing. There never was another flower known of which this could be said. You take a small rose-bud and look at it. How beautiful it is! As it grows larger its beauty increases. Every day it swells to a greater size. You see more and more of its lovely crimson colour- Presently the bud begins to open. You can almost see its leaves expanding as you stand and gaze upon it. How interesting it is to watch it! Gradually it unfolds itself, till all its many leaves have opened themselves, and now it stands before you a fragrant, blushing, beautiful, full-blown rose. How sweetly it looks! Can anything in the world be more delightful? But now it’s all over! You have seen all there is about the rose worth seeing. Very soon it will wither away, and you won’t care to look at it any more. But it is very different with the “Rose of Sharon.” This will be always growing and always blooming. And its flowers will be always increasing in beauty. I do not mean that some of its flowers will die, and others, more beautiful, come out upon it. Not one of its flowers will ever die. But they will all go on increasing in beauty continually. Oh, wonderful plant! How glorious it will be, if we get to heaven to look on and to watch its increasing beauty to all eternity! (R. Newton, D. D.)
The rose and the lily
It is our Lord who speaks: “I am the Rose of Sharon.” How is it that He utters His own commendation, for it is an old and true adage, that “self-praise is no recommendation”? None but vain creatures ever praise themselves, and yet Jesus often praises Himself. How, then, shall we solve the riddle? Is not this the answer, that He is no creature at all, and therefore comes not beneath the rule? For the creature to praise itself is vanity, but for the Creator to praise Himself, for the Lord God to manifest and show forth His own glory is becoming and proper. Our Lord, when He thus praises Himself doubtless does so for an excellent reason, namely, that no one can possibly reveal Him to the sons of men but Himself. No lips can tell the love of Christ to the heart till Jesus Himself shall speak within. Christ must be His own mirror; as the diamond alone can cut the diamond, so He alone can display Himself.
I. First, I shall speak upon the motives of our Lord in thus commending himself. I take it that He has designs of love in this speech. He would have all His people rich in high and happy thoughts concerning His blessed person.
1. Doubtless, He commends Himself because high thoughts of Christ will enable us to act consistently with our relations towards Him. The saved soul is espoused to Christ. Now, in the marriage estate, it is a great assistance to happiness if the wife has high ideas of her husband. In the marriage union between the soul and Christ, this is exceedingly necessary.
2. Moreover, our in aster knows that high thoughts of Him increase our love. If we are to love Him at all, it must be with the love of admiration; and the higher that admiration shall rise, the more vehemently will our love flame forth.
3. A high esteem of Christ, moreover, as He well knoweth, is very necessary to our comfort. Beloved, when you esteem Christ very highly, the things of this world become of small account with you, and their loss is not so heavily felt Get but delightful thoughts of Him, and you will feel like a man who has lost a pebble but has preserved his diamond; like the man who has seen a few cast clouts and rotten rags consumed in the flames, but has saved his children from the conflagration. You will rejoice in your deepest distress because Christ is yours if you have a high sense of the preciousness of your Master.
4. Our Lord would have us entertain great thoughts of Himself, because this will quicken all the powers of our soul. I spoke to you just now of love receiving force from an esteem of Jesus, I might say the like of faith, or patience, or humility.
5. High thoughts of Jesus will set us upon high attempts for His honour. When the grand thought of love to God has gained full possession of the soul, men have been able to actually accomplish what other men have not even thought of doing. Love has laughed at impossibilities, and proved that she is not to be quenched by many waters, nor drowned by floods.
II. Whatever may be the commendable motive for any statement, yet it must not be made if it be not accurate, and therefore, in the second place, I come to observe our Lord’s justification for this commendation, which is abundantly satisfactory to all who know Him. What our Lord says of Himself is strictly true. It falls short of the mark, it is no exaggeration. Observe each one of the words. He begins, “I am.” Those two little words I would not insist upon, but it is no straining of language to say that even here we have a great deep, “I am” hath revealed Himself unto thee in a more glorious manner than He did unto Moses at the burning bush, the great “I AM” in human flesh has become thy Saviour and thy Lord. “I am the rose.” We understand from this, that Christ is lovely. He selects one of the most charming of flowers to set forth Himself. All the beauties of all the creatures are to be found in Christ in greater perfection than in the creatures themselves. He is infinitely more beautiful in the garden of the soul and in the paradise of God than the rose can be in the gardens of earth, though it be the universally acknowledged queen of flowers. But the spouse adds, “I am the rose of Sharon.” This was the best and rarest of roses. Jesus is not “the rose” alone, but “the rose of Sharon,” just as He calls His righteousness “gold,” and then adds, “the gold of Ophir”--the best of the best. Our Lord adds. “I am the lily,” thus giving Himself a double commendation. Indeed, Jesus Christ deserves not to be praised doubly, but sevenfold, aye, and unto seven times seven. Earth’s choicest charms commingled, feebly picture His abounding preciousness. He is the “lily of the valleys.” Does He intend by that to hint to us that He is a lily in His lowliest estate, a lily of the valley? The carpenter’s son, living in poverty, wearing the common garb of the poor, is He the lily of the valleys? Yes; He is a lily to you and to me, poor dwellers in the lowlands. Up yonder He is a lily on the hilltops, where all celestial eyes admire Him; down here, in these valleys of fears and cares, He is a lily still as fair as in heaven. The words, having been opened up one by one, teach us that Christ is lovely to all our spiritual senses. The rose is delightful to the eye, hut it is also refreshing to the nostril, and the lily the same. So is Jesus. Go anywhere where Jesus is, and though you do not actually hear His name, yet the sweet influence which flows from His love will be plainly enough discernible. Our Lord is so lovely, that even the recollection of His love is sweet. Take the rose of Sharon, and pull it leaf from leaf, and lay by the leaves in the jar of memory, and you shall find each leaf most flagrant long afterwards, filling the house with perfume; and this very day we remember times of refreshing enjoyed at the Lord’s table still delightful as we reflect upon them. Jesus is lovely in the bud as well as when full blown. You admire the rose quite as much when it is but a bud as when it bursts forth into perfect development: and methinks, Christ to you, my beloved, in the first blush of your piety, was not one whir less sweet than He is now. Jesus full blown, in our riper experience, has lost none of His excellence. When we shall see Him fully blown in the garden of paradise, shall we not count it to be our highest heaven to gaze upon Him for ever? Christ is so lovely that He needs no beautifying. Let the roughest tongue speak sincerely of Him in the most broken but honest accents, and Jesus Himself is such a radiant jewel that the setting will be of small consequence, He is so glorious that He is “Most adorned when unadorned the most.” He is so lovely, again, that He satisfies the highest taste of the most educated spirit to the very full. The greatest amateur in perfumes is quite satisfied with the rose, and I should think that no man of taste will ever be able to criticize the lily, and cavil at its form. Now, when the soul has arrived at her highest pitch of true taste, she shall still be content with Christ, nay, she shall be the better able to appreciate Him. Dwelling for another minute on thin subject, let me remark that our Lord Jesus Christ deserves all that He has said of Himself. First, in His Divine glory. The glory of Christ as God, who shall write upon it? Nothing is great, nothing is excellent but God, and Christ is God. O roses and lilies, where are ye now? Our Lord deserves these praises, again, in His perfection of manhood. He is like ourselves, but in Him was no sin. “The prince of this world cometh, but hath nothing in Me.” Throughout the whole of His biography, there is not a faulty line. He deserves this commendation, too, in His mediatorial qualifications. Since His blood has washed us from all our sins, we talk no more of the red roses, for what can they do to purify the soul? Since His righteousness has made us accepted in the Beloved, we will speak no more of spotless lilies, for what are these? He deserves all this praise, too, in His reigning glory. He has a glory which His Father has given Him as a reward, in the power of which He sits down at the right hand of God for ever and ever, and shall soon come to judge the world in righteousness, and the people with equity. View the Lord Jesus in any way you please, all that He Himself can say concerning Himself He richly deserves, and therefore glory be unto His name for ever and ever, and let the whole earth say, Amen.
III. I shall now conduct you to a third consideration, namely, the influence of this commendation upon us. Think of the ruin of this world till Christ came into it! Methinks I see in vision a howling wilderness, a great and terrible desert, like to the Sahara. Christ is the rose which has changed the scene. If you would have great thoughts of Christ think of your own ruin. Yonder I behold you cast out an infant, unswathed, unwashed, defiled with your own blood, too foul to be looked upon except by beasts of prey. And what is this that has been cast into your bosom, and which lying there has suddenly made you fair and lovely? A rose has been thrown into your bosom by a Divine hand, and for its sake you have been pitied and cared for by Divine Providence, you are washed and cleaned from your defilement, you are adopted into Heaven’s family, the fair seal of love is upon your forehead, and the ring of faithfulness is on your hand--a prince unto God--though just now you were an orphan, cast away. O prize the rose, the putting of which into your bosom has made you what you are! Consider your daily need of this rose. You live in the pestilential air of this earth: take Christ away, you die. Christ is the daily food of your spirit. Think of the estimation that Christ is had in beyond the skies, in the land where things are measured by the right standard, where men are no longer deceived by the delusions of earth. Think how God esteems the Only Begotten, His unspeakable gift to us. Consider what the angels think of Him, as they count it their highest honour to veil their faces at His feet. Consider what the blood-washed think of Him, as day without night they sing His well-deserved praises with gladdest voices. Remember how you yourself have sometimes esteemed Him. Have there not been moments when the chariots of Amminadib seemed but poor dragging things, compared with the wheels of your soul when Jesus ravished your heart with His celestial embrace? Estimate Him to-day as you did then, for He is the same, though you are not.
IV. I shall close by asking you to make confessions suggested by my text. I am sure you have all had falls, and slips, and shortcomings, with regard to Him. Well, then, come humbly to Jesus at once. He will forgive yon readily, for He does not soon take offence at His spouse. He may sometimes speak sharp words to her, because He loves her; but His heart is always true, and faithful, and tender. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The Rose of Sharon, and the Lily of the Valleys
Jesus calls Himself first, “the Rose of Sharon,” and then, “the Lily of the Valleys.” Let us consider what He means.
I. The Rose of Sharon. Of all the flowers that God has made, the rose, take it all in all, is the loveliest and the sweetest. It has three things in perfection--shape, colour, and fragrance. Indeed, we may call it the queen of flowers. Now, it is in its sweetness especially that the rose reminds me of the Lord Jesus Christ. His character was marked not only by manliness, but also with what we may call “sweetness,” for he had all the firmness of a man and all the tenderness of a woman. I will give you another reason for the comparison of Christ to a rose. The rose is the most common as well as the most beautiful of all the flowers. You find it wherever you go,--in all countries and in all places. In fact, it is the universal flower: it belongs to everybody. And in this respect it resembles Christ, for Christ is the common property of all--of the peasant as well as of the prince; of poor as well as of rich; of the child as well as of the full-grown man. He belongs to all nations, too--to the dwellers in north and south and east and west; arid there is no one, whatever he may be, or wherever he lives, who cannot say, “The Lord Jesus Christ is my Saviour, and I claim Him as my own.”
II. But the Saviour calls Himself in the text The Lily of the Valleys, and we have now to consider what this second title is intended to teach us. Supposing that “the Lily of the Valleys” is the flower which we know by that name--you all remember how graceful it is, with pretty little white bells ranged in a row on a tapering stalk, and how it appears to hide itself modestly under the shade of its broad green leaves. Now, why is it thus chosen? Partly because the lily is of a beautiful white colour, and represents purity. And you know how pure the Lord Jesus Christ was. Never at any time did He think, or say, or do anything that was wrong. As a child, as a boy, as a man, He was absolutely free from fault. But the lily of the valley--because it has a drooping head, and retires behind the shade of its broad green leaves, instead of thrusting itself forward--may be taken as an emblem of lowliness or humility, and so will serve to remind us of the Lord Jesus Christ.
III. We will try, in conclusion, to apply the subject to ourselves, So that we may be the better, by God’s blessing, for having talked about it and thought about it. We have the example of the Lord Jesus Christ proposed to us. He is perfect, and we can never hope to be perfect. But we may become, by the kind help of His Holy Spirit, more and more like Him every day. (G. Calthrop, M. A.)
The rose and the lily
I have taken a text, chiefly because it is generally supposed that a sermon cannot be preached without a Bible text. But I only want those two words--Rose, Lily; and I take those two because they may be regarded as the chief and the representative of the midsummer flowers. But how can we learn from the rose and the lily concerning God? In this way. Everything a man does or makes embodies and expresses himself. The Bible tells us that is true even of children. “Even a child is known by his doings.” Somehow children and men always stamp themselves on everything they make and everything they do. And this is one of the chief ways by which we come to know God. We look at the things He makes, and when we find out what character they bear we may say, God is like this, only infinitely better. If He made this, the possibility of making more and better than this must be in Him. If God made the rose and the lily, what must He be?
1. Now the first thing that comes to our thought, when we notice the exquisite form of the rose and the stately grace of the lily, is--How beautiful God must be. What beautiful thought He must have to have designed such forms, and what a beautiful touch to mould such forms, and so how beautiful He Himself must be.
2. Looking again at the rose and the lily we are reminded of their fragrance, we feel their fragrance--that sweet scent of the rose, that rich and almost overpowering odour of the lily. Then it strikes us that they are not merely beautiful to look at, they are scattering blessings continually--pouring forth their treasures to enrich the air, and to give us pleasure and health, filling the summer sky with balmy breath, spending themselves to do others good, to make others glad. And so they tell us what God is. For in God’s thought they were filled with that fragrance, and in breathing it out they fain would tell us of Him of whose eternal sweetness they partake. What must the fragrance of God be who put such fragrance into His flowers? And this we can feel to be true of God manifested in Christ. The fragrance of Christ’s life on earth is its greatest charm. It was a life of self-denials, generosities and charities; crowded with thoughtfulnesses and helpfulnesses, exemplifying His own words, “It is more blessed to give than receive.”
3. Then, again, we are struck with the colour of the rose and the lily--that creamy whiteness of the lily, that tinted whiteness of the rose. We feel purity in colour, more especially in white flowers, but it is the characteristic of them all. God made these pure white flowers, then what must His purity be? We are often touched with God’s wonderful and exhaustless power of making pure things--clear waters, white snows, woolly clouds, new leaves, blue sky, and the exquisite pale tinting all about the summer sunset. Moses had a vision of the surroundings of God, and under His feet was a paved work of a sapphire stone, and, as it were, the body of heaven in His clearness. This purity is characteristic of God manifest in the flesh. Jesus was clothed in white all through His life, and on His beautiful garments one stain never came.
4. So the leaves and petals of rose and lily become leaves of a Bible to us, from which we may learn of God. The flowers say, “We come to tell you that God lives, that God loves, and that God wants your love.” The roses say, “Love and serve the good and beautiful God, who may be served by everything that is kind and lovely.” The lilies say, “Love and serve the pure and righteous God, who may be served by everything that is holy and true.” And all the other midsummer hewers, gathering round their king and queen, seem to join in one great chorus, and to say, “We love and serve the One, the living God--the Wonderful, the Beautiful, the Pure, the Good--and you should love Him too.” (R. Tuck.)
Song of Solomon 2:2
As the lily among thorns, so is My love among the daughters.
The lily among thorns
I. First, I think my text very beautifully sets forth the relation of the Church and of every individual to Christ. He styles her, “My love.” An exquisitely sweet name; as if His love had all gone forth of Him, and had become embodied in her.
1. The first point, then, of her relation to Christ is that she has His love. Think of it, and let the blessed truth dwell long and sweetly in your meditations. Each one of us may rejoice in the title under which our Lord addresses us--“My love.” This love is distinguishing love, for in its light one special object shines as a lily, and the rest, “the daughters” are as thorns. Observe that this is a love which He openly avows. The Bridegroom speaks and says before all men, “As a lily among thorns, so is My love among the daughters.” He puts it upon record in that Book which is more widely scattered than any other, for He is not ashamed to have it published on the housetops. He declares it that His adversaries may know it, that He hat h a people in whom HIS heart delights, and these He will have and hold as His own when heaven and earth shall pass away. This love, wherever it has been revealed to its object, is reciprocated;, If the Lord has really spoken home to your soul and said, “I have loved thee, your soul has gladly answered, “This is my Beloved, and this is my Friend; yea, He is altogether lovely.”
2. Next, she bears His likeness. Notice the first verse of the chapter, wherein the Bridegroom speaks--“I am the rose of Sharon, and the lily of the valleys.” He is the lily, but His beloved is like Him; for He applies His own chosen emblem to her--“As the lily among thorns, so is My love among the daughters.” Notice that He is the lily, she is as the lily, that is to say, He has the beauty and she reflects it; she is comely in His comeliness, which He puts upon her. Note, too, that He who gave the beauty is the first to see it. While they are unknown to the world Jesus knows His own. Love’s eyes are quick, and her ears are open. Love covers a multitude of faults, but it discovers a multitude of beauties. Let His condescending discernment have all honour for this generous appreciation of us. Let us bless and love Him because He deigns to think so highly of us who owe everything to Him. “Thou art,” saith He, “My love, as the lily.” It is evident that the Lord Jesus takes delight in this beauty, which tie has put upon His people. He values it at so great a rate that He counts all rival beauties to be but as thorns.
3. Bringing out still further the relationship between Christ and His Church, I want you to notice that her position has drawn out His love. “As the lily,” saith He, “among thorns, so is My love.” He spied her out among the thorns. She was at the first no better than a thorn herself; His grace alone made her to differ from the briars about her; but as soon as ever lie had put His life and His grace into her, though she dwelt among the ungodly, she became as a lily, and He spied her out. The thorn-brake could not hide His beloved. “As the lily among thorns” wears also another meaning. Dr. Thompson writes of a certain lily, “It grows among thorns, and I have sadly lacerated my hand in extricating it from them. Nothing can be in higher contrast than the luxuriant, velvety softness of this lily and the withered, tangled hedge of thorns about it. Ah, beloved, you know who it was that in gathering your soul and mine, lacerated not His hand only, but His feet, and His head, and His side, and His heart, yea, and His inmost soul.”
4. Yet once more, I think many a child Of God may regard himself as still being a lily among thorns, because of his afflictions. Certainly the Church is so, and she is thereby kept for Christ’s own, If thorns made it hard for Him to reach us for our salvation, there is another kind of thorn which makes it hard for any enemy to come at us for our hurt. Our trials and tribulations, which we would fain escape from, often act as a spiritual protection: they hedge us about and ward off many a devouring foe. Sharp as they are, they serve as a fence and a defence.
II. Our text is full of instruction as to the relationship of the Church and each individual believer to the world--“The lily among thorns.”
1. First, then, she has incomparable beauty. As compared and contrasted with all else she is as the lily to the thorn-brake. The thorns are worthless, they flourish, and spread, and cumber the ground, but they yield no fruit, and only grow to be cut down for the oven. Alas, such is man by nature, at his best. As for the lily, it is a thing of beauty and a joy for ever; it lives shedding sweet perfume, and when it is gathered its loveliness adorns the chamber to which it is taken. So does the saint bless his generation while here, and when he is taken away he is regarded with pleasure even in heaven above as one of the flowers of God. He will ere long be transplanted from among the thorns to the garden enclosed beyond the river, where the King delights to dwell, for such a flower is far too fair to be left for ever amid tangled briars.
2. In the comparison of the saint to the lily we remark that he has, like the lily, a surpassing excellence. The thorn is a fruit of the curse: it springs up because of sin. Not so the lily: it is a fair type of the blessing which maketh rich without the sorrow of carking care. The thorn is the mark of wrath and the lily is the symbol of Divine Providence. A true believer is a blessing, a tree whose leaves heal and whose fruit feeds. A genuine Christian is a living gospel, and embodiment of goodwill towards men.
3. The last point with regard to our relationship to the world is that the Church and many individual Christians are called to endure singular trials, which make them feel “as the lily among thorns.” That lovely flower seems out of place in such company, does it not? Christ said, “Behold, I send you forth as sheep among sheep”--no, no, that is my mistake, “as sheep among wolves.” It is a very blessed thing to be as sheep among sheep: to lie down with them under the shadow of the great rock, and feed with them in green pastures under the Shepherd’s eye. This is our privilege, and we ought to value it greatly, and unite with the Church and frequent its ordinances; but even then we shall, some of us, have to go home to an ungodly family, or to go out into the world to win our bread, and then we shall be as sheep among wolves. Grace struggling in loneliness is very choice in God’s esteem. If man sees thee not, O lonely believer, thou mayest nevertheless sing. “Thou God seest me.” The flower which blooms for God alone has a special honour put upon it, and so hath the saint whose quiet life is all for Jesus. If you are unappreciated by those around you, do not therefore be distressed, for you are honourable in the sight of God. But why doth the Lord put his lilies among thorns? It is because He works transformations, singular transformations, by their means. He can make a lily grow among thorns till the thorns grow into lilies. He can set a Christian in a godless family till first one and then another shall feel the Divine power, and shall say, “We will go with you, for we perceive that God is with you.” Be lilies, preach by your actions, preach by your kindness, and by your love; and I feel quite sure that your influence will be a power for good. If the Holy Spirit helps all of you to stand among your associates as lilies among the thorns, the day will come when thorns will die out, and lilies will spring up on every side: sin will be banished and grace will abound. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Christ and the believer
I. Inquire what Christ thinks of the believer.
“As the lily among the thorns, so is My love among the daughters.”
1. See what Christ thinks of the unconverted world. It is like a field full of briars and thorns in His eyes.
2. See what Christ thinks of the believer. “As the lily among thorns, so is My love among the daughters.” The believer is like a lovely flower in the eyes of Christ.
II. Inquire what the believer thinks of Christ--“As the apple tree among the trees of the wood.”
1. Christ is more precious than all other saviours in the eye of the believer. As a traveller prefers an apple tree to every other tree of the wood, because lie finds both shelter and nourishing food under it, so the believer prefers Christ to all other saviours. Oh! there is no rest for the soul except under that branch which God has made strong. My heart’s desire and prayer for you is, that you may all find rest there.
2. Why has the believer so high an esteem of Christ?
Song of Solomon 2:3
As the apple tree among the trees of the wood, so is my Beloved among the sons.
The apple tree in the wood
The point of the metaphor is this. There are many trees of the forest, and they all have their uses, but when one is hungry, and faint, and thirsty, the forest trees yield no succour, and we must look elsewhere: they yield shelter, but not refreshing nutriment. If, however, in the midst of the wood one discovers an apple tree, he there finds the refreshment which he needs; his thirst is alleviated, and his hunger removed. Even so the Church here means to say that there are many things in the world which yield us a kind of satisfaction--many men, many truths, many institutions, many earthly comforts, but there are none which yield us the full solace which the soul requires; none which can give to the heart the spiritual food for which it hungers; Jesus Christ alone supplies the needs of the sons of men.
I. First, then, our text speaks of the tree which the fainting soul most desires. Suppose you appeal to yonder stately tree which is the greatest of them all, the king of the forest, unequalled in greatness or girth; admire its stupendous limbs, its gnarled roots, its bossy bark, the vast area beneath its boughs. You look up at it and think what a puny creature you are, and how brief has been your life compared with its duration. You try to contemplate the storms which have swept over it, and the suns which have shone upon it. Great, however, as it is, it cannot help you: if it were a thousand times higher, and its topmost boughs swept the stars, yet it could minister no aid to you. This is a fit picture of the attempt to find consolation in systems of religion which are recommended to you because they are greatly followed. Suppose that in your wanderings to and fro you come upon another tree which is said to be the oldest in the forest. We all of us have a veneration for age. Antiquity has many charms. I scarcely know, if antiquity and novelty should run a race for popular favour, which might win. There are some things which are so old as to be rotten, worm-eaten, and fit only to be put away. Many things called ancient are but clever counterfeits, or wherein they are true they are but the bones and the carcases of that which once was good when life filled it with energy and power. It may be that in the midst of the forest, while you are hungry and thirsty, you come upon a strangely beautiful tree: its proportions are exact, and as you gaze upon it from a distance you exclaim, “How wonderful are the works of God!” and you begin to think of those trees of the Lord which are full of sap, the cedars of Lebanon Which He hath planted. But beauty can never satisfy hunger, and when a man is dying of thirst it is vain to talk to him of symmetry and taste. He wants food. We will pursue our investigations in the forest, and while we are doing so we shall, come upon some very wonderful trees. I have seen just lately instances in which branches are curiously interlaced with one another; the beech sends forth a long drooping bough, and lest it should not be able to support itself, another bough strikes up from below to buttress it, or descends from above and clasps it, and the boughs actually grow into one another. Strange things may be observed in the undisturbed woods, which are not to be seen in our hedgerow trees, or discerned in our gardens; trees have odd habits of their own, and grow marvellously if left to their own sweet wills. I have stood under them and said, “How can this be? This is singular indeed! How could they grow like this? What wondrous inter lacings, and intertwinings, and gnarlings, and knottings!” Yes, but if a man were hungry and thirsty, he would not be satisfied with curiosities. You remember when you first came to that precious tree whereon the Saviour died, and found that your sin was blotted out, and that you were accepted in the Beloved, and were made to be henceforth an heir of heaven. Oh, the lusciousness of the fruit which you gathered then! Oh, the delightful quiet of the shadow under which you sat that day; blessed be His name! You had searched among the other trees, but you found no fruit there: you tried to rest in the shadow of other boughs, but you never rested till on that blood-stained tree of the cross you saw your sin put away and your salvation secured, and then you rested and were satisfied. But the Lord Jesus Christ has not only satisfied us as to the past, see what He has done for us as to the present! Why, I know sick people who are far more happy in their sickness than worldlings are in their health; and I know poor men who are infinitely more at peace, and more contented, than rich men who have not the Saviour. Jesus Christ alone satisfies us for the past and delights us for the present. And then as to the future. The man who has found Christ looks forward to it not merely with complacency, not simply without a dread, but with a joyous expectancy and hope. Those things which make others tremble make us glad.
II. The spouse spoke of the tree which she most desired; the wonder was that she found it. It was an apple tree, but it was not in a garden; a fruit tree, but not in a vineyard; it was “among the trees of the wood.” Who would know of so great a rarity as an apple tree in a wood if he were not first told of it? So Jesus Christ at this present day is not known to all mankind. Even in our own country you will not find it a difficult thing to meet with persons who are totally ignorant of Christ. Where the greatest light is, there the shadows are deepest. Men nearest to the church are often furthest from God. You cannot easily find an apple tree in a great forest. If you were put down in the middle of a forest and told there was an apple tree there, you might wander for many a day before you discovered it, and often go over your own footsteps, lost in endless mazes, but you would not find the object of your search; and so, though there be a Saviour, men have not found the Saviour, and there may even be souls here present who long for that which Jesus is able to give, and yet have not discovered Him. You know all about Him in the letter of His Word, but you cannot find Him spiritually, and I hear you cry, “Oh, that I knew where I might find Him.” Now, is it not a strange place for an apple tree to be found in- in a wood? We seldom hear of such a thing; an apple tree should grow in a garden. How should it be found in a forest? And is it not a strange thing that a Saviour should be found for us among men--not among angels? Ye shall search for a Saviour amongst “the helmed cherubim and sworded seraphim” as long as you will, but there is none there. The Saviour is found in a manger at Bethlehem, in a carpenter’s shop at Nazareth; amongst the poor and needy is He seen while He sojourns amongst the sons of men. Not among you, O ye cedars, not among you, O mighty oaks, but amongst the bushes of the desert, amongst the trees accursed was Jesus found. “He made His grave with the wicked.” Now, there is some thing very sweet about this, because a wood is the very place where we most love to find Christ growing. If I had come the other day upon an apple tree in the forest, and it had happened to be the time of ripe fruit, I should have felt no compunction of conscience in taking whatsoever I was able to reach, for a tree growing in the forest is free to all comers. Should there be a hungry one beneath its bough, he need not say, “May I?” when his mouth waters at the golden fruit, he need not say, “It would be stealing; I am unfit to take it; I am unworthy of it.” Man, if there be an apple tree in the forest, no man can keep it for himself or deny your right to it, for each wanderer has a right to what fruit he can gather. Christ has no barriers around Him to keep you from Him. If there be any they are of your own making. Whoever shall come shall be welcome to this priceless apple tree. There is some comfort, therefore, in thinking that He grows among the trees Of the wood.
III. It was little wonder that when the spouse, all hungry and faint, did come upon this apple tree in the forest she acted as she did. Straightway she sat down under its shadow, with great delight, and its fruit was sweet unto her taste. She looked up at it; that was the first thing she did, and she perceived that it met her double want. The sun was hot, there was the shadow: she was faint, there was the fruit. Now, see how Jesus meets all the wants of all who come to Him. Is it not delightful to sit down beneath the scarlet canopy of the Saviour’s blood, and feel, “God cannot smite me: He has smitten His Son; payment He cannot demand the second time: if Jesus suffered in my stead, how can God make me suffer again for sin? Where were the justice of the Most High to punish an immaculate, Substitute, and then punish men for whom that Substitute endured His wrath I This is the cool, calm, holy shadow under which we abide. But then, the spouse also found that she herself was thirsty, and that the fruit of the tree exactly met her case. Our inner life wants sustenance and food; now, in the Lord Jesus is life, and the bread of life. One thing more is to be noted: the spouse, when she had begun to enjoy the provision and the shade, and had sat down under it as if she intended to say, “I never mean to leave this place; in this delicious shadow I mean to repose for ever,” then she also began to tell of it to others. In the text she describes Christ as the apple tree, and gives her reason for so calling Him--“I sat down under His shadow with great delight, and His fruit was sweet to my taste.” Experience must be the ground upon which we found our descriptions. Now, I beseech you who have found the Saviour to be telling others what you know about Him, and try to lead others to look at Him. You cannot make them feed upon Him, but God can, and if you can lead them to the tree, who knows but God will give them spiritual hunger, and will lead them to feed as you have fed. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
I sat down under His shadow with great delight, and His fruit was sweet to my taste.
The Church’s experience
I. what it is to sit down under the shadow of Christ with great delight.
1. A shadow is not prized by men, till some heat scorch them. The Church is here represented as faint and parched with heat. Our addresses to Christ always begin with a sense of our own want and misery. Ease is sweet to the burdened soul, and none seek rest in Christ to any purpose, but those that feel the load of their own sins (Matthew 11:28).
2. That which scorcheth poor distressed souls, is a sense of God’s wrath: observe how fitly God s wrath is set forth by the scorching of the sun. God’s goodness is exceeding great and large; yet this good God hath His wrath, which is set forth to us by the notions of a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:29), and a burning oven (Malachi 4:1). The wrath of the living God is a dreadful thing, which consumeth and drieth up all, without recovery, unless we get a shelter from it.
3. Scorched souls can find no shelter nor refreshing shadow among the creatures; but only by coming to the spiritual apple tree, who is the Lord Jesus Christ.
4. Christ is a complete and comfortable shadow, the only screen between us and wrath. In Him alone we find refreshing, ease, and comfort.
5. Faith is necessary, that we may have the comfort of our shadow; for we make use of Christ by faith. There are three acts of faith:
6. They meet not only with coolness, but fruit; as an apple under an apple tree to one that sits under its shadow in a great heat.
II. What these fruits are. They are the benefits and privileges which we have by Christ.
1. Here is fruit. Christ received of the Father the fulness of power and of the Spirit, for the benefit of the redeemed, that He might shower down the streams of grace on all that repair to Him for relief and succour. Now, what these fruits are; in the general, we may tell you, all that is worth the having; we have from Jesus Christ: all the blessings of this present life, and of the world to come. More particularly. There are many choice and excellent fruits which believers receive from Him.
2. His fruits: for a threefold reason: Because purchased by Him: all these privileges were procured for us by His blood, death, and sufferings.
3. These are sweet unto a believer’s taste. Believers have a taste of the goodness of Christ. They do experimentally find a great deal of comfort and sweetness in Him (1 Peter 2:2-3). Christ’s fruits are very sweet to their taste, because of the suitableness of the fruit to the prepared appetite: they have a hungry conscience, and so can sooner taste that sweetness. A Christian hath another spirit than the spirit of this world. A sanctified soul can taste the sweetness of spiritual things, word, sacraments, graces, hopes. Yea, the way of obedience is sweet to them (Proverbs 3:17). It is wonderful, comfortable, and filleth their hearts in a satisfying manner, when they can have any experience of God’s love in Christ, in the Word, or meditation, or prayer, or sacraments (Psalms 63:6). Besides the attractive goodness of the object, there is inclination in their own souls to it.
I. Here is an invitation to draw us to Christ.
1. As He is a shadow. This notion is like to prevail with none but those who are scorched with God’s wrath, or loaden with the burden of sin; with them that are either of a troubled, or of a tender conscience. They long to sit down under His shadow indeed, and to get a taste of His pleasant fruits. Yet I must speak to all to begin here. The fruits are neither eaten, nor the sweetness of them felt, till we come under His shadow, and delightfully sit under His righteousness.
2. With respect to pleasant fruit (Psalms 34:8). We entertain black thoughts of the ways of God, as if religion were a sour thing, and there were no pleasure and delight for those that submit to it. O taste and see I You will find enough in Christ to spoil the gust and relish of all other pleasures.
II. Do we ever sit down under His shadow, so as to find His fruit sweet unto our taste? You may try your state, and discern it by your relish of spiritual things.
III. Direction to us in our special addresses to God. The practice of the spouse is then in season. Come and sit down under His shadow, and eat of His fruits. (T. Manton, D. D.)
Suitable improvement of Christ the Apple Tree
I. The way of relief for poor sinners, under all scorchings to which they are exposed, is to sit down in, and by faith to repose themselves under Christ’s shadow.
1. Show what need sinners have of a shadow to cover them. The world is turned a hot country all over to the sons of fallen Adam, witness the spiritual blackness upon all faces (Amos 9:7). Adam’s fall has changed the temperature of the air which we breathe. God Himself, the sun of the world, whose influences were enlightening, cheering, comforting and warming to innocent men, is become a consuming, fire to the workers of iniquity.
2. Show how Christ became a shadow for poor stoners in this ease.
(a) He received all the scorching beams of wrath on Himself, that so He might keep them from His people.
(b) He exhausted them. He drank the cup of wrath from the brim to the bottom.
(c) And now through Him, the comfortable influences of Heaven are bestowed and conveyed to those under His shadow, through Him as the channel of conveyance.
3. Show what it is to sit down under Christ’s shadow. It is the soul fleeing to Jesus Christ for a refuge, coming unto Him on the call of the Gospel, and receiving Him and uniting with Him by believing on His name. And this notion of faith bears,
II. Christ’s fruit relisheth well with those who, by faith, sit down under His shadow.
1. Show some things imported in this doctrine.
2. Show what are Christ’s fruits which are so sweet to the taste of those that sit under His shadow. These are all the benefits, privileges, graces, comforts, and fulness of the covenant, making His people happy here and hereafter.
3. Show why Christ’s fruit relisheth so well with those who by faith do partake of it.
His fruit was sweet to my taste.--
The fruitfulness of Christ
The fruit borne by Christ, the Tree of Life, the Living Vine, “the Apple Tree among the trees of the wood,” may be regarded under three aspects, relating to His character, work, influence.
I. Character. The Lord Jesus possesses excellence in Himself, apart from the relation in which He stands to us. His own personal nature preceded and qualified Him for His entire mediatorial work. The manifestation of this excellence shone forth in His earthly life. Words, acts, miracles were but the outward exhibitions of what He was within. He was hidden, concealed from earthly gaze, visible only to His Father. As seen thus, however, He was spotless, and Divine Omniscience declared itself “well pleased” with Him. The soul of Christ, that human spirit, which, in its powers and faculties, was like ours, and which became “an offering for sin,” was most holy. And His life! this was the embodiment of His pure spirit, its outward working, the channel through which its sympathies flowed out upon the world around. How perfect this; recollect it was life like ours; in the same world, subject to the same laws, physical and mental, as our own. It was far less favour ably circumstanced than ours. It was the first of its kind; there was no previous example for Christ to imitate, no perfect model to copy. It was also surrounded by sin. It was without sympathy too. The “loneliness of Christ” in these respects was most painful, and itself a test of virtue. That virtue had no external support from custom, habit, friendly countenance. Not only Scribes and Pharisees sought to ensnare, entangle, and catch Him in His talk, the prince of the world came. And how He did resist! What conflict in doing this He had to pass through, how sorely He was tried, what strong “crying and tears” were wrung from His mighty spirit,--is what none of us can know; but He did resist all; and spite of all there shone forth a character the most radiant earth has ever exhibited, and one which now fills heaven with light and lustre superior to all else which it contains.
II. Work. One of the names by which prophecy foretold the Messiah was “Emmanuel, God with us.” One of the expressions by which the apostle declares the purport of His work, is in the corresponding sentiment, “He was made sin for us.” What tongue can express, what imagination conceive, the grandeur of this work I It spans eternity, past and to come. It rescues humanity, and makes it Godlike. Nothing nobler, grander, purer, has been devised, even by God Himself. It is His chief work, His masterpiece, His last and greatest conception; and of it all, Christ is “the Alpha and Omega, the beginning, the ending, the first and the last.” It is His operation, His fruit, that which here we may find most delectable, which through eternity we shall feast upon and find sweet to our taste.
III. Influence. By this I mean not so much what the Saviour is in Himself, nor what He is for us, though there is influence from both, as the power which He exerts upon us. How vast the influence the Saviour has been ever exerting in our world! Kings, emperors, dynasties, mighty forms of government, have risen and decayed, apparently subject only to natural laws of progress and dissolution. The Saviour has been guiding all. They have been His servants; and although they thought not so, nor did their hearts mean so, He has by them been working out His purposes, and using them as His agents. While His general influence has thus been exerted on the world, its choicest modes of operation have been reserved for the Church. What streams of Divine influence, like waters from a fountain, or beams from the sun, have ever been flowing from Christ. As there is no diminution in the sun’s power though it has been pouring forth its radiance for six thousand years; as the ocean is to-day as mighty as ever, though it has been ever diffusing freshness and health, so, and far more certainly, is there no diminution in Christ. (J. Viney, D. D.)
Song of Solomon 2:4
He brought me to the banqueting house, and His banner over me was love.
The Christian’s position of privilege
It is a great thing to be a Christian. It is a great thing in view of the personal change wrought in him who sustains this character. He was once lost, he now is found. It is a great thing, too, in view of the change which it brings over a man’s relations to others, as well as that which it produces in his personal character. Once he lived for time, now he lives for eternity. Once he served Satan, now he serves God. Once, if his earthly possessions had been wrested from him he would have exclaimed, “Ye have taken away my gods, and what is there more?”--now, with St. Paul, he can endure the loss of all things, and account it a gain, that he may win Christ and be found in Him. Once the grave bounded all his prospects, and death was dreaded as the extinguisher of all his hopes; now he can look death calmly in the face, and go down to the grave with a hope full of immortality.
I. The action, of which all the Christian’s experience of his privilege is raised. “He brought me.” The agent referred to is God our Saviour. Salvation, in all its effectual influences, be longs to Him. Each truly converted soul, when telling how it was led to Christ, will feel constrained to look up to God with adoring gratitude and say, “He brought me.” “He brought me, by Divine foreknowledge and sovereign choice, before the foundations of the world were laid. “He brought me” through His Spirit, working with me in due season, to make His own call effectual. “He brought me” by ordering and controlling all the outward circumstances of my condition so as to favour this blessed result of His purpose. “He brought me” by His preventing grace so working in my soul, that I should have a desire to know and love Him, and then, co-operating with that desire, in such a way as to bring it to good effect. “He brought me” by sweetly subduing my stubborn will,--taking away all the natural enmity of my heart to Him, and sending the sprat of adoption into my soul whereby I cry Abba Father.
II. The position in which this experience is realized. “He brought me into the banqueting house.” There are two ideas which we seem naturally to associate with the thought of a monarch’s banqueting house.
1. It is a place where choice delicacies may be expected. It is not common fare, which the,guests admitted to such a place look for. The richest and the rarest things that wealth can purchase, or skill prepare, are provided for such a banqueting hall. The products of every clime, the luxuries of every land are put in requisition there. And these are but faint figures of those spiritual good things with which Jesus regales the souls of His people in the banquet house of salvation.
2. It is a place where special favours are dispensed, and confidential communications made; and, on this account too, the language of the text applies to the believer’s condition of privilege in Christ. The treasury of heaven is put at the disposal of the believer in Jesus. He is fully assured that “God will supply all his need from the riches of His grace in Christ.”
III. The circumstances of the believer in occupying this position. “His banner over me was love.”
1. When a prince, a governor, or monarch unfurls his banner over a fortress or citadel, he means thereby to declare his determination to protect that place. As that flag waves in the breeze, it proclaims significantly, that all the power and resources of him whom it represents are pledged for the defence and safeguard of that fortress. And this is what Jesus means when He unfurls His banner of love over the believing soul. All the resources of omnipotence--all the perfections of an infinite God are enlisted for the safety of that soul.
2. The material of a banner, and the mottoes, or emblems upon it, are expressive of the thoughts and intentions of Him whom the banner represents. A white banner bespeaks a desire for peace. A red flag shows a determination to shed blood; a black flag is the signal that no quarter is to be expected. And then the military nations of the earth, whose lust has been for war and conquest, have generally adopted emblems expressive of their character. Thus the eagle was the emblem Imperial Rome bore on her conquering standards. But the Captain of our salvation has a banner woven out of the precious fabric of love, and the dove is the symbol which that banner bears. His thoughts towards His people are thoughts of peace; and love, unspeakable, everlasting, and past finding out, runs through all His purposes concerning them.
3. The banner of his country is to the true patriot an object of honourable regard, and of intense affection. And so, while the wise man glories in his wisdom, the rich man in his riches, and the mighty man in his might, the language of the Christian is: “God forbid that I should glory, save in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (R. Newton, D. D.)
Christ’s banqueting house for His spouse
1. Jesus Christ hath from the beginning of the world entertained His Church with various dispensations of providence, and doth so entertain every true believing soul.
2. Though all these dispensations be proper means in relation to the great end of the soul’s salvation, and profitable to the Church and the soul in reference to that end; yet, some are more sweet and pleasant than others, and so more fitly compared to Christ’s banquet.
3. The dispensation of the Gospel to the Church in general, and the enlightening, quickening, strengthening, consolatory influences of the Spirit of grace to patient souls, may be fitly compared to a banqueting, house or to a house of wine.
4. As Christ did of old entertain some of His people s souls, under the darker dispensations of the covenant of grace, with these refreshing dispensations, which were like a banquet of wine to them; so under the latter and more full dispensation of the Gospel, He doth still entertain some of His people’s souls with these gladdening dispensations.
5. It is Christ, and Christ alone, that can bring the soul into the house of wine. (John Collinges, D. D.)
His banner over me was love.
How Christ’s banner over a believing soul is love
1. The love of Christ is that which distinguishes the soul of a believer front another soul, and the Church of God from other companies.
2. The exalting of Christ’s love directs and invites every soul whither to go (John 3:14-15; John 12:32).
3. The Church of God and the believing soul should move as the love of God doth guide them. All our actions are of no worth that flow not from this principle.
4. The love of Christ is that which unites the Churches of God and particular believers both unto Christ and unto one another.
5. The love of Christ is a sign of His protection to His people.
6. The love of Christ displayed to the world signifies His victory over His enemies, yea and the Church’s, and every true believing soul’s victory.
7. The love of Christ to His people is that which should make His Church and true believers terrible to all His and their enemies. (John Collinges, D. D.)
Christ’s banner over His Church
1. The use of banners, standards, or ensigns, is to gather and keep persons together: thus Christ Himself was lifted up on the cross, and is now lifted up in the Gospel, as an ensign to gather souls unto Him: and so His love, being displayed in the preaching of the Gospel, has a power and efficacy in it to draw souls after Him; for as a fruit and effect of everlasting love, “with loving kindness He draws them: and in the same way and manner Christ here drew the Church unto Himself and held her fast; and constrained her to keep close to Him, and follow hard after Him; see 2 Corinthians 5:14.
2. A banner displayed, or a standard set up, is an indication of war; it is to prepare for it and to animate to it (Jeremiah 51:12; Jeremiah 51:27), the Church of Christ here on earth is militant, and therefore in Song of Solomon 6:4, is represented as formidable and terrible as an army with banners: she has many enemies to engage with, as sin, Satan, and the world, and yet has the greatest encouragement to fight, for she is bannered under the Lord of hosts.
3. A banner displayed is also a sign of victory; sometimes when a town, city, or castle is taken, the flag is hung out as an indication of it; see Jeremiah 50:2. Christ has gotten the victory over all His and our enemies.
4. A banner is for protection and defence; hence Moses built an altar, and called it Jehovah nissi, that is, The Lord is my banner; because the Lord had been on the side of him and the people of Israel, and defended them from the Amalekites.
5. It is to direct soldiers where to stand, when to march, and whom to follow; see Numbers 1:52; Numbers 2:2, which may teach us, who are enlisted in Christ’s service, not to fly from our colours, but adhere closely to Christ and His Gospel, His cause and interest, His Church and people, and to follow Him, the Standard-bearer, wherever He goes; and nothing can more strongly engage us to do so than love, which is the motto of His banner; this first drew us to Him, this animates us in His service, and keeps us close to His person and interest.
6. It is to distinguish one band from another (Numbers 2:2). As one band has one motto upon its banner or ensign, by which it is distinguished from another, so the motto on Christ’s banner is “love,” by which His band or company is distinguished from all others. The allusion may be to the names of generals being inscribed on the banners of their armies; so Vespasian’s name was inscribed on the banners throughout his armies. (John Gill, D. D.)
Song of Solomon 2:5
Comfort me with apples.
The term “apple” is a conventional one. By the ancients it was applied indiscriminately to every round fleshy fruit. We require to take into account this extended application of the term, in order to understand the metaphorical allusions to the apple in ancient poetry, classical and oriental. The “apple’ occurs several times in the Bible, but there is abundant reason to believe that it is in almost every case a mistranslation of a word which should have been rendered citron, orange, or quince. The East is not the true home of the apple. It is essentially a Western fruit, the product of the cooler air and moister skies of the north temperate zone. The wild crab-apple, from which all the cultivated varieties have sprung, is a native of most of the countries of Europe; and the development of the fruit has engaged the attention of their inhabitants as far back as we can trace. The tree does not grow wild in the East as it does in our hedges and woodlands, and the ancient Jews were altogether ignorant of apples such as we know them. The apple is appropriately associated by popular tradition with the paradisiacal condition of man, for it belongs to an order of plants that was introduced into the world about the human period. Nature in former epochs had run into rank, luxuriant foliage, but she blossomed and fruited when man came upon the scene. There is a profound relation between the efflorescence of the earth and that of the human soul. The fullest significance of flowers and fruits can only be seen in the life of man, for the illustration of which they furnish innumerable expressive images and analogies. The apple belongs not only to the latest, but also to the highest order of plants. This order is the Rosaceoe, which for beauty of colour, grace of form, perfection of structure, and great and manifold utility, takes precedence of all others. Looking at an apple from a morphological point of view, we find that it is an arrested branch. Instead of going on to develop more wood and foliage, a branch terminates in an apple; and in this apple the sap and substance that would have prolonged the branch are concentrated, and hence its enlarged size and capability of expansion. Looking upon an apple thus as an arrested branch, the branch giving up its own individual life in order that the species may he perpetuated by means of blossom, and fruit, and seed, we behold in it, as in a glass, a very striking natural example of the law of self-sacrifice; that law which pervades all nature, and upon which the welfare and stability of nature depend. And it is a most interesting circumstance, that it is in this self-sacrifice of the plant that all its beauty comes out and culminates. The blossom and fruit in which it gives its own life for another life that is to spring from it are the loveliest of all its parts. God crowns this self-denial and blessing of others with all the glory of colour, and grace of form, and sweetness of perfume, and richness of flavour. The flesh of the apple, it may be remarked, has no purpose to serve in the economy of the plant itself. It is merely an excretion of the plant, produced in large measure by cultivation. And surely this capability of developing flesh which certain fruits possess in relation to the wants of man is one of the most interesting subjects of thought. In this respect man is a fellow-worker with God, in dressing and keeping the great garden of nature so that there shall be trees in it good for food and pleasant to the taste. The nature bound fast in fate has been made fluent by the freedom of the human will; and all the hints and outlines suggested by her roots, and fruits, and flowers are worked out and filled in by man in the exercise of this wondrous Divine gift. Passing strange is it that through this same freedom of will, he should, in the higher moral region, instead of being a fellow-worker with God, be less true to his proper end and destiny than the beasts that perish to their several instincts. Why is an apple round? The circular shape is that in which forces and substances are most perfectly balanced--in which there is the greatest economy of material, and the greatest resistance to external circumstances. It is the most stable of all forms, and therefore, characteristic of bodies in repose. The whole heavens and the whole earth are continually aiming at the spherical form; and they fall to reach or retain it because of their want of repose, insisting upon a shortcoming or departure from the spherical. Thus the apple becomes to us a very significant object, when we see in its round form a striking illustration of the same law that is shaping the earth around us, and the heavens above us, and the heart within us. The skin or rind which hems in the apple, and by limiting completes and individualizes it, is also a most significant feature. It varies in thickness, smoothness, quality of texture, and colour in different varieties of apple; but in all it may be said to pass through the different stages of leaf and flower like the plant that bears it. Wonderful is the ministry of the green skin of plants. It changes inorganic into organic matter, and thus furnishes the starting-point of all life. Nowhere else on the face of the earth does this most important process take place. Everything else consumes and destroys; the green skin of plants alone creates and conserves. It is the mediator between the world of death and the world of life. Hence the significance of the green colour which appears so vividly in all young growing plants. We thus see that the little globe of the apple is a microcosm, representing within its miniature sphere the changes and processes which go on in the great world. Life and death, growth and decay, fight their battle on its humble stage. Fermentation and putrefaction, the two great processes under whose familiarity are hid some of the greatest wonders of the physical world, take place within it. It exhibits the characteristics of the vegetable, animal, and mineral kingdoms; it creates organic matter, and it consumes it; and in its motion within its little orbit, from its formation on the bough in summer to its fall to the ground in autumn, it illustrates the action of the mighty laws which bind the universe together. Our greatest philosopher, by his sublime theory of gravitation, connected it with the stars of heaven; and to avery thoughtful mind it suggests far-reaching ideas which shed light upon the mysteries of ore” own world. (H. Macmillan, D. D.)
Song of Solomon 2:7
By the roes, and by the hinds of the field.
The roes and the hinds
The spouse was in the full enjoyment of fellowship with her Beloved. Her joy was so great as almost to overpower her, and yet, so nearly does fear tread upon the heels of joy, she was filled with dread lest her bliss should come to an end. She feared lest others should disturb her Lord, for if He were grieved she would be grieved also, and if He departed the banquet of her delight would be over. She was afraid even of her friends, the daughters of Jerusalem; she knew that the best can interrupt fellowship as well as the worst, and therefore she adjured even Zion’s daughters not to sin against Zion’s King. The adjuration which she used is a choice specimen of oriental poetry: she charges them, not as we should prosaically do, by everything that is sacred, and true, but “by the roes, and by the hinds of the field.”
I. The toes and the hinds of the field are creatures of great beauty. Who can gaze upon them as they wander among the bracken without an inward admiration? Now, since nothing can be more lovely than communion with Jesus, the spouse exhorts the daughters of Jerusalem by all the loveliest objects in nature to refrain from disturbing it. A soul in converse with its God is the admiration of angels. Was ever a lovelier sight seen than Jesus at the table with the beloved disciple leaning on His bosom? Is not Mary sitting at the Master’s feet a picture worthy of the choicest art? Do nothing, then, O ye who joy in things of beauty, to mar the fellowship in which the rarest beauty dwells. Neither by worldly care,, nor sin, nor trifling make even the slighest stir which might break the Beloved s repose.
II. The next thought suggested “by the roes, and by the hinds of the field” is that of tender innocence. These gentle creatures are so harmless, so defenceless, so timid, that he must have a soulless soul who would do them harm or cause them fright. By all, then, that is tender the spouse beseeches her friends not to disturb her Beloved. He is so good, so kind, so holy, harmless, and undefiled, that the most indifferent ought to be ashamed to molest His rest. In fellowship with Jesus there is a tenderness which ought to disarm all opposition, and even command respectful deference. A soul communing with the Son of God challenges no enmity. The world may rise against proselyting zeal, or defiant controversy, or ostentatious ceremonialism, for these have prominence and power, and are fair game for martial spirits: but fellowship is quiet, retiring, unobtrusive, harmless. The saints who most abound in it are of a tender spirit, fearful to offend, non-resistant, and patient--surely it would be a superfluity of cruelty to wish to deprive them of their unselfish happiness, which deprives no heart of a drop of pleasure, and costs no eye a tear.
III. A third thought most certainly had place in the mind of the anxious spouse; she meant to adjure and persuade her friends to silence by everything which sets forth love. The lilies and the roes have always been sacred to love. If you love, or are loved, or wish to be loved, have a reverent regard for those who commune with Jesus, for their souls take their fill of love, and to drive them from their bliss would be inexcusable barbarity. O ye who have any hearts to feel for others, do not cause the bitterest of sorrow by depriving a sanctified soul of the sweetest of delights. Draw not nigh hither with idle tale, or wanton speech, or empty mirth: the place whereon thou standest is holy ground, for surely God is in that place where a heart enamoured of the altogether Lovely One delights itself in the Lord.
IV. Once more, upon the very surface of the figure lies the idea of delicate sensitiveness. The roes and the hinds of the field are soon away if anything occurs to disturb them. In this respect they set forth to the life the speediness with which the Beloved departs when He is annoyed by sin. The Lord our God is a jealous God. In proportion to the fire of love is the heat of jealousy, and therefore our Lord Jesus will not brook a wandering affliction in those greatly beloved ones to whom He manifests Himself. It needs constant watchfulness to maintain constant fellowship. If we would be favoured above others we must be more on our guard than others are. He who becomes “a man greatly beloved” must needs keep his heart with sevenfold diligence, for to whom much is given of him much will be required. (G. H. Spurgeon.)
Song of Solomon 2:8-17
The voice of my Beloved.
The voice of the Beloved
I. When Christ is away from the soul of the believer, he sits alone. Whatever he the mountains of Bether that have come between his soul and Christ--whether he hath been seduced into his old sins that “his iniquities have separated again between him and his God, and his sins have hid his face from Him, that He will not hear “for whether the Saviour hath withdrawn for a season the comfortable light of His presence for the mere trial of His servant’s faith, to see if, when he “walketh in darkness and hath no light, he will still trust in the name of the Lord, and stay himself upon his God”--whatever the mountains of separation be, it is the sure mark of the believer that he sits desolate and alone. He cannot laugh away his heavy care, as worldly men can do. He cannot drown it in the bowl of intemperance, as poor blinded men can do. Even the innocent intercourse of human friendship brings no balm to his wound--nay, even fellowship with the children of God is now distasteful to his soul.
II. Christ’s coming to the desolate believer is often sudden and wonderful. Some text of the Word, or some word from a Christian friend, or some part of a sermon, again reveals Jesus in all His fulness--the Saviour of sinners, even the chief. Or it may be that He makes Himself known to the disconsolate soul in the breaking of bread, and when He speaks the gentle words--“This is My body broken for you; this cup is the New Testament in My blood shed for the remission of the sins of many; drink ye all of it”--then he cannot but cry out, “The voice of my Beloved! behold, He cometh leaping upon the mountains, skipping upon the hills.”
III. Christ’s coming changes all things to the believer, and His love is more tender than ever. The world of nature is all changed. Instead of the thorn comes up the fir tree, and instead of the brier comes up the myrtle tree. Every tree and field possesses a new beauty to the happy soul. The world of grace is all changed. The Bible was all dry and meaningless before; now, what a flood of light is poured over its pages! how full, how fresh, how rich in meaning, how its simplest phrases touch the heart! The house of prayer was all sad and dreary before--its services were dry and unsatisfactory; but now, when the believer sees the Saviour, as he hath seen Him heretofore within His holy place, his cry is,-”How amiable are Thy tabernacles, O Lord of Hosts, etc.” The garden of the Lord was all sad and cheerless before; now tenderness towards the unconverted springs up afresh, and love to the people of God burns in the bosom--then they that fear the Lord speak often one to another. The time of singing the praises of Jesus is come, and the turtle voice of love to Jesus is once more heard in the land; the Lord’s vine flourishes, and the pomegranate buds, and Christ’s voice to the soul is, “Arise, My love, My fair one, and come away.”
IV. Observe the threefold disposition of fear, love, and hope, which this visit of the Saviour stirs up in the believer’s bosom. These three form, as it were, a cord in the restored believer’s bosom, and a threefold cord is not easily broken. (R. M. McCheyne.)
Behold, He cometh, leaping upon the mountains, skipping upon the hills.
The mountains of Judah
One of the most striking features of this book of Solomon’s Song is that of liveliness. We find the Church here represented in the liveliness of her affections to Christ, to God; we here see the Saviour in the liveliness of His love, and of His activities towards the Church; and so He is represented as a roe, or as a young hart, expressive of freedom and activity.
I. The mountains, the hills of impediment which the saviour overcomes. I will here take the Saviour leaping upon the mountains, skipping upon the hills, to denote with what triumph and with what certainty He enables all His people to overcome all their troubles.
II. Take the mountains and the hills to denote the eternal truths of the Gospel, as spoken of in this book,--the mountains of eternity. “The voice of my Beloved! behold, He cometh leaping upon the mountains, skipping upon the hills,” of division. There is God’s everlasting love to Jacob in contradistinction to Esau; God’s everlasting love to His own, in contradistinction to the others; and Christ glorified in that mountain of division. There is God’s eternal election, and Christ gloried in the same, and commands His disciples to rejoice that their names are written in heaven. There is His eternal achievement by which He hath redeemed His people, and distinguished them from all others by that eternal redemption, for none but the redeemed can learn that song that the redeemed sing. “The mountains of division.” Then comes regeneration; that brings His people up to Mount Zion--mountain of division. Then comes resurrection to life; then comes glorification. Here is a range of mountains ranging from eternity to eternity. (J. Wells.)
An absent Christ yet beloved
1. An absent Christ is yet a beloved Christ to His true Church, and to the truly believing soul.
2. The spouse of Christ will know her Beloved’s voice, though He hath a while been absent.
3. The spouse of Christ will greatly rejoice to hear her Beloved’s voice, especially after a time of absenting Himself.
4. Though Christ may withdraw, and absent Himself from His Church, and from the souls of His people, yet He will come.
5. When He comes, He will come skipping upon the mountains and leaping upon the hills, openly and hastily, and trampling all difficulties and impediments under His feet.
6. The Church, and the true members of it, will by the eye of faith discern Christ coming, skipping upon the mountains. (John Collinges, D. D.)
Christ’s coming to His spouse to be beheld
Believing souls in the time of His withdrawing from them may and ought to behold Him again returning to them.
I. Christ’s return to His spouse after an absence may be beheld by a believer.
II. A believer may behold Christ’s coming, in many sure and faithful promises.
III. The believer sees Him coming in the sure words of prophecy.
IV. His coming may be beheld in the steps of His providence.
(a) Plenty of seducers (Matthew 24:4).
(b) Great commotions in the world, and other judgments of God.
(c) Abounding of iniquity and decay of religion.
(d) Great security of sinners.
(e) Alterations in the course of nature. (John Collinges, D. D.)
Lessons of the Spring
Whatever these words may or may not mean in any deep, spiritual sense, they may at least be applied to the Spring-time and the Summer.
I. As we feel the influences of the growing spring, they suggest to us the idea of order. By the end of the Winter we are apt to feel as if we had the end of all inanimate nature. But the first buds of Spring bring to mind the order of nature more vividly than such frequent changes as the succession of day and night, which become so familiar that we fail to mark their lessons.
II. Spring impresses us with the manifestation of power. It returns with a great manifestation of force. Who can compute the aggregate weight now lifting in the vegetable creation all over this land, in ten thousand times ten thousand billions and billions of plants, from the tiny grass-blade to the giant oak? There is a moral aspect here also. The power which wields this force is on the side of righteousness. It is the same as that which rules the hearts of men, and makes their lives and actions to praise God, and bring about His will on earth.
III. The incoming spring delights us with its exhibition of progressiveness. I watch a tree opposite my dwelling with ever-increasing interest. This tree in Winter seemed dead, until as Spring approached a single bud peeped forth. After neglecting to look for a few days I was yesterday surprised to see it clothed in every branch with leaves. Ah, what progressiveness! The kingdom of Spring “cometh not by observation.” So with the “kingdom of God”--the kingdom of goodness in the earth. Has Christianity made no advance? Compare to-day with yesterday, and, as in a tree, we see but little change. But think of the treatment of the insane, or of prisoners, now, and even so lately as only fifty years ago! Is there no advance there? Compare the pictures drawn by writers of the former day with what we now take as a matter of course, and we seem to be living in almost a new world. The function of Christianity in the world is the bettering of men in physical, moral, and spiritual progress; and the work, though gradual, is sure. Therefore learn this lesson: Be patient! You cannot take the bellows of the sky and blow the heat of heaven into greater intensity, to hasten God’s work in nature or in grace. Be patient, as God is patient. His policy is broadly progressive. In means of Gospel privilege God’s kingdom grows as under glass; but in heathen lands the progress is more slow--yet none the less sure. God’s will shall triumph in the end. He can afford to wait, and we should follow His example.
IV. We learn from the spring the hope of recovery. The Springtime is a recovering. So with grace. Salvation is a recovering--not only a setting up of something new. There was once a golden age for the race, but we have descended to an iron age; nay, even to an age of clay, and broken, clay at that. But there is a good day coming, when the earth shall be filled with more than its original blessedness. This blessedness is through Christ, in whom alone trusting you may surely find eternal life. (L. D. Bevan, D. D.)
Song of Solomon 2:10-13
Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away. For, lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone.
A Sermon for Spring
The works of creation are pictures to the children of God of the secret mysteries of grace. The very seasons of the year find their parallel in the little world of man within. Each particular season has its duty. The husbandman finds that there is a time to plough, a time to sow, a time to reap; there is a season for vintage, and a period for the pruning of the vine; there is a month for the planting of herbs, and for the ingathering of seeds. To everything there is a time and a purpose, and every season has its special labour. It seems from the text, that whenever it is springtime in our hearts, then Christ’s voice may be heard saying, “Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.” Whenever we have been delivered from a dreary winter of temptation or affliction, or tribulation,--whenever the fair spring of hope cometh upon us, and our joys begin to multiply, then we should hear the Master bidding us seek after something higher and better, and we should go forth in His strength to love Him more, and serve Him more diligently than aforetime.
I. First, with regard to the Universal Church of Christ. The history of Christ’s Church is a varied year of many seasons. She has had her high and noble processions of victory; she has had her sorrowful congregations of mourners during times of disaster and apparent defeat. Commencing with the life of Christ, what a smiling spring it was for the world when the Holy Spirit was poured out in Pentecost. The bride arose, charmed by the heavenly voice of her spouse, she girt on her beautiful garments and for some hundred years or more, she did come away; she came away from her narrowness of spirit, and she preached to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ: she came away from her attachment to the State, and she dared to confess that Christ’s kingdom was not of this world: she came away from her earthly hopes and comforts, for “they counted not their lives dear unto them that they might win Christ and be found in Him: “ she came away from all ease and rest of body, for they laboured more and more abundantly, making themselves sacrifices for Christ. Alas, alas, that season passed away, the Church grew dull and sleepy; she left her Lord, she turned aside, she leaned upon an arm of flesh, courting the endowments of earthly kingdoms, then there came a long and dreary winter, the dark ages of the world, the darker ages of the Church. At last the time of love returned, when God again visited His people and raised up for them new apostles, new martyrs, new confessors. The time of Luther and Calvin, and Melanchthon, and of Knox was come--heaven’s sunny days when once again the frost should give way to approaching summer. Then it was that men could say once again, “The winter is passed,” priestcraft has lost its power, the rain is over and gone; false doctrines shall no more be as tempests to the Church; the flowers appear on the earth--little Churches; plants of God’s right hand planting, are springing up everywhere. Oh I would to God that the Church could then have heard her Master’s voice, “Rise up my love, my fair one, and come away.” And now, brethren, in these days we have had another season of refreshing. God has been pleased to pour out His Spirit upon men again. He speaks to each denomination according to its need, but to the same import, “Rise up and come away; leave deadness and coldness and wrong-doing and hardness and harshness, and bitterness of spirit; leave idleness and slothfulness and lukewarmness; rise up and come away. Come away to preach the Gospel amongst the heathen; come away to reform the masses of this wicked city; come away from your little heartedness; from your coldness of spirit, come away: the land is before you; go up and possess it.”
II. Methinks the text has a very special voice to us as a Church. We must use the Scripture widely, but yet personally. While we know its reference to the universal Church, we must not forget its special application to ourselves. We, too, have had a season of refreshing from the presence of the Lord. A glad period of abundant increase in which there has been as many converts as we could receive, till every officer of the Church has had his hands full in seeing enquirers, and we have only had time to stop now and then and take breath, and say,. “What hath God wrought?” Well, what ought we to do? I hear the Master saying, “Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away.” I hear Jesus speaking to this Church, and saying, “Where much is given, there much shall be required. Serve not the Lord as other Churches, but yet more abundantly.”
III. Whey the time of the bridal of the soul has arrived to each convinced sinner, they also there are special duties. Young convert, young believer, in the dawn of thy piety, Jesus says, “Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away.” He asks thee to come out from the world and make a profession of thy faith in Him now: put it not off; it is the best time to profess thy faith whilst thou art young, while as yet to thee the days come not, nor the years draw nigh, when thou shalt say, “I have no pleasure in them.” Make haste and delay not to keep His commandments. Arise, and be baptized, Come ye out from among the world, be ye separate, and touch not the unclean thing; follow Christ in this perverse generation, “that you may hear Him say at the last, Of you I am not ashamed, for you were not ashamed of Me in the day when I was despised and rejected of men.” In this your early time, dedicate yourselves to God.
IV. It may be that you and I have had winters of dark trouble, succeeded by soft springs of deliverance. How have we our assurance back again; and Christ is near to us, and we have fellowship with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ. Well, then, what are we to do? Why, the Master says to us, “Rise up, and come away.” Now is the time when we should mount up to be nearer to Himself. Now that the day dawns and the shadows flee away, let us seek our beloved amid the bed of spices, and by the lilies where he feeds. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
should remind us of--
I. The introduction of the Gospel dispensation.
1. The Jewish dispensation may fitly be compared to winter.
2. The opening of the Gospel dispensation resembled the advent of spring. It was caused by the rising of the Sun of Righteousness.
II. Times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord.
1. Seasons of awakening in the experience of individuals.
2. Seasons of reformation in the history of the Church.
III. The glorious resurrection of the saints, and the full realization of the Kingdom of God and Christ. (Evangelical Preacher.)
A Spring Sermon
I. Some of the natural characteristics of spring.
1. Life will be felt to be a predominant feature. The sap is rising, with its quickening energies, through every plant and tree. The buds are opening with the elasticity and glow of life. From the nests of birds are issuing the first quivering strains of the young feathered host whose liquid music shall soon be heard rippling through all the woods: “the time of the singing of birds is come.” But amongst men death is still to be seen in dark contrast. There is bodily death; the passing hell is tolling through all these spring days. There is mental death, where ignorance, blind prejudice, and superstition prevail. And, worst of all, there is spiritual death. Men are “dead in trespasses and sins.” To such the cry comes, “Awake, thou that sleepest.”
2. Beauty shines forth in spring. We see it in unfallen blossoms and opening flowers, in the many hues of early foliage that soften and relieve each other, in the cloud-dappled sky and its moving shadows on the earth, and in the fresh clear landscape that looks as though the rain of winter and the sun of summer had combined to clothe it with rainbow radiance.
3. Beauty consists in due proportions being maintained between each part and the perfect harmonizing of them as a whole. Does your soul present this picture of spiritual beauty, or is it deformed and distorted by alienation from God? Spring proffers health and strength. The sick yearn for its balmy breath. It ministers additional vigour to the robust. But how does it find you--weakly yielding to besetting sins, victims of vices that will hurry you to the gates of hell, poor, hapless slaves of Satan, crying out, “Who will deliver me from this body of death?” Oh! to you thus groaning in impotence and sin comes a reviving strength in the beams of the Sun of Righteousness.
4. Joy and gladness distinguish the spring-time. The winds laugh as they play through the bowing trees. The leaves rustle as though the feet of fairy dancers were pattering on them. A chorus of joy rolls up to the clouds from “a thousand voices full and sweet.” Is your heart glad too? Accept the offer of mercy that is made now by Christ, who cries: “Come unto Me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
5. We are impressed at this season with the proofs of riches and wealth that are manifest around. “Thou crownest the year with Thy goodness, and Thy paths drop fatness” But yet with all this external plenty there may be leanness in the soul. The spirit may be poverty-stricken, starving, because it refuses to be fed by the hand of God, preferring the husks of this world to the corn that may be eaten in the Father’s house.
6. Lastly, we notice youth and promise as characteristics of spring. We look forward to a further development of what we see. The green blades of wheat shall become golden stalks of corn. The blushing blossoms shall give place to ripe mellow fruit. Nature is but young. It has yet to glow with maturity and to droop with age. The dew must glisten through many mornings and the sun must shine through many moons ere the moaning winds of autumn sweep the leaves to their graves. Some of you are in the spring of life. You are hopeful, and afford promise of great things. But are you beginning life “looking unto Jesus,” as your Saviour and example--seeking to grow up into the perfect stature of man in Christ Jesus? If you are not yours will be an aimless, fruitless life.
II. The revelation concerning the Divine nature which spring affords.
1. Spring testifies to the faithfulness of God. Never do the seasons cease to recur at the appointed times. The snows of winter do not forget to melt. The ice-bound rivers do not remain for ever held in silent rest. He that never slumbers nor sleeps rolls the earth on, without any exercise of care or thought on our part, until the sun’s rays can warm and revive the forms that winter’s cold has benumbed. Surely the frequent manifestations of His faithfulness in nature should inspire us with a nobler confidence, and cause us to cry with Job, “Though He slay me yet will I trust Him.”
2. But not less plainly revealed is the goodness of God. With how many hands do we see God, in the spring time, promising to supply our coming wants! The lowliest fruit of the earth proclaims that God is love. And this regard is manifested to all alike. The sun shines on the evil and on the good. But how do you regard this goodness when it is revealed in the form of mercy towards you who have sinned so greatly against God? What think you of the statement--“God so loved the world”?
3. How many evidences of the wisdom of God we may gather up at this spring time! Take that leaf, and mark the wonderful system of veins by which nutriment is supplied to the remotest part; or that flower, and see what wonderful provision is made for the propagation of the species; or that bird’s feather that lies on the ground, and see how its cylindrical pen gives it lightness and strength designing it for flight. In these minute objects that are scattered all around now we may trace Divine wisdom. But in general results we may see it equally. It is wisdom that arranges the gradual transition from winter to summer, thus adapting the change to the human constitution. It is wisdom that provides that man shall be tasked with ploughing and sowing before the reaping season comes, for were there not these healthful labours, idleness and sin would soon enervate and destroy the race. And this wisdom is that in which we invite you to confide rather than in your own erring judgments. May you learn to discern the wisdom of God in redemption, and be able with adoring faith to adopt the language of the apostle, and cry, “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God!”
4. Lastly, we will advert to the resources of God that are made known to us in the spring. We see them in the provision made for the support of the myriad living creatures that awaken to life as the spring opens. We find them also in the arrangements made for maintaining the fertility of the soil. The leaves of last autumn as they decay render the earth more rich this year. Let us learn then to trust in Him who invites us by His love, and encourages us by His wisdom and infinite power, to rely upon Him.
III. The relation of spring to the doctrine of resurrection. Spring presents the most appropriate figures whereby to represent resurrection. The forms of animal and vegetable life that lived through the last slimmer, and which either died or passed into a torpid condition at the approach of winter, now arise again in all their wonted beauty and vigour. The insect breaks forth from its chrysalis state, and spreads its bright gauzy wings in the sunshine. The seed decays, and from it arises a stately stem to wave with joyous life in the breeze. It is not without interest that the period of the resurrection of our Lord is coincident, at least in our country, with the spring-time. Let us rejoice as we read the record of that wondrous event, which confirms our faith in the Divine character of the Saviour, which proclaims His sacrifice to have been accepted, and which celebrates His victory over death and hell. This spring-time points us also to a more general resurrection of which our Lord’s was the first-fruit, when through earth’s valleys, and in the caverns of the deep, the trumpet-call of the angel shall be heard winding, summoning buried millions to the judgment-seat of Christ. In that resurrection we must take part. To the judgment-seat of Christ we must come. If you should now begin to live a life of faith in the Son of God, it will be the brightest spring that has ever blossomed around you. It will be spring in your soul. All the latent powers you possess of knowing, of loving, and of having fellowship with God shall awake to life. The lost likeness of God shall be restored. Your soul shall feel the harmony with extended nature renewed. The thrill of holy joy, and the glow of Divine life, shall be felt, with new and spiritual meaning you shall sing, “The winter is past. (R. S. Harington.)
I. Spring an emblem of youth. Winter, of age.
1. Spring is the season of hope, the dawn of the year. Looking forward. So youth is the season of bright anticipations.
2. The season of preparation. Ploughing, sowing, etc. So youth. Laying foundations of character and success.
3. The season of activity. So youth.
4. Fleeting. Youth soon merges into manhood, care and trouble comes.
II. Spring an emblem of conversion. Winter, of the unconverted state. Cold, dark, dreary.
1. The season of renewal. “Thou renewest the face of the earth.” Conversion is the renewal of the heart. “Renew a right spirit within me.”
2. The season of joy and gladness. “Time of the singing of birds is come. Conversion produces joy. Eunuch “went on his way rejoicing.”
III. Spring an emblem of revival. Winter, of declension. Spiritual barrenness. A revival needed both in churches and individuals. “O Lord, revive Thy work.”
IV. Spring an emblem of resurrection. Winter, of death.
1. Resurrection of Christ. Then the Winter of the world indeed. The race was filled with hope, joy, gladness.
2. Our resurrection at the last day.
V. Spring suggests heaven. “There everlasting Spring abides.” May the Winter of our spiritual apathy be past and the Springtide of a new life he ours. (E. Ashton Jones.)
Spring and Summer
We shall be following the example of Christ, and shall do well, when we take the words of the royal lover and apply them as the words of Divine invitation to human souls; making spring and summer, with their flowers and grass, trees and fruits, and the birds and beasts, speak on behalf of God and Christ, of Divine love and mercy, of perfect righteousness and justice, and of human activity and life.
I. Returned spring and coming summer reprove and condemn our sinful souls. Jesus Christ was sent into the world to live, and suffer, and die for human salvation; the Holy Spirit is given to quicken our spiritually dead souls into newness of life; the Church was established by Christ to preserve, and perpetuate, and extend the Gospel of salvation; the Sabbath-day and the ministry of the Word, and the public services of religion, are divinely appointed to bring the truth, and the power, and the love of God, with living energy from living hearts to cold and dead souls. This is the spiritual order of God for the regeneration of men. And this order is as powerful and effective on willing minds and obedient hearts, as returned spring and coming summer make the flowers to appear on the earth, the trees to enrobe themselves with foliage, the grain hid in the soil to grow, the birds of the air to sing, and all animate nature to join in the universal enjoyment of the world.
II. Returned spring and coming summer, with their silent processes continually and unchangeable at work, prove the Divine power and wisdom of God. Divine power and wisdom were no more visible in Christ creating and multiplying food for the hungry thousands from a few loaves, than in those slow, silent processes by which the seed springs up and bears the full corn in the ear during the course of spring and summer and autumn, and is multiplied some thirty, some sixty, and some an hundredfold. The power and wisdom of God would no more be seen in a bare, leafless, flowerless dell or grove instantly clothed with foliage and blossom of every variety of form and colour, than in the same results gradually achieved by silent, hidden, but interesting processes extending over weeks or months. The processes are the same in the first case, though accelerated or made to act in a moment of time, instead of being spread over weeks. No power other than the infinite power and Wisdom of the Divine Creator could combine the influences and forces and agencies necessary to produce in either case such a scene of beauty and sublimity.
III. Returned spring and coming summer diffuse a sweet, soothing, and sacred influence. The fields and dells and hills, the air perfumed with the breath of flowers, the bursting of buds, the spreading of luxuriant foliage bearing every shade of green, the light of heaven shining down,--all speak of the perfect goodness and the sweet loveliness of God. Even the names by which flowers are commonly known have a language of their own, by which they give utterance to pure thoughts, kindly feelings, and generous words, and speak of sympathy and affection, truth and goodness, peace and love. How beautifully, yet how marvellously, has God revealed Himself in nature; how sweet, how clear, and how lovingly does He stamp His presence and the attributes of His character upon all things, for He has made all things for beneficent ends. Even through Nature, the door of the future world is opened to our view. The forms and colours and substances of things are perfectly adapted to preserve and promote our earthly comfort and life; and may we not assume there will be in glory the same natural, pleasing, and perfect fitness of all things to preserve and promote our glorious life in the likeness of Jesus Christ? The same God who rules and reigns on earth also rules and reigns in heaven I
V. Returned spring and coming summer, in awakening the energies and activities of nature from their winter’s sleep, call us to arise to active work. It is God that worketh in us both to will and to do of His good pleasure; and yet we must both will and do as He works in us by His Word and Spirit. The energies of our spiritual nature must have opportunities of exercise until they form gradually in us habits of grace and goodness. We must carefully form and actively maintain habits of piety, such as prayer, faith, love, self-restraint, reverence, and decision. We must sustain a conscience void of offence, and sensitive of evil. We must abhor selfishness, pride, and immorality. We must cultivate close attachment to Jesus Christ, and love Him as our Saviour for His love to us. We must live in sympathy with every good work, and with all good men; and we must give full play to our living activities in doing good. (W. Simpson.)
The Risen Christ the Church’s spring
I. A Syrian spring-time.
1. Winter past, and rain over. In Syria, winter rains descend in torrents unknown to us, but at a certain time spring at once succeeds, and for months clouds are never seen (1 Samuel 12:16-19; Proverbs 26:1).
2. Change marvellous. Tender grass springs out of earth (2 Samuel 23:4). Ground enamelled with lovely flowers. Fig-tree puts forth her green fruit, and vines their fragrant smell.
3. Singing and voice of the turtle heard. Its presence a sure sign of the return of spring (Jeremiah 8:7).
II. Christ’s resurrection a spiritual spring-time.
1. History of early Church. Contrast apostles as seen in the Gospels and in the Acts--winter and spring.
2. History of religious revivals. Churches for a season in wintry state, Scripture pastures snow-covered, spiritual streams ice-bound. When, however, Christ is preached, not only as a pattern of life, not only as propitiation for sin, but as the risen Saviour pleading at God s right hand, then the Spirit works a wondrous change. Barren winter and dark days no more, the Sun of Righteousness shines, spring returns, pastures are green, waters flow softly, fruits of righteousness abound. Converts grow in grace, as willows by watercourses.
3. History of individual believer. May have felt dark and dead; but when the Spirit quickens this truth in him then day breaks, shadows flee away. Realizing in Christ’s Resurrection God’s acceptance of the finished work on his behalf, he henceforth walks in holy peace and liberty,--each day a Sabbath, a sacrament in every meal; he loves to break the costly spikenard in the ardour of spiritual love and joy.
III. Christ’s return will be a never-ending spring. At His coming all things will be made new. The winter of sin and sorrow will be past, and there will be no more sin and no more tears. Then the dew of herbs (Isaiah 26:19). When, at the voice of the Beloved, the Bride comes forth from her wintry grave, and enters with Him the garden of God, then creation itself will be delivered from the bondage of corruption (Romans 8:21); then mountains and hills will rejoice, and trees will clap their hands, whilst the Church serves its Lord with gladness, and comes into His presence with a song. (Bp. Bardsley.)
The most obvious analogy which the spring suggests is--
I. The resurrection of many forms and kinds of life, which for a period of time were dead.
1. Spring represents us with a marvellous example of the sufficiency of means to produce, in a short time, a great change in the appearance of the earth. The existence of this power is calculated to remove all doubt from the mind regarding those agencies which shall be employed to awaken the buried inhabitants of Time from their wide-spread places of rest.
2. As spring brings back to us familiar objects, so the resurrection will re-unite us to those we loved and from whom we had parted on earth, with sorrow. As then, we visit the resting-places of those clear to us on “God’s acre,” as the Germans term the graveyard, and see the violets blooming above their tombs, and the buds appearing on the trees, the heart is comforted by those emblems of hope, and feels that those from whom it has parted are not lost, but gone before, and that they shall meet them on the resurrection morn.
II. The renewing of the face of the earth is a type of a renewing of the soul. AS the day comes out of night, or as the spring emerges from winter, so the soul passes from death into the flesh light of a new life by the power of the Holy Spirit. “Old things pass away and all things become new.” And as spring gives a tone to the sky, the cloud, the air and the fields, so the new life of the soul, being diffusive, gives a tone and colouring to the thoughts, the feelings, and the actions of the Christian.
1. This progress of the soul in the Divine life is, like the progress of the spring, gradual. Sin does not easily relax its grasp; old habits are not thrown off at will; so that the virgin joys of the new life of the soul are often chilled by the cold influences of sin, striving to renew their reign like the winter.
2. This progress of the soul in the Divine life is, like the progress of spring, irresistible. Winter must give place to spring. So faith, like a grain of mustard seed in the soul, will germinate and expand, and progress, and establish itself in holy desires, fervent affections, and correct thoughts, under the life-giving influence of the Sun of Righteousness.
3. This progress of the soul in the Divine life is, like the progress of spring, pleasing. As spring introduces us to new pleasures; the renewing of the soul leads us to fresh delights.
III. Spring is illustrative of youthful life. Spring is a period of importance to the husbandman; so is youth. (Homilist.)
“I will arise--I who have resisted so long--and go to my Father.” It may be so with them there; but here there is but little chance for them. “The moth shall eat them up like a garment, and the worm shall devour them like wool.” (Stopford Brooke, M. A.)
No wonder is so wonderful as the birth of spring. Music, painting, and poetry, all art and every artist has felt its power to quicken life and warm emotion, and has striven to express its charm and thrill of joy. Every year we are moved by its coming, morally and physically. No one who heard the warm west wind of this April flowing through the trees and felt the secret stirring that was made in blood and brain, but knew the influence of spring upon the body. As the sap ran upwards through the flowers, so the blood went swifter through the veins, and the physical emotion sent its message to that immaterial life of thought and feeling which we call the spirit. And the spirit receiving the impressions, took and moulded them into ideas by the imagination and sent the ideas forth to give motives to the will. The first thought that occurs is the abounding life of Spring. Through all, there ran, as the first mark of life, the sense and power of love. All things that lived seemed to sacrifice their best in colour, beauty, and life for one another; I could not think of any one leaf or plant without thinking of the rest, so deep was the impression of the brotherhood of all, so strong was the feeling of ceaseless intercommunion that came to me from the universe of spring, and told me that love was its spirit. And not only love lived there, but joy that was intense. The face of every flower was like that of a radiant child. The air shook with the joyful thoughts of the birds, the dance of insect life had begun, and the airy ravishment of the butterfly born too soon, was the expression of the life that trembled with delight through every animal. Life, love, joy, what are these in their tale to the spirit, as spring sends them flowing into our hearts? They are a revelation of the Being of God. Its first attribute is infinite life. Decay, death, sorrow, dulness, the wearing out of feeling, they are only the accidents of our trial time, and in themselves part of life and not of death. Let them touch us as they will, they cannot last for ever; for they are weaker than life, when life is God. Again, this life is Love-love in God, the same as goodness. What else can it be but love, for it is creative? That there is such a thing as creation; that life and joy come out of death and pain; that the wonder of the spring is born out of the travail of the winter, is proof enough to those who feel how impossible creation is to evil, that it is goodness--goodness that stream forth as love, love that is lifo in all things, that is the spirit of the universe. And, again, if life and love be one in the being of God, that being must also be joy, infinite, self-exultant, varying through every phase of quiet and of rapture. Words would fail to paint one moment of its triumphant fulness; joy is the glory of God. True, it is dear to us who need sympathy in pain, who know so much of pain, to feel, through Christ, that God can be touched with sorrow for us, that it pitieth Him to see us in the dust, but that is not of the absolute in His Being. The essence of His Being is, on the contrary, joy, intense, overflowing, streaming in rapturous life through universes of life, material and immaterial. These, then, are the three thoughts of God’s Being that we bind up with the woods and fields and streams of spring. We take the same thoughts now and bring them to touch on our own life. Spring is the image of our youth, and the lesson we learn from it is--that our youth should be Life, and Love, and Joy, and that these are its natural companions. Life lives with youth, and its first rush is wonderful. Thoughts break out into leaf, feelings into blossoms; a single day in that time of sun and rain may make the whole heart like a woodland; when the foliage of sweet thoughts first appears the grass is not seen for flowers. The first touch of love, the touch of a new aspiration, the winning of one new knowledge, may loosen the bonds of a thousand seeds of thought, and set them shooting upwards into growth and life. We are often born in a day; life then begins, and I hold it our duty in youth to put our whole force into living. There is yet another lesson. Along with the leaves is born the cup of the flower, and with the flowers are involved the seeds. In all true life future life is hidden; provision is made for that production which is the first mark of life, for continuance of life and for its flower. Think of that truth as the spring moves your blood. Is there the element of continuance in anything you do? In your life are there seeds which, when decay comes, will insure a new outburst of life? Have you some certainty that you nave life enough to flower? Is the true flower of a beautiful or useful life already formed in you? Are you showing forth already the beauty and sweetness and charm which tell that the flower is coming? If these things be so, then you are living the fullest and the quickest life, the life of which spring is the image, of which God is the reality. But you cannot have in youth the life of spring without also having its love. Make the brotherhood of the flowers, their intercommunion of good, their joyous sacrifice of all they have in order to give joy, the example and impulse of your youth; make your springtide the reflection of the spring in love. Pour forth all the odour, colour, charm and happiness you have to all your friends, to your home, to your daily society, to the poor and sorrowful, the joyous and prosperous. Charm the world by love. Brighten darkened lives, soften the rude, make a sunshine of peace in stormy places, cover the faults and follies of men with the flowers of love, And, finally, this will be joy. Not the wild, self-exhausting joy of wild persons wildly wrought, but something which, though quieter, is even more intense, only it is not over tense. The strings of life are in tune, not stretched almost to breaking; and music comes, not discord; music in which others rejoice, in which we ourselves rejoice. Life led by love has as its child the radiancy of joy. It is a joy none can take away, because it has its roots in the joy which we make in others, because it has its deepest root in the joy which life and love make in the being of God. (Stopford Brooke, M. A.)
Spring-time in nature and in experience
Nature teaches that to every season of trouble and overthrow there comes resurrection. In the deepest January of the year there is a nerve that runs forward to June. Life is never extinguished. That which seems to be death reaches forward and touches that which is vital.
I. Nations seem to have their periods like the year. Neither in civilization nor in Christian elements do they seem to mount up with steady growth. They move, rather, as it were in spirals. They often return as if falling back, and yet their progress, on the whole, is onward.
II. Deep convulsions and embarrassments of all industrial pursuits are wont to go along with national trials. So it has been with us. To all those whose wheels of enterprise are blocked; to all those whose past growths are withering; to all whose roots are locked in the icy soil; to all whose leaves are touched by the frost of disappointment--to them I say, the winter is past; the time of the singing of birds has come. Wait a little; some more snows may fall, and there may be some more frosts; but the time of the singing of birds has come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our affairs.
III. There are the same experiences in families as in nations and industrial communities. There are some families that seem compelled to go to the promised land, as the Israelites did, through a desert. There are many that, having experienced long years of toil and suffering, come out only at last. But there are many that, having been prospered and happy, lapse into a state of want and trouble. The streams that swelled with prosperity, swell no more; the birds that sang of prosperity sing no more. They come from wealth and comfort into distress and poverty. But are there no spring-like days that come upon the winter of troubles in the household? Is it all blast, all blight, all burying? Is there nothing but pale, white, enwrapping snow? Are there no birds that ever fly athwart the sky of the bereaved family? Is there an utter absence of everything like comfort and cheer? Blessed be God, even though trouble may abide, joy comes too.
IV. The same is eminently true of individuals. They know not why things have gone against them. If you were to hear some men’s experience, you would think that they grow as the white pine grows, with straight grain, and easily split--for I notice that all that grow easy split easy. But there are some that grow as the mahogany grows, with veneering knots, and all quirls and contortions of grain. That is the best timber of the forest which has the most knots. Everybody seeks it, because, being hard to grow, it is hard to wear out. And when knots have been sawn and polished, how beautiful they are! There are those who have fought the fight of great trouble in sickness. Not all the soldiers of God are in the battle-field. There are those there who are strong-backed, whose muscles are like brawn, whose bones are like flint, and whose faces, for zeal, are like the face of January, and for enthusiasm are like the face of July. But these are not God s only soldiers, nor his strongest soldiers. Some of God’s most heroic soldiers are the bedridden. If sickness be God’s will, even so. His will be done, not mine. The time of the singing of birds has come to such a heart. To such a heart spring has come, and summer is not far off.
V. There are applications innumerable to spiritual conditions. Many of you have cast your leaves. You have seen November, and gone wading through the cold winter of backsliding. But March has come round to you. A little bird began to sing right in your family. Before you thought of such a thing, you heard the singing of birds. It was your daughter that sung; or, it was the little child of your next-door neighbour. There is beginning to be a warmth in your heart. You are beginning to think of your declining days. You are beginning to yearn for the old love. You are beginning to say, “Is it not time for the winter to be gone, and for the spring to have come in my heart?” The time, oh! backsliding Christians; oh, wandering professor of religion; oh! child of God, beloved of Him, and yet forgetful of your Father and your Saviour--the time of the singing of birds has come to you. Rise up and rejoice!
VI. We are all of us going through life as a kind of winter. We are as we go towards age, dropping our hair, and losing, one by one, our senses. We are drifting towards autumn. Then come the vacuous days of the winter of seeming uselessness--declines which men dread. How many hate age! This is the winter of human life, to be sure: but just beyond is the rising of that bright immortal spring where the birds of heaven sing, and which, when it has once begun, shall never be followed by winter, and shall never be visited by storms. We are all of us drawing near to the sweet spring of resurrection. (H. W. Beecher.)
The joy of spring
Spring is the season of resurrection, the period of renewed hope and quickened sensibilities, when the gloom of winter is forgotten in the anticipation of growing brightness and life The spring is a season that awakens hope, that revives deadened sensibilities, that gives a man a new sense of life, and makes him feel young again. Milton tells us that the muses always came back to him in spring. He could not sing very much as a rule, in winter, but when spring came back the muses came. He caught the youthfulness and hopefulness of spring: he looked round, and saw life springing triumphantly out of the grave of winter: he saw the feeblest growths rejoice in a new life and beauty. Then, too, his own intellect, under the blessing and inspiration of his God, just as the flower under the blessing and inspiration of a spring sky, began to blossom anew. Spring, therefore, is a season that comes to all sensitive men with special freshness and inspiration. It is something to feel that after all death is not the mightiest thing even in this physical world. When the spring comes, life in its tenderest, loveliest, and most delicate forms springs out of the cold and lately frozen earth. Look at the little bud as it opens. What so delicate as the flower? Take it up and carry it in your hand; you have to guard against withering it by the warmth of your hand. And yet there it is--it has sprung up, almost before you knew it, out of the cold and bare earth. The sun came in the brightness of his rising, and, under the genial effects of his warmth that little flower sprang up out of the clammy soil. Is not that a message for us? Can a life so exquisitely tender and so beautiful spring out of the desolate earth? Then I have learnt once more that all along the line, even in the physical world, life is triumphant. That even in the revolving year death only reigns for a brief season, and even then to answer the higher purposes of life in its rich and varied developments and outgrowths; so that when the proper season comes, life asserts itself anew, in new forms of beauty, that surprise the eye, and delight, the heart.
1. The spring delights the eye--“The flowers appear on the earth.” What are the uses of flowers? Surely one is the joy they give to life. It is as if God said to Nature, “I am about to give thee reviving power: see to it that the first things thou bringest forth shall be things of beauty, a joy to the child’s eye, a solace to the heart of the invalid in the sick room, and a delight to the bedimmed vision of the aged ere the realities of another world dawn upon them. See to it that thou puttest on thy loveliest garb--not the useful for the moment so much as the delightful, which, however, shall be the promise of the useful by and by.” Nature responds and sends forth its lovely flowers--“flowers appear on the earth.” But God has also higher motives than that. It is His will that the flowers should take their humble and doubtless secondary part, but a very important one, in our and in our children’s education. He has not merely intended that we should be hard at work from morning to night, and see the buildings which our hands and other hands have erected, without seeing a field or becoming rapturous over an opening flower. No, He bids us go forth to the fields, as opportunity offers, and see how happy God would have His children be, “for the flowers appear in the earth.”
2. But not only is the eye appealed to by the beauty of Nature, but also the ear by its music--“The time of the singing of birds is come.” Out of the fulness of the heart the bird pours out its harmonies. This is the safety valve, or the bird would die of compression. It sends out the music because it cannot keep it in. This is the instinct that God has put in the heart of the bird, bidding him “tell out the joy that is in him.” This is a blessed privilege. And as it is true of the bird, it ought to be true of the Christian. The Christian must sing out his joy like the bird, not for the sake of effect, but for the joy and relief that the very act gives. Wendell Holmes tells us that there are some men and women who “die with all their music in them.” This is spoken of as one of the saddest possibilities of life. There are circumstances in life which have so oppressed them that they grow sullen, hopeless, and despairing. There is nothing more sad than such a sight. The Christian surely should be beyond that. O man, touch the strings of thy lyre, and out of those finger tips shall go forth harmonies into every string thou touchest. Do not sit down in the dust; lift up thy voice withal, to and for God. Speak for Christ, and sing of His love; and out of thy soul, even in trial and in affliction, shall inspiring harmonies go forth.
3. Not only does the spring gratify the eye and the ear, but also the smell. This is the third gate of which Bunyan speaks. Here we have a perfect picture of a peaceful home in the East. We have already read of the eye being gratified, and the ear charmed, and now we read of the tender grape giving a sweet smell. And so God speaks to us through the avenues of even our physical senses. It is His wish that we should all be happy on this bright spring day, and that, like the flowers and the birds, and sweet smelling blossoms, we should be full of praise to His name. (D. Davies.)
The spring and its voles
Spring has a great deal to say to us that may be worthy of our attention. She speaks to various characters.
1. We will, in the first place, listen to what spring has to say to the aged Christian. It is pregnant with hope, joy, and immortality, because God has put these precious things into his heart.
2. The spring has also something to say to the young Christian. The spring to you is pregnant with promise, full of hope. And when you look around on this wide-spread-picture of Divine benevolence, and remember that all these things have come into existence at the voice of God, and reflect upon the fact that the God, who has again covered Nature with beauty and glory, is the God you serve and the Saviour that redeemed your spirit, spring may well teach you the importance of a strong and vigorous hope. What cannot He do for your spirit who can thus adorn Nature? But spring also teaches you that in connection with your religion there should be toil. How concerned the husbandman is to get in the seed on which their hopes of a crop depend. So it must be with you. Now is the time to grow in the knowledge of your Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. These bright and fair opportunities may never return. Remember, moreover, that you are bound, as Christians, to “contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints”; but, in order that you may do so, you must understand what that faith is. You must love the Word of God, and ponder often and deeply over the precious Gospels, and study, also, the writings of good men. Get into your minds a goodly store of precious truth--a kind of bread-house to which you shall repair in other days, and get that spiritual nutriment which you will need.
3. The spring also speaks to the afflicted Christian. There may be some one here greatly tempted in soul. It may be there is winter within. Thou art ready to come to the conclusion that God hath forsaken thee; that there is death and destruction in this winter. But it is not so. Winter precedes the harvest-home; and so this spiritual winter is not intended to destroy, but to do a necessary work, as in Nature. God frequently brings winter into the hearts of His people that He may teach them His will. This winter may have come upon thee in love. It may be that roots of spiritual pride and presumption require to be rooted up, which have stifled the meekness and tenderness of thy love towards Christ. It may be that He has brought this winter upon thee to teach thee the vanity of the creature, and that without Christ there is no enjoyment, but that with the presence of Christ, even winter can be a joy to thee; while summer itself without Him, without Christ, would be a miserable desert--a winter of desolation.
4. Spring also speaks to the slothful Christian. And what is the voice of spring to him? Awake, thou sluggard. Every green leaf which surrounds thee, all the various forms of life which encompass thy path, the very birds of the air reprove thee; all Nature speaks, and calls upon thee to arise from the dust, and shake thyself. Has not thy soil been waste long enough?
5. Spring also speaks to the backslider. All Nature is coming back to her original beauty and glory--coming out of the womb of winter. Does it not speak to thee, backslider? Thou hast wandered from the Lord, and it is now winter with thee. Thy soul is miserable. The smile of God is not upon thy spirit. But does not spring speak to thee, and say, come back again? By the remembrance of the past, by the patience of thy Lord whom thou hast pierced and wounded, return again. He says to thee, “Return, oh, backsliding children!”
6. Spring also speaks to the sinner--to the man who has been altogether unconcerned about the state of his soul. Dream not of heaven you who treat the Gospel as a fable and bring forth no fruits of contrition, of faith, hope, love, and meekness. Unless men have their Springtide here, they will not have it in the paradise above. (W. P. Balfern.)
The Springtime call
Each succeeding season comes to the world with a new and peculiar influence. Spring has a different language from winter. She stirs different forces within the human frame. She evokes different feelings within the human heart. She hath a gladsome voice, and her step is altogether light and joyous. And men change under her influence; then they will come to bear the impress of summer’s hand, and then again grow sad and contemplative with autumn. And the Christian lives in this world and under these varying influences; and they, like all the multiform forces which he feels, should prove religious,--favouring breezes to swell the sails of his Christian life; drawing powers to draw towards happiness and peace, and purity and God. Hence Christ’s exhortation to His Church in the text.
I. He calls unto her through the beauty of the spring-time. His exhortation hath for its emphasis, or one of its most beautiful settings, the blossoming flowers. “Arise, come away, for the flowers appear on the earth.” Scattered throughout the earth; blooming now upon mountain top, and now in deepest gorge; now lifting up its tiny form from out the crevasses of the ice-fields, and now painting itself in gorgeous hues beneath a tropical sun; now blooming in lonely desert, where no eye save that of God may note its beauty, and now upon the beaten thoroughfare lifting up its spiritual face beneath the rude gaze of the passers-by; now, in rich profusion, heaped upon the casket of death until its ghastliness is well-nigh abolished, and, now, in wreaths of orange and snow, lending the last charm and grace to animated beauty,--the flower, wherever it blooms, is a smile of God lingering upon the earth; the most delicate earthly blossoming of that spirit of beauty which God has breathed into all the works of His hand. And spring is full of flowers. She stretches forth her wand over the earth, and forthwith they start up in innumerable ranks of loveliness. She calls with her voice, and they come trooping in beautiful array to her side. She cries out that the winter is gone, and assured of safety, as an angel ambuscade, they lift up their smiling faces over all the earth. She breathes with the breath of the south wind over field and garden, and at once they rise up from their wintry graves, their spirits of life laden with ten thousand odours. And so God calls unto men through the voice of the spring; for this is the voice of flowers and of beauty. With the beauty which is external He would call unto that which belongs to the soul, and which is the beauty of holiness. As, then, during the coming days, and amid the opening glories of the spring-time, your Nature shall feel the softening influence, and flow out in warmer and swifter currents towards the lovely, the beautiful, and the good, know that all this is the voice of your Saviour speaking unto you, and saying, “Arise, come away.” Open your heart to the gentle and purifying influences which, at this season of the year, fill the air; for they will do you good and not evil. They will have for you a voice from God speaking of the beauty which is unfading,--the beauty of holiness, which blossoms perennially in the world above.
II. The call of the Saviour is through the joy of the springtime. There is joy in the vernal season as well as beauty; and this joy is made the organ of the Saviour’s call: “The time of the singing of birds is come. Arise, my love, and come away.” As the Creator of all things, He is the Author of all the joy which fills the world, and which meets in a royal crown upon the head of spring. Birds sing because He, the Good One, has created them so full of joy that they cannot help but sing. The waters laugh in the sunshine, and join in merry music as they flow, because lie has made the sun so bright and water so clear. Children disport themselves in the streets, and fill the air with their merry voices, because children are fresh from God,--freshly filled with joy at an infinite fountain. God is the joy of this world. Forget not the joy-fountain, while you bathe yourself in the joy-streams! While gladness streams into your heart, let grateful love flow out from it and upward. And, oh! if perchance you are a dissonant, jarring being within this world of joy and gladness; if the waves of the spring-time joy, as they roll over this world, reach not your dry and thirsty and unhappy heart,--still is the voice of the Saviour unto you through all this unshared flood, which, Tantalus like, you reach after, but may not drink. Listen to His words, “Arise, come away.” God has the joy which you need also,--enough for all your cravings, and to fill you too. Pray Him that by His renewing Spirit He would create spring-time within your soul, and fill you with this joy of His which rolls and flows throughout His Being and throughout His realm.
III. The call of the text is unto men through the fruitful life of the spring. The winter has been the night of Nature, and with spring comes the morning, in which, as in a gradually awakening city, begins the hum of life, swelling louder and louder into the full activity of midday. Spring is life from the dead; resurrection, reanimation, restoration. And God speaks through it as such, proclaiming Himself as the Life-giver, and through it He also calls for life within His followers. Some of you, it may be, have been hibernating in the Church: you have not been dead, but torpid; hoping little, feeling little, doing little. Come away; leave your winter-quarters; throw off their imprisonment, their constraint, their dull routine. Forth into the field where your Saviour calls; go, to ramble with Him through the flowery fields and beside the still waters. Drink of the fulness of a spiritual spring-time. Dare to hope more, to attempt more, to enjoy more. Let all the fulness of your being flow out towards the Saviour, who loves you with an everlasting love. (S. S. Mitchell, D. D.)
The flowers appear on the earth.--
What object do flowers serve in the Economy in Nature and in the purposes of God? Every one admits that the flowers are beautiful--strikingly and prominently beautiful, even among the choicest beauties of God’s most perfect works. Now, philosophers tell us that the useful is the beautiful--that things are beautiful in proportion to their usefulness in supplying the material wants of men. According to this theory, an ear of corn ought to be more beautiful than a rose or a lily, and yet there is probably not a sound-minded man in the whole world who would not consider the useless rose more beautiful than the useful ear of corn. In fact, the flowers that men have always agreed to regard as the most beautiful are in most cases absolutely useless for man, from a utilitarian point of view. This proves, then, that beauty is something very different from mere usefulness. In reality the great characteristic of beauty is to lift up our minds from mere worldly usefulness to the contemplation of the perfect and the Divine: to lift our hearts and minds to God. For example, we might speak of beautiful conduct, and what is it that constitutes beauty of conduct? Conduct is beautiful in proportion as it approaches the conduct of Christ. Again, what is it that constitutes beauty in literature? Literature is beautiful in proportion as it reveals by means of suitable language the soul of man in its Godward aspirations. In everything, then, which we call beautiful, we find that this principle holds good, and the more powerful to lift up our hearts unto God, the more beautiful. Beauty is the manifestation of God in His works. Why, then, do we regard the flowers as beautiful? We regard the flowers as beautiful because they direct our thoughts to God. God is the natural destiny of man. God is the one thing that every man either consciously or unconsciously longs for. Whatever helps to satisfy your longing is pleasurable, and when the longing is of an elevating nature--when it is Godward--the pleasurable is also the beautiful. Art is elevating and ennobling only when its votary has learned to cultivate the beautiful as a means of approach to God. This was the spirit in which the greatest architects, the greatest sculptors, the greatest painters and the greatest poets did their work, and so no atheist, however great his natural talent, has ever yet produced a master work, either in art or in literature. The first condition of true art is to recognize the beautiful as an expression of the Divine. To the sound and healthy and pure mind everything beautiful in man or in the world around him points towards God. And so the flowers are beautiful, not because they are useful, but because they lift up our hearts to God. There are many ways in which they do this, many lessons which they teach us in their silent eloquence with more force and more clearness than the words of our greatest and our wisest teachers. Our Lord Himself taught some of His most important lessons from such ordinary things as the lilies of the field, and the grass, and each one of those lessons had for its aim the lifting up of our hearts to God. Christ made use of the humble beauty of the flowers to attain that end. One of the first conditions of realizing the presence of God is to learn the lesson of humility. This is taught by the flowers. Most men are vain of something--appearance, attainments, position, and so on--but Jesus rebukes such vanity by telling us to “consider the lilies of the field.” I say unto you that even Solomon, in all his glory, was not arrayed like one of these. Christ makes use of the flowers to teach us the lesson of faith--also one of the conditions of any real knowledge of God or communion with Him. The flowers prove that God is just as careful of small things as He is of large things. Again, the flowers teach us the shortness and the uncertainty of human life. Out of the dull-looking stem springs forth mysteriously and silently, the flagrant blossom of loveliest hue. It spreads itself out in smiling gladness, to the light and warmth of the sun. It gladdens the eye of the beholder with its beauteous presence, but no sooner does it attain its highest perfection than it fades away in a breath of wind and vanishes quite as mysteriously as it came. And so the earthly life of man passeth away as mysteriously as it came, and the place that knew him shall know him no more. And once more, do not the flowers teach the great and comforting lesson of the resurrection from the dead and the immortality of the soul? Complete indeed is the withering of a flower. The beauty, the colour, the fragrance, the delight of it vanish away, leaving no trace or vestige behind, even as the life of man does. But, in spite of the cold and frost of winter, the dead stump will awake to life after many days. The summer sun will shine upon it. The bud will appear, the flower will bloom once more in its pristine beauty, a perfect and a never-failing emblem of the resurrection and the life. (A. Macrae, B. A.)
The teaching of the flowers
“The flowers appear on the earth not accidentally, but for gracious ends and purposes.
I. To testify of their maker’s wisdom and skill. Take the best human imitation, and how far short it falls of the Divine original I Different shades, and delicate blendings of colour, the perfect structure and reviving scent defy reproduction by man. No two blades of grass are exactly alike, nor two flowers, even of the same species. Why? A profound mystery, enough to awe and humble us.
II. To proclaim the goodness of God. We may see His compassion for His children in every flower that bends to the breeze. A believer on the verge of starvation, or in temptation, or oppressed by spiritual chill and lethargy might argue a fortiori: “If God so clothe the grass of the field . . . ?” “If God provides even flowers with means of protection and recovery . . . ?” “If the flowers praise the Lord, shall I be silent?”
III. As a protest against human discontent. Flowers are content to bloom where they are planted. “Godliness with contentment is great gain.” Still, we must not be the slaves of our environment. Submission may be servile and ruinous to our manhood; e.g. to continue in a business that compels dishonesty or injury to others. But where we are earning an honest livelihood, and Providence does not point the way to some other sphere, it is our duty, and certainly our interest, to be quiet, cheerful, and contented.
IV. As a symbol of our mortality. Mazzini preferred the pale blossoms of the syringe to the rose because their acrid perfume suggested hidden stings in all pleasures, and so were a better type of life. And it is not a morbid religiousness that sees in every frail flower an emblem of our fragile and fleeting life. Let us face the fact bravely. As we see the flower of our existence fading let us dispense fragrance while we may. And let those whose earthly leaf is withered anticipate the completer life beyond. (John Wright.)
1. Note the infinite variety of flowers, and how they thrive in all sorts of places. High up on the mountains, at the very edge of the snow, is found the purple soldanella, the white crocus, and the blue hepatica. Down in the sultry plain blooms the red poppy, the white dog-daisy, and the blue corn-flower; in the cold, raw winds of March, the dearly-loved snowdrop shakes its pure bell. Everywhere, in all sorts of situations, in all sorts of climates, out of all sorts of soils, spring up the flowers God has made. Everywhere, in all sorts of situations, in all ranks of life, in all conditions of life, out of every social deposit, the saints of God arise. Everywhere the grace of God shines and matures the seed of eternal life, and causes the flowers of a Christian life to unfold. And as each flower is specially suited to the soil in which it grows, and to the climate which surrounds it, so it is with the Christian graces. There are special graces, special virtues, according to class, and place, and circumstances.
2. At certain times you may be discouraged, and think that you cannot serve God in the place where you are, you have so many difficulties to contend against, those around you are so wicked. But do not fear. God’s flowers will grow everywhere. What can be fouler than the filth in which the water-lily has her roots, the slime in which the newt and the worm wriggle, and yet, what more stainless or sunlike than the flower? I have known lads in mechanical workshops, surrounded by men blaspheming, cursing, doing all in their power to degrade and brutalize the boys associated with them. And yet some of these ]ads have maintained a really heroic Christian faith and walk before God.
3. The first growth of the seed or root is hidden. The process is unseen. I dare say you know the rule to be observed with hyacinth bulbs grown in glasses. They have to be put away in the dark till they are rooted. So must it be with the spiritual growth of the soul, its first processes must be hidden. There must be no display of religion, no talking about it, no demonstrative piety; all that sort of show leads to poor flowering. The rooting and germinating must be hidden deep down in the soft soil of the inner heart. It is afterwards that the flower of a Christian life expands. Now for another lesson. Have you ever observed a flower in its growth from a seed? The seed leaves unfurl,--two little leaves, quite unlike those the plant will eventually bear. These open, and are extended like little hands towards heaven. They are very sensitive. On them depends the life of the plant. If those little appealing hands be destroyed, the plant will cast up no more. It will rot away underground, and die. Like the seed leaves of the plant are children’s prayers. These are the first manifestations of the soul’s life. The little hands are lifted up to God appealingly, often ignorantly, but trustfully and lovingly. Most essential to the spiritual life are children’s spiritual beginnings. They must be carefully guarded. Beware, children, how you suffer your early prayers to cease, to die. On them depends the life and health of your soul in after life. (S. Baring Gould, M. A.)
For a flower service
Nothing that we can conceive of is prettier than flowers. People who teach or learn drawing speak sometimes of “the line of beauty,” and they bestow vast pains in order to be able to draw it. Did you ever observe a flower which was without a line of beauty? No;--flowers are always, when their growth is not interfered with, as perfect in form as can be, and all the lines of beauty which ever were drawn or designed by man must, I think, have been copied, in the first instance, from leaves and flowers. Of this you may have plenty of proofs by noticing beautiful pillars in buildings, beautiful patterns on vases, beautiful pictures, beautiful forms of man’s devising anywhere; in most, or many, of them you will find that the beauty consists in curves copied from flowers and leaves. Ah! there is a lesson for you here, to be learned from the beauty and perfect form of flowers; it is this:--If you wish your lives to be as beautiful and perfect as they can be, you must fashion them after a God-given example. Nobody can make a plant or flower. It must grow in God’s appointed way and no other. Having grown, it lends itself to the architect, the painter, the poet, the potter, to anybody having need thereof, to make the copy he desires. So also there is one perfect life, one perfect character, of God’s appointment, given to mankind, from which to copy. In so far as you make Christ’s life your pattern and example, your life and character shall be full of grace, beauty, and sweetness. Linnaeus, the great Swedish botanist, used to observe the beautiful order which reigns among certain flowers, and so was led to suggest the telling of time by what he called “a floral clock.” It was to be composed of plants which open and close their blossoms at particular hours; as, for instance, the dandelion, which opens its petals at six in the morning, the hawkweed at seven, the succory at eight, the celandine at nine, and so on; the closing of the flowers being marked with equal regularity, so as to indicate the progress of afternoon and evening. What a lovely thing it would be thus to bedeck every passing hour of life with grace and obedience, as the flowers do. Shall they be punctual in all that concerns the purpose for which they are made, and boys and girls, who have reason and intelligence to guide them, be unpunctual? Nay,--but let the flowers which open early in the morning remind you of the call to prayer; those which open later, of the call to work and duty; those that close in afternoon or evening may lead you to reflect on the way in which you have spent your day, and teach you to commit yourselves to God’s care and keeping during the darkness of the coming night. In this way you will, with undeviating regularity, learn to obey the influence of the Sun of Righteousness, and give each following hour its proper due, just as the flowers accommodate themselves to the influence of the natural sun. Has it ever occurred to you that the common names of flowers often tell us of the way in which they were regarded by the people who first named them? Pansy was originally a French word, meaning thought. The pansy, then, was the thought-flower. It is very fitting, therefore, that it should be found everywhere. The whole world is governed by thought. But, we must remember that thought may be either evil or good. Now the pansy ought never to suggest evil thought. How should it? It is, in itself, so beautiful and perfect that only an ill-disposed and perverted mind could be persuaded to evil by it. People bent on evil deeds do not seek for inspiration how to accomplish them by thinking of pretty flowers. They are not led by the beauty of pansies or other blossoms to be ill-tempered, or spiteful, or disobedient, or untruthful, or to commit thefts, or fall into other crimes. The thought suggested by the pansy, then, is good thought, thought beautiful like its emblem. “The best thoughts are those which a man conceives when on his knees before his God.” Thus we should think what God is: a loving, merciful Father; what the Lord Jesus Christ is: a tender, atoning Saviour; what God the Holy Spirit is: a Sanctifier who will dwell in us and make us holy. Again, we should think what we ourselves are: weak and sinful by nature, who need God’s help to make us better. Thirdly, we should think of others, and of what we can do to benefit them. Thus our thoughts should really be concerned with what is set before us in the Church Catechism as, “Our duty to God and our duty to our neighbour.” I may tell you that the pansy, the thought-flower, has another common name which bears strangely on this subject: It is heart’s-ease. A good deal of our duty to our neighbour consists in giving, where we can, heart’s-ease, peace of mind. An old ordained minister of the Church, who lived many years ago, used to say: “I see in this world two heaps, one of human misery, and the other of human happiness. Now if I take but the smallest bit from one heap and add it to the other, I carry a point; I feel I have done something.” And is this all I am to say? Oh! no. By and by, when you are blessed with means such as are not expected in the case of children, you will dedicate something more than flowers to God s service. In former days there lived a princess Eugenie, sister of the king of Sweden. She set her mind on finishing a hospital which had been begun, and, to do so, sold her diamonds. When visiting this hospital, after its completion, a suffering inmate wept tears of gratitude as she stood by his side “Ah!” exclaimed the princess, “now I see my diamonds again.” Do you understand her meaning? She meant that in those grateful tears she beheld what was to her more beautiful and valuable than the diamonds with which they had been purchased. One thing more: you will dedicate something else to God besides your means, namely, yourselves, your lives, your thoughts, your words, your acts. (George Litting, M. A.)
The world’s need of flowers
We are not told why God causes the flowers to appear on the earth. Nothing is said of His purpose in calling this hidden world of beauty into the light. The silence is explained by the fact that the end is obvious and patent to every observer. The soil needs the work of their roots, and the chemicals of their tiny structures. The atmosphere needs the fragrance and the gases they exude. The world of mixed life which hums all day in their petals needs the food they provide. The man needs the sight of them to train his eye and culture the love of the beautiful. And dimpled childhood needs them, and many a sick home. God’s end in their creation is not only adornment, but ministry, the serving and the satisfying of the needs of other created things. That is why God seeks to call the beauties out of man, because they are needed. Man wants the sight of a splendid faith to make it possible for him to believe. Man wants self-sacrifice, for he will die of his wounds if there is no self-forgetful soul to help him. Man wants love, for his lot is hard, and he will perish of heartbreak and loneliness without its gentle ministry. Man wants purity, that, amid the sensuality and immoralities of the age, he may see it is possible to master the flesh. Man wants hope, for his sky is often starless, and he needs the beacon of another’s hope to guide him through the storm. The world needs these flowers of the soul; needs their fragrance, their colours, their help, their hints, their inspiration. (C. E. Stone.)
The time of the singing of birds is come.--
The vernal concert
I. Learn first the goodness of God. Do you realize the mercy of the Lord in the dominant colour of the spring-time--the green in which is so kindly and lovingly mingled the mercy and the goodness of God? Is our voice silent?
II. This season suggests the wisdom of God. Oh, the wisdom of God in the structure of a bird’s wing and voice l Where is the harp that gave the warble to the lark, the sweet call to the robin, the carol to the canary, the chirp to the grasshopper? He who pairs the birds in the spring-time gave us our companions. He who shows the chaffinch how to take care of her brood will protect our children. He who gathers the down for the pheasant’s breast will give us apparel.
III. The season of the year suggests the wisdom of right building of the home nests. Birds build always in reference to safety. Sometimes the nest is built in rocks, eaves, trees, but always in reference to safety. The only safe place for man to build a nest is the tree of the cross, and the only safe rock is the Rock of Ages.
IV. This season of the year suggests the infinite glories of heaven. If this world, blasted with sin and swept with storms, is still so beautiful, what must be the attraction of the sinless world toward which we travel!
V. This season of the bird-anthem suggests to me the importance of learning how to sing. In a little while there will be no pause in the melody of the song. Whether it be a warble, or a chant, or a carol, or a chirp, or a croak, God will be praised by it. Shall not we, more intelligent appreciators, sing? Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your heart unto the Lord. (T. De Witt Talmage.)
Song of Solomon 2:13
The vines with the tender grape give a good smell
The tender grapes
The vine is of all trees the most useless unless it bears fruit.
You cannot make hardly anything of it; you would scarcely be able to cut enough wood out of a vine to hang a pot upon; you cannot turn it into furniture, and barely could you use it in the least degree for building purposes. It must either bear fruit, or else it must be consumed in the fire. You all know that there is no possibility of bringing forth any fruit except we are in Christ, and except we abide in Christ. We must bear fruit, or we shall certainly perish; and we cannot have fruit unless we be knit to Christ, vitally one with him, just as a branch is really, after a living fashion, one with the stem. It would be no use to tie a branch to the stem of the vine; that would not cause it to bring forth fruit. It must be joined to it in a living union, so must you and I be livingly joined to Christ. I think I hear some one say, “I hope I have begun to bring forth some fruit, but it is very little in quantity, and it is of very poor quality; and I do not suppose that the Lord Jesus will hardly stoop to notice it.” Well, now, listen to what the text says; It is the heavenly Bride-groom, it is Christ Himself, who, in this Song, speaks to His spouse, and bids her come into the vineyard, and look about her. For, saith He, “The vines with the tender grape give a good smell.” So, you see, there was some fruit, though it could only be spoken of as “the tender grape.” Some read the passage, “The vines in blossom give forth fragrance”; others think it refers to the grape just as it begins to form. It was a poor little thing, but the Lord of the vineyard was the first to spy it out; and if there is any little fruit unto God upon any one, our Lord Jesus Christ can see it. Though the berry be scarcely formed, though it be only like a flower which has just begun to knit, He can see the fruit, and He delights in that fruit.
I. First, then, what are these tender grapes? What are these first fruits of the Spirit of God?
1. One of the first tender grapes that we spy out on living branches of the true Vine is, a secret mourning for sin, and very often, an open mourning, too. The man is no longer the jovial, light-headed, dare-devil sort of fellow that he was. He has found out that his life has not been right in the sight of God; he has become conscious that he has done much that is altogether wrong, and that he has left undone a thousand things which he ought to have done, and he feels heavy of heart, and sad in spirit. Whenever he sees his sin, it grieves him; and be is grieved because he does not grieve more than he does. This is a crop that will ripen and sweeten before long. Surely, never was there a truly gracious soul who did not put forth this as one of the firstfruits of the Spirit, a secret mourning for sin.
2. Another tender grape is, a humble faith in Jesus Christ. That little trembling faith is one of the tender grapes. It will grow, it will come to perfection in due time, for the least true faith has everlasting life in it.
3. Then there comes another tender grape, and that is, a genuine change of life. The man has evidently turned right about; he is not looking the way he used to look, and he is not living as he used to live. At first he fails, and perhaps fails a good many times, like a child who is learning to walk, and has many a tumble; but it will never walk if it does not tumble a bit. So, when men begin to live the new life, they have many slips. They thought that ugly temper of theirs would never rise again, hut it does, and it grieves them very much; and some old habit, from which they thought they had clean escaped, entangles them unawares, and they say. “Surely I cannot be a child of God if I do these things again; and there is great brokenness of spirit, and soul-humbling. Well, that very soul-humbling is a tender grape. That effort to do better--not in your own strength, because you have none, and you are sure to fail utterly if you attempt such a task alone; but the effort to do better in the strength of God, yet with the full consciousness of your own weakness,--all that indicates a real change.
4. Another very blessed fruit of spiritual life in the soul is, secret devotion. The man never prayed before; he went sometimes to a place of worship, but he did not care much about it. Now, you see that he tries to get alone for private prayer as often as he can. “Behold, he prayeth,” is an indication that God has renewed his heart.
5. Another of these tender grapes is an eager desire for more grace, a longing for more of the good things of the covenant.
6. There is also, in such persons, another very precious sign of grace, and that is, a simple love to Jesus. The heart knows little, but it loves much; the understanding is not yet fully enlightened, but the affections are all on fire.
II. What is the Lord’s estimate of these tender grapes?
1. Well, first, He thinks so much of it that He calls His Church to come and look at it (Song of Solomon 2:10-13). We do not usually call our friends to look at things which we do not ourselves admire; so here the Bridegroom calls His spouse to share in His joy in these tokens of the heavenly life of the Church of God. Be always on the look-out for the tender grapes. “Ah!” says one, “that young man does not know much.” Does he know that one thing, whereas he was blind, now he can see? Then, be thankful that he knows as much as that. “Oh!” you exclaim, “but he has not much prudence.” No; do you suppose that this young man is to have as much prudence as you have at your age, and you are perhaps sixty or seventy? I might possibly say with truth that you have not quite so much zeal as you might have to go with your prudence. “Oh, but!” you say, “we want the young man to be more mature.” Give him time, and he will get as mature as you are; but while the grapes are still tender, your Master and his calls you to look at them, and to thank Him for them, for there is something very cheering in the sight of the first weak, faint tokens of the working of the Holy Spirit in the soul of a young believer.
2. What is Christ’s estimate of these tender grapes? Why, next, He calls them tender, tie might have called them sour, but He does not; He calls them “tender. He likes to use a sweet word, you see, the softest and best word that He can use; so when you describe a young convert, my dear brother, do not at once point out his immaturity, but call him “tender.”
3. Then He says something more: “The vines with the tender grape give a good smell.” Of what do they smell?
III. What is the danger to these tender grapes? (See Song of Solomon 2:15). In the spiritual vineyard there are “foxes” of many kinds.
1. There is, first, the hard censurer. He will spoil the vines, if he can, and especially the vines that have the tender grapes. He finds fault with everything that he can see in you who are but young believers. May God deliver you from these cruel foxes! He will often do so by enabling you not to mind them. After all, this is only the way in which all Christians have been tried, there is nothing strange in your experience from these censurers; and they are not your judges, you will not be condemned because they condemn you. Go and do your best in the service of your Lord; trust in Christ, and do not mind what they say; and you will be delivered from that kind of fox.
2. A worse fox even than that one, however, is the flatterer. He comes to you smiling and smirking, and he begins to express his approval of your religion, and very likely tells you what a fine fellow you are. Indeed, you are so good that he thinks you are rather too precise, you have gone a little over the line! Get away from that fox at once. The man who tells you that you are too precise ought to be precisely told that you do not want company. There never lived a man yet who was too holy, and there never will live a man who will imitate Christ too closely, or avoid sin too rigidly.
3. Then there comes another foul fox, Mr. Worldly-wiseman. He says, “You are a Christian, but do not be a fool. Carry your religion as far as you can make it pay; but if it comes to losing anything by it, well then, don’t you do it. You see, this practice is the custom of the trade; it is not right, I know, but still, other people do it, and you ought to do it. If you do not, you will never get on in business.” I know that there are many young people who, unless they are watchful and careful at the very beginning of their spiritual life, will get lamed, and never walk as they ought to do, because this fox has bitten them.
4. There is another ugly fox about, and that is, a doubting fox. He comes and says, “You seem very happy, and very joyful; but is it true? You appear to have become quite a different person from what you used to be; but is there, after all, such a thing as conversion?”
5. There are some foxes of evil doctrine, and they generally try to spoil our young people. Do not any of you young people be carried away with the notion that all the learned men are heretics; it is very largely the reverse, and it is your sham, shallow philosopher who goes running after heresy. Get out of the way of that fox, or else he will do much mischief to the tender grapes. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Song of Solomon 2:14
O my dove, that art in the clefts of the rock, in the secret places of the stairs, let me see thy countenance, let me hear thy voice.
A sermon for Lent
My text contains a parable. The parable is one easy for us to realize. There rises somewhere in the Jewish land a mountain of rock, and it rises precipitously. Looked at from beneath it would seem as if its peak were inaccessible. Yet to the cragsmen of the district it is an oft-trodden path. They rise from ledge to ledge of the rock as by a natural staircase, and they pause and rest in its grottoes and caverns, and find refreshment in the ascent. To one at least this is a well-known spot. Again and again he climbs its height, and he has entered into familiar intercourse with one of those making their homes in the cleft of the rock. There dwells a dove that he has tamed, one who knows his voice, one who in his sight is unequalled in comeliness, one the sound of whose note is as the sweetest music to his ear. And as he climbs the mountain ascending to where the dove dwells, he cries, “O my dove, that art in the clefts of the rock, in the secret places of the stairs, let me see thy countenance, let me hear thy voice: for sweet is thy voice, and thy countenance is comely.” Such is the parable. What is its interpretation?--at least to Christian men? To us the Song of Solomon comes as a beautiful poem, revealing to us the conditions of Christian life as lived in the love of Jesus Christ our Lord. He is the cragsman typified of old! He draws nigh to His Church, as at this Lenten season; He speaks to His dove, His undefiled one, in the words we are considering now. And this is His cry--God grant that it may be answered by you, my brothers, at this Lenten Season, “Let me see thy countenance, let me hear thy voice: for sweet is thy voice, and thy countenance is comely.” A dove is a type of innocence, I know, but not a type of sinless innocence. It is a type of innocency recovered by contrition. Ezekiel is our teacher here. Be sees Israel escaped from bondage and restored to her fatherland, and thus describes her dwelling there. He shall be like the dove on the mountains, all of them mourning, every one for his iniquity. There is no sound so peaceful and so plaintive as the note of the dove. Peaceful, for contrition is a state of peace. Yet, after all, mouruful is his plaintive note, because in the contrite, true sorrow co-exists with peace and joy. And this is the call of Jesus Christ at this time--that we will lift to Him the countenance that is marked with tears of penitence; that we will lay at His feet in the consecrated songs of the Church our misereres for forgiven sin. Always in the Church’s worship, in the worship of the individual creature, blended with the voice of loud thanksgiving must be the wailing note of the dove. It is this truth, I am sure, that we need to recognise--that contrition is of necessity a feature of Christian life, because that Christian life is lived by those who are not wholly free from sin, As we go on our way day by day we are conscious of shortcomings. Nay, nay, happy is he who is not conscious from time to time of deliberate deviation from the law of righteousness. And even beyond that, whatever is wrought out in us by the great crisis of conversion, it does not break that link of personality which links us to our sin-stained past. We who live in the Divine peace and love and obedience now are they who sinned in the sin-stained past. We cannot, if we are wise or true, act as though there were no link linking us to that past. Our life, therefore, of necessity, must be a life of contrition for sin, and all the more intense just because that sin is forgiven. How, then, is this contrition to be ours? God gives the answer in this season of Lent. Lent is one of the seasons of our Divine education. Christ has created by His Spirit this season of Lent in the Catholic Church, in order that He may teach us how to live a contrite life. Well, how? In varied ways. Sometimes this contrition is awakened or deepened within us by a revelation of the reality of God, as it was to Isaiah. Sometimes by strange Divine interpositions in the ordinary course of life, as it was to Simon Peter by the lake. Sometimes in the course of deep, engrossing study, as it was with the Magi. Sometimes by a Divine call meeting us in the path of our duty, as it was when Matthew was called from the receipt of custom. Yet, mainly, Jesus educates us into contrition by the revelation of Himself as the crucified Lord. It was thus when the 3,000 were brought to contrition. And so it has been all down through the ages, as the testimony of the history of the Church bears witness. And so it is to-day, as every evangelist will bear testimony. Generally men are brought to contrition, generally men are maintained in contrition, generally men advance in contrition through the revelation of Jesus to the sinner as the crucified, by the power of the Holy Ghost. Nor is it difficult to see why this is. Contrition depends upon conviction of sin. It begins in our conviction of sin; it grows with the deepening of conviction of sin; and this conviction of sin is ours through the revelation of the Cross of Christ. As we recognize the connection between man’s sins and the Redeemer’s sorrows, and see what sin is in its exceeding sinfulness; our eyes are opened to judge of sin aright, and our judgment expresses itself in self-condemnation. Again, contrition implies not only conviction of sin, but the knowledge of God’s love. A knowledge of sin’s exceeding sinfulness, unless it is followed by a revelation of Divine love, would result in despair and death. But God, who sees our position of danger when we are convicted of sin, reveals unto us Jesus Christ crucified, as being the unveiling of Himself as the God of Love. He bids us see in the eyes of love which look down upon the world from the cross, eyes that are lit up with the very love of God Himself. And yet once more. If in the vision of the cross there is given to us a revelation of the greatness of sin, and then of the greatness of the love of God speaking to the sinner in his sorrow, and giving to him the kiss of reconciliation, there comes to us a revelation of what a sinner’s life should be as lived under this conviction of sin and in this vision of the love of God. It is to be a life of humility as the sinner kneels at the loving Father’s feet and breathes out in acts of devotion his own sorrow for sin. It is to be a life of zeal, as he rises to show this sorrow for a wasted past by devotion to the service of God in the living present. It is to be a life of patient conformity to the Divine discipline, as he recognizes in the sorrows of life God’s blessed living purgatory in which His own children are purified and educated according to His will. So, then, if you would go forth and really live with God during this season of Lent; if you would have your Lent life a reality and not a mere ecclesiastical sham, let it be a Lent spent at the feet of Jesus Christ, your crucified, your enthroned Redeemer; give yourselves up to Him in whole abandonment, and in the spirit of prayer. Call upon Him in the power of His Spirit, to give you deeper conviction of sin, a grasp of Divine love, a stronger purpose to live a life of firmer humility, of zeal, and patience. Above all, remember this--there is no living the life of contrition unless it is lived in the Divine peace. How wisely we learn this from the order of the Church’s seasons. Shrove Tuesday is not in Holy Week, nor is its teaching assigned to Easter Eve. It is not first Lent, and then forgiveness; it is first forgiveness and then Lent. Through Shrove Tuesday we pass by the door of Ash Wednesday into the Lent of contrition. And so it is, believe me, in our Christian life. If we would really mourn before God for sin with a generous and unselfish mourning; if we would sing the song that he longs to hear, we must sing it in the clefts of rock. It is only as we surrender ourselves to Christ for forgiveness of the past; only as we cling to Him in love and faith and hope for acceptance in the living present; only as we entrust ourselves to Him for the future that awaits us; in a word, it is only as we live in realized union with Him as our Redeemer, that we can ever offer Him the contrition that He craves. (Canon Body.)
Song of Solomon 2:15
Take us the foxes, the little foxes, that spoil the vines: for our vines have tender grapes.
The little foxes
The fox in the vineyard is exceedingly destructive. The food of that animal is not merely flesh, but honey and fruits, particularly grapes; and the young foxes not merely devour the fruit, but by their sportiveness, and by the action of their teeth on the bark of the vine, destroy as much us they devour. The habits of the fox increase the mischief. Instead of roaming, as some animals, without any certain place of rest, he fixes the bounds of his habitation, choosing a cave or den at a convenient distance from those places which will furnish most substance for plunder; and from this hiding-place and watch-tower united, he exercises his acuteness, ingenuity, prudence, and circumspection, in the capture of whatever is fitted to be his prey. The well-known voraciousness of the fox gives breadth to the mischief, and his cunning renders the application of means of defence almost impossible. So that the husbandman of the vineyard regards the fox as one of his greatest enemies. We will consider the text--
I. As addressed to the individual.
1. The evils, the capture of which is here urged, are such as the following:--Ostentation--the spirit that leads men to give alms that may be seen of men; to pray, that it may be said, “Behold, he prays;” and to be very particular that their circumspection may become the talk of a street or of a town. Concealment--the temper that prompts men to try to prevent their light shining by placing it under a bushel. The easily-offended and unforgiving spirit--by which allied hearts are moved to a distance from each other, and kept separate. Fear of man and men-pleasing--by which the soul is snared into neglect of duty, and into the occupation of wrong positions. Anxiety--by which the mind is distracted and the heart robbed of peace. A longing for treasure upon earth--by which the religious sight is confused and the spirit darkened. That judging of others--by which our beams are made motes and others motes made beams. That finding our life and burying our dead, and bidding them farewell who are at our house--which involves a looking back and an unfitness for the kingdom of God. All such plausible errors in doctrine and specious deviations from truth as affect principle and conduct; injustice in the things that are least; trifling omissions of duty; all pleasures and indulgences producing moral uneasiness, and especially all doubtful actions and courses, those deeds and paths about which the conscience is uneasy and the spirit timid, about which the mind is not made up, and in the performance or pursuit of which there is, at least, a suspicion of the divine displeasure and frown.
2. The good which may be marred is of this kind. The subjects of Christ’s kingdom are born from above: we may expect in them heavenly-mindedness. They are born of God: and we may look to them for godliness. They are created anew by Christ Jesus: and we may expect to see Christ-likeness.
3. This good may be thus marred:--The pursuit of religious information may be checked. The attainment of divine knowledge by experience may be hindered. The judgment may be perverted or corrupted. The memory may be burdened with remembrance of sin. The conscience may be blunted or defiled. The affections may be corrupted or divided. Godly action maybe impeded. The energy of holy principle may be impaired. The bloom of spiritual peace and rest may be removed. The enamel of character may be broken. The lustre of reputation may be dimmed.
4. Such mischief ought to be prevented or cured. Take the foxes. Pray in secret, and give in secret. Let your light shine. Forgive a brother his trespasses. Fear not them that kill the body. Cast all your care on Him who careth for you. Lay not up for yourselves treasure upon earth. Judge not Let the dead bury their dead. Hold the faith and a good conscience. Do nothing by which others are offended and made weak. Defy the persecutor. Withdraw from the backslider. Take the foxes. Make impending evil captive, and, if possible, destroy it.
II. As addressed to the Churches of Christ.
1. The foxes in any congregation of believing men are such evils as these:--Ill-humour, whether arising from the body, or from circumstances, or from any dominant evil passion--that mood which makes a jaundiced eye and an itching ear, and which will not see good, but is determined to discover evil. Suspicion--the opposite temper to the charity that thinketh no evil, the spirit that sees nothing but whited sepulchres, and platters clean but on the outside. Distrust--the spirit that has no friend or counsellor, but saith deliberately, “All men are liars.” Self-importance--the thinking too highly of oneself, and too meanly of others, instead of estimating others and oneself soberly. Carelessness and disorder--by which the sweetest ointment is spoiled, dead flies being allowed to abide in it, and by which the most magnificent music is marred, through the performance being slovenly in the execution.
2. So far as these evils have influence, they check the life of God in the soul of the man, and thereby damage the fellowship. As a congregation consists of individuals, so the character of a church is created by the moral and spiritual attributes of persons. Whatever injures the individual, mars the communion.
3. To prevent this spoliation, take the foxes. This is one with Christ’s precept (Matthew 5:29-30), “cast it from thee.” (Romans 16:17; Romans 16:20; 2 Thessalonians 3:14; 1 Timothy 4:7; 1 Timothy 6:20; 2 Timothy 2:16; 2 Timothy 2:23; Titus 3:9; 2 John 1:9-10; 1 Corinthians 5:11.) Paul’s directions and John’s are in harmony with the text. We remark,
The St. Gotham Alp is a great mountain pass dividing Switzerland from Italy. On the Swiss side the country is bleak and sombre, with great mountains like white-coated sentinels keeping watch over the valleys. On the Italian side the sky is bluer and nature is clad in gentler hues. The sloping hillsides are covered with lovely vineyards. The sun is so warm that grapes will grow in the open air, and the green vines are trained over frames and posts, making the uplands look like a vast garden. The vine-dressers have to use great care in order to preserve the fruit-bearing branches. The grapes have many enemies. Tiny parasites abound which are very destructive. When the grapes are young and tender the little foxes steal into the vineyards, and snatching the bunches pull the branches down and spoil the grapes. Hence arose this vineyard-keepers’ song. There are little foxes that spoil the character of boys and girls.
I. selfishness. Jesus teaches us to think more of others than we do of ourselves. He pleased not Himself. His life was one long act of service. Unselfishness is one of the tender fruits of a Christlike character. A little fox steals in and prowls around trying to spoil the grapes. His name is Self. He tries to make a boy think of none but himself.
II. temper. This fox is nearly always found in company with Self. When Self finds his way into the vineyard, Temper generally follows, and eats what few grapes are left. This little fox of Temper has a variable face.
1. Sometimes it is passionate. In the last summer months you have seen the sun sailing in a clear blue sky and flooding the earth with life and beauty. Suddenly thick black clouds gather and blot out the sun and smiling sky till the earth is covered with a dark canopy. Great drops of rain splash on the pavement, the lightning flashes and the thunder roars. The storm comes near, passes over our head, dies away as quickly as it came. Then the sun shines out till the raindrops glisten like diamonds, and the birds sing sweetly, and the perfume of the flowers fills the air. So suddenly came these bursts of dark, passionate temper.
2. Sometimes this fox is net passionate, but sulky. Then his victims are like a dull, depressing day, when the mists are unrelieved by a solitary ray of sunlight. The boy pouts and sulks. His anger is sullen, and if he is not very watchful that fox will eat every bit of fruit clustering on the vine.
III. Deceit. None of you, I hope, would ever stoop to wilful falsehoods. Rather die than be false to truth. Deceit is an acted lie. When a girl breaks a jug and hides the pieces in the cellar without saying anything to mother, that is deceit. I knew a boy who was not very quick at sums, but was good at grammar. So he helped a boy at grammar, and that boy did his sums in return. The boy took his sums on the slate to school next day, and they were all correct. The master thought he was improving, and expressed his pleasure to the boy. Tom knew he did not deserve the praise, and felt very guilty. He thought he would tell the master; but just then this little fox called Deceit came along and said: “You are a silly boy if you do. The master will never know unless you tell him.” But Tom was straightforward, and told the truth, and kept out the little fox. We must be like the vine-dressers, ever upon the watch. Little foxes grow big, and bad habits grow strong. Passion grows in force and intensity. The boy who deceives at school will do so at his work. Deceiving others ends in deceiving self. Keep out the little foxes, and when the Master of the vineyard comes at the time of vintage, He will find the rich and perfect fruit of the Spirit growing in our lives to the glory of God. (E. Clowes Chorley.)
I. What the little foxes are--what we are to understand as represented by them.
1. A little lie. Not a great, black, ugly lie, enough to make conscience cry out, and to startle yourself and everybody that knows of it, but a little untruth that does not hurt and need not frighten anybody.
2. A little theft. It was only a penny or halfpenny or farthing--only a bit of pencil or a bit of ribbon--only a sweetmeat or a pin. It was only some little unfairness in the class or in the game, that got you a place or credit that did not belong to you.
3. A little outburst of temper. You were provoked, and flew into a passion, and you looked or spoke or acted your anger.
4. A little act of disobedience, refusing to do, or putting off doing, or not doing pleasantly and cheerfully, what a parent asked you to do. You say you must do something else first.
5. A little oath, or slang expression, or low bad word.
6. A little act of selfishness.
7. A little yielding to indolence, laziness.
8. A little breaking of the Sabbath.
9. A little omission of prayer. 10. A little yielding to envy or jealousy.
II. The harm the little foxes do.
1. Little sins are real sins. A little fox is a real fox. A little tiger is a real tiger. A little serpent is a real serpent. The smallness of it does not alter its nature.
2. Little sins are apt to be little thought of. That is one great part of their danger. You say “it is only a little fault. Who would think anything of that? It is only a little fox, what harm can it do?” The little sin does not ruffle your conscience, or make you unhappy, or make other people think much the worse of you for it. That is the worst of the whole case. That is one of the strongest reasons why you should be afraid of it.
3. Little sins prepare the way for big ones, and form habits of sin. I never heard of a boy becoming a drunkard, or a thief, or a swearer, or a liar, or a profligate, or a criminal, all at once. It was gradually--by little and little, that he became such.
III. How to catch them and kill them. “Take us the foxes, the little foxes.” Have you ever seen a party setting out for a day’s fox-hunting? How eager all are--men, horses, and dogs. They are prepared to run any distance, to cross rivers, to leap over walls and hedges, each more in earnest than the other to catch the fox. Their first concern is to discover where he is, and then they set out after him with a will. And so your first concern should be to discover what and where the little foxes are, that are spoiling your vines. And having learned that, your next business is to catch them and kill them. There are two hands with which you must seek to catch them. Neither will do alone. Both must go together. These hands are prayer and pains. The most important is prayer, for that calls in Divine help. But then it is said, “God helps them that help themselves,” and it is in helping yourselves--watching, striving, resisting--that He helps you. You must keep your eye ever open. You must never be off your guard. (J. H. Wilson, D. D.)
Words to the little ones
We read in the New Testament of Christ being the Vine, and so our hearts joined to him are the vines, or, as they are called, branches. Now, we know that grapes grow upon vines, so the tender grapes that grow upon our vines are all the good thoughts, and words, and deeds that come forth from your young hearts. We are told that little foxes spoil the vines which have tender grapes. Why do you suppose that it is the little foxes against which we are warned? Because the little foxes are often far more dangerous than the big ones. I remember one day passing through one of our London squares. I saw two cruel dogs chasing a eat--indeed, it was only a kitten. The poor little thing ran for its life, and the two dogs after it, a big fellow foremost, and a smaller one coming on as fast as it could behind. The kitten got safe to the railings of the square, and it jumped in through them; and when the big dog, almost touching it as it went through, tried to follow, he couldn’t get in after it--the railings were too close together, and so the little kitten thought itself safe. But up came the little dog, and he was able to get through when the big fellow couldn’t; but I’m glad to say a gardener, who was working inside, drove it back again, and so the little kitten was rescued. Do you see what I mean by that story? It shows us how small things are often more dangerous than big things, for they can get in through small openings. Now that is just the way it is with your young hearts. There are tender grapes growing in them, and while you couldn’t let a big fox in, perhaps many a little one creeps in and destroys them, and takes all the sweetness out of them. You often could not let a great big sin come into your heart, but a little one creeps in almost without your knowing it. And the worst of it is these little fellows come into the vineyard of your heart, and stay there, and grow big there. A little untruth, so innocent-looking that we don’t think it can do harm, gets in first, and it grows and grows so gradually, that we don’t notice it, and at last it is a big lie! Ah! be on your guard against the small things--the small unkindness, the first bad word, the first untruth, the first disobedience. Take care of the little foxes, or they’ll get in and destroy the tender grapes. Don’t be taken in by their looks. One time, when our soldiers were fighting against Indians in America, a sentry at a very important point was found one morning dead at his post. The guard had heard no sound, and they could not imagine how any one could have come so close to the sentry as to kill him. They thought he must have fallen asleep at his post. Another man was put in his place, and next morning he, too, was found dead there. They were greatly surprised, for he was a very steady man, and had been warned to be on the look-out. So the officer selected another soldier, and said to him, “Now, let nothing escape you; if it’s only a dog tries to get near you, shoot him.” The man promised his officer to obey him. Well, an hour passed, and not a sound reached the sentry. He thought then that lie heard a very little noise, as of something walking on the dead leaves. He called out, “Who goes there?” and there was no answer. So he looked, and listened; and he saw a slight movement of a branch some few yards off. “If you don’t answer, I’ll fire,” said he, and raised his rifle to his shoulder. He was just going to pull the trigger, when he saw a small bear passing away from him beside a bush. So he lowered his gun, saying to himself, “What a fool I should have looked to have startled all the camp by shooting that poor animal!” Still, he remembered his promise to his officer that he’d shoot even a dog; so saying to himself, “I know they’ll all laugh at me, but I’ll keep my word like a good soldier,” he fired. The bear fell, and out rushed the guard at the sound of the shot. They ran over to where the bear lay dead, and they found it was only a bear’s skin and an Indian dead inside it! The Indian had night after night approached the sentry, walking on hands and feet, and concealed in the skin of a bear, and when he got close to the soldier he had killed him. So, boys and girls, be on your guard. No matter how innocent, no matter how small the untruth, the unkindness, the deceit, the dishonesty may look, don’t let them pass in that way. They are enemies, after all: they’ll kill you, if yon don’t kill them. Beware of the foxes that spoil the tender grapes. (T. T. Shore, M. A.)
A famous ruby was once offered for sale in England, and the crown jeweller reported that it was the finest he had ever seen, with a single slight defect in one of the cuttings of the face. This almost invisible flaw reduced its value by thousands of pounds, and the ruby was not purchased for the regalia of the kingdom. It is only man’s littleness which discovers no importance in trifles. Trifles make perfection, and perfection is no trifle. The most deplorable failures in Christian consistency and uprightness may, generally, be traced back to a very small departure from duty. Give the “little foxes” an opportunity to break through the enclosure which surrounds the vineyard, and the prospect of grapes will be small. What, then, are some of these little sins, which mar our happiness or hinder our usefulness?
I. At the head of the list may be placed a sour and crabbed temper.
II. Another little sin to be watched against is the giving way to ease and self-indulgence. There is too much of what may be called “summer religion”; a readiness to enjoy the agreeable parts of it, without its restraints and sacrifices.
III. Dishonesty in our ordinary dealings may be named as another example of little sins.
IV. Another little sin, as the world looks at it, is jealousy. (J. N. Norton, D. D.)
Song of Solomon 2:16
My Beloved is mine, and I am His.
The interest of Christ and His people in each other
The Church says concerning her Lord, “My beloved is mine and I am His.” No “ifs,” no “buts.” The two sentences are solemn assertions. Not “I hope, I trust, I think;” but, my Beloved is mine, and I am His.” “Yes,” but you will say, “the Church must then have been gazing upon her Husband’s face; it must have been a season of peculiar enjoyment with Him, when she could speak thus.” Nay, nay; the Church, when she thus spake, was in darkness; for in the very next verse she cries--“Until the day break, and the shadows flee away, turn, my beloved, and be thou like a roe or a young hart upon the mountains of Bather.”
I. I am my beloved’s, and my beloved is therefore mine.
1. “I am my Beloved’s.” Glorious assertion! I am His by the Father’s gift. But I am my Beloved’s, if I be a believer, because of Jesus Christ’s purchase of me. But more than this, “I am my Beloved’s,” for I am His by conquest. He fought for me, and He won me, let Him possess me. Besides this, every true believer can add, “I am my Beloved’s” by a gracious surrender. “With full consent I give myself to Thee.” We have seen how we came to be our Beloved’s, let us inquire in what sense we are so now. We are his, first of all, by a near affinity that never can be sundered. Christ is the head; we are His members. Further than this; we, are our Beloved’s by a most affectionate relationship. He is the husband, believers are the spouse. “I am my Beloved’s” by an indissoluble connection, just as a child is the property of his father.
2. The second sentence in order of time is, “My Beloved is mine.” Ah! you very poor men and women, you who could not call one foot of land your own! If you can say, “My Beloved is mine,” you have greater wealth than Croesus ever knew, or than a miser ever dreamed. But how is my Beloved mine? He is mine, because He gave Himself to me of old. But besides that, our Beloved is not only ours by His own gift, which is the bottom of all, but He is ours by a graciously completed union. “I in them, and Thou in Me;” for thus the union stands. Again: Christ is ours personally. We sometimes speak of severally and jointly. Well, then, Christ is ours jointly; but He is ours severally too. Christ is as much yours, however mean you may be, as though He did not belong to another man living. He is all mine, all yours; personally mine, personally yours. Oh that we could realize this fact! And, then again, Christ is always ours. He is never more ours at one time, and less ours at another. The moment we believe in Him we may know our perfect and invariable right to Christ--a right which depends not upon the changes of the hour, or upon the temperature of our frames and feelings, but upon those two immutable things wherein it is impossible for God to lie.
II. I shall now take the text in the order in which it is given to us, which is the order of our experience. Do you not see, that to a man’s experience God’s order is reversed? We begin thus: “My Beloved is mine.” I go to Him, take Him up in the arms of my faith, as Simeon took up the little Child in the temple, and pressing Him to my heart, I say: “Jesus, Thou art mine. All unholy and unclean, I nevertheless obey Thy command; I believe Thee; I take Thee at Thy word; I trust my soul wholly with Thee; Thou art mine, and my soul can never part with Thee.” What next? Why, then the soul afterwards says: “Now I am Thine, tell me what Thou wouldst have me do. Jesus, let me abide with Thee. Lord, I would follow Thee whithersoever Thou goest; put me on any service; dictate to me any commandment; tell me what Thou wouldst have me to do to glorify Thee?” Christ is mine--this is faith. I am His--this is good works. Christ is mine: that is the simple way in which the soul is saved. I am Christ’s: that is the equally simple method by which salvation displays itself in its practical fruits. God’s commands require obedience, and it is essential that every servant be found faithful. Whatever Jesus bids us do, if it save us not from anything else, at any rate the fulfilment of it will save us from the sin of being disobedient to Him. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The reciprocal interest of Christ and His people
I. Every real Christian may say, “Christ is mine.”
1. There are five different ways in which anything may become ours.
2. Among all these ways, there is only one in which Christ can become ours.
II. Christ is the property of all true Christians, so, all Christians are his.
1. They are His by creation; for by Him and for Him they were created.
2. They are His by inheritance; for we are told that the Father hath appointed Him heir of all things.
3. They are His by purchase; for He has bought them, bought them with His own blood.
4. Christians are the property of Christ by right of conquest.
5. They become His by gift.
1. From this subject you may learn something of the worth and interest of the Christian’s portion.
2. We may learn from our subject to whom this incomparable gift belongs; who it is that without presumption may say, “Christ is mine.” Every man may say this who can with truth repeat the other part of our text, who can truly say, “Christ is my beloved, and I am His property.”
3. From this subject you may learn the extent of your duty. “I am Christ’s” are words easily said, but the engagements which they imply are not so easily fulfilled. If we are His, we are no longer our own. If we are His, then everything that we possess is His--our time, our possessions, our strength, our influence, our powers of body and faculties of mind, all are His, and must be consecrated to His service and glory; and if we love Him supremely, they will he so, for the whole man ever follows the heart.
4. How great are the privileges which result from an ability to say, “Christ is mine.” If Christ is yours, then all that He possesses is yours. Its power is yours to defend you, His wisdom and knowledge are yours to guide you, His righteousness is yours to justify you, His Spirit and grace are yours to sanctify you, His heaven is yours to receive you.
5. From this subject you may learn what is the nature of the ordinance which you are about to celebrate, and what you are about to do at the Lord’s table. In this ordinance we give ourselves to Christ, and He gives Himself to us. (E. Payson, D. D.)
My Beloved is mine
What I have to do is to mention a few things which may help some timid one to say, “My Beloved is mine,” and then to do the same with regard to the second sentence in the text, “I am his.” Thou askest, perhaps, “May I say, My Beloved is mine?” You know who that Beloved is; I have no need to tell you that. He is the chief among ten thousand, and the altogether lovely. First, hast thou taken hold of Christ by faith? Faith is the hand with which we grasp the Lord Jesus Christ. Hast thou believed that Jesus is the Christ, and that God hath raised Him from the dead? Dost thou trust thyself wholly to Him? Let me ask thee another helpful question. Is He truly thy Beloved, the Beloved of thy soul? I remember well a dear Christian woman, who frequently said to me, “I do love Jesus, I know I do; but does He love me?” Her question used to make me smile. “Well,” I said, “that is a question that I never did put to myself,--‘If I love Him, does He love me?’ No, the question that used to puzzle me was, ‘Do I love Him?’ When I could once settle that point, I was never again the victim of your form of doubt.” If thou lovest Christ, Christ loves thee for certain, for thy love to Christ is nothing more nor less than a beam out of the Went sun of His love; and the grace that has created that love in thy heart towards Him, if thou dost indeed love Him, proves that He loves thee. Next, I would help thee with a third question. Is Jesus dear to thee above all thy possessions? I hope that many of you can say, “O sir, we would give all that we have, we would suffer all that might be suffered, we would part with the Very light and our eyes, too, if we could but be sure that we might each one truly say, ‘My Beloved is mine.’“ Well, if thou lovest Christ beyond all earthly things, rest assured that He is thine. Further, dost thou love Him beyond all earthly companions? Couldst thou part with your dearest ones for His sake? Say, art thou sure of this? Oh, then, He is assuredly thine! Dost thou love Him beyond all earthly objects? Aye, beyond the desire of learning, or honour, or position, or comfort,--wouldst thou let all go for His dear sake? Canst thou go that length? If thou canst, then surely He is thine. Let me further help thee by another question. Is Jesus so fully thy hope and thy trust that thou hast no other? O poor heart, if thou art clean divorced from every confidence but Christ, then I believe that thou art married unto Christ, notwithstanding that thou tremblest sometimes, and askest whether it be so or not. Let that thought also help thee. I would further help you in this way. If Christ is yours, your thoughts go after Him. You cannot say that you love a person if you never think of him. He to whom Christ belongs often thinks of Him. Again, do you do more than this? Do you long for Christ’s company? If “my Beloved” is indeed mine, I shall want to see Him; I shall want to speak with Him; I shall want Him to abide with me. How is it with you? And, once more, if thy Beloved is thine, thou wilt own it to be so. Holy Bernard was wont to say, and I believe that he could say it truly, “O my Jesus, I never went from Thee without Thee!” He meant that he never left his knees, and left Christ behind him; he never went out of the house of God, and left Christ behind him; but he went through the outward act of devotion with a consciousness of the presence of Christ. Now, i f this be your habit to keep up or to labour to keep up continued communion with Christ, and if you are longing for more and more of that communion, then, dear friends, you are His, and He is yours. Further, let me help you with a still closer question. Have you ever enjoyed that communion with Christ? Didst thou ever speak with Him? Hast thou ever heard His voice? If thou knowest anything experimentally about this matter, then thou mayest conclude that thy Beloved is indeed thine. But supposing that thou art not enjoying Christ’s presence, I am going to put another question to thee. Art thou cast down when He is away? If thou hast grieved His Spirit, art thou grieved? If Christ be gone, dost thou feel as if the sun itself had ceased to shine, and the candle of thy existence had been snuffed out in utter dark ness? Oh, then, He is thine! If thou canst not bear His absence, He is thine. Stretch out the hand, of faith, and take Him, and then say without hesitation, “My Beloved is mine.” “Yes, weighing everything the preacher has said and judging myself as severely as I can, yet I dare take Christ to be mine, and to say, ‘My Beloved is mine.’“ If that is your case, dear friend, then you shall get confirmatory evidence of this fact by the witness of the Spirit within your soul, which will very likely come to you in the form of perfect contentment of spirit, perfect rest of heart. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
He feedeth among the lilies.
A song among the lilies
This passage describes a high state of grace, and it is worthy of note that the description is full of Christ. This is instructive, for this is not an exceptional case, it is only one fulfilment of a general rule. Our estimate of Christ is the best gauge of our spiritual condition; as the thermometer rises in proportion to the increased warmth of the air, so does our estimate of Jesus rise as our spiritual life increases in vigour and fervency. Tell me what you think of Jesus and I will tell you what to think of yourself. Christ is all to us, “yea, more than all when we are thoroughly sanctified and filled with the Holy Ghost.
I. First, here is a delighting to have Christ. “My Beloved is mine.” The spouse makes this the first of her joy notes, the corner-stone of her peace, the fountain of her bliss, the crown of her glory. Observe here that where such an expression is truthfully used the existence of the Beloved is matter of fact. Scepticism and questioning have no place with those who thus sing. Love cannot, will not doubt; it casts away the crutches of argument and flies on the wings of conscious enjoyment, singing her nuptial hymn, “My Beloved is mine, and I am His.” In the case before us the love of the heavenly-minded one is perceived and acknowledged by herself. “My Beloved,” saith she; it is no latent affection, she knows that she loves Him, and solemnly avows it. She does not whisper, “I hope I love the peerless One,” but she sings, “My Beloved.” There is no doubt in her soul about her passion for the altogether lovely One. But the pith of the text lies here, our possession of Him is proven, we know it, and we know it on good evidence--“My Beloved is mine.” Jesus is ours by the promise, the covenant,, and oath of God; a thousand assurances and pledges, bonds and seals, secure Him to us as our portion and everlasting heritage. This precious possession becomes to the believer his sole treasure. “My Beloved is mine,” saith he, and in that sentence he has summed up all his wealth. Oh, what would all the treasures of the covenant be to us if it were possible to have them without Christ? Their very sap and sweetness would be gone. Having our Beloved to be ours, we have all things in Him, and therefore our main treasure, yea, our sole treasure, is our Beloved. O ye saints of God, was there ever possession like this?
II. The second portion of the text deals with delighting to belong to Christ. “I am His.” This is as sweet as the former sentence. Christ is mine, but if I were not His it would be a sorry case, and if I were His and He were not mine it would be a wretched business. These two things are joined together with diamond rivets--“My Beloved is mine, and I am His.” Put the two together, and you have reached the summit of delight. That we are His is a fact that may be proven--yea, it should need no proving, but be manifest to all that “I am His.” Certainly we are His by creation: He who made us should have us. We are His because His Father gave us to Him, and we are His because He chose us. Creation, donation, election are His triple hold upon us. Now this puts very great honour upon us. I have known the time when I could say “My Beloved is mine” in a very humble trembling manner, but I did not dare to add “I am His” because I did not think I was worth His having. I dared not hope that “I am His” would ever be written in the same book side by side with “My Beloved is mine.” Poor sinner, first lay hold on Jesus, and then you will discover that Jesus values you. This second part of the text is true as absolutely as the first. “I am His”--not my goods only, nor my time, nor my talents, nor what I can spare, but “I am His.” The believer feels that he belongs to Jesus absolutely; let the Lord employ him as he may, or try him as he pleases; let him take away all earthly friends from him or surround him with comforts. Blessed be God, this is true evermore--“I am His”; His to-day, in the house of worship, and His to-morrow in the house of business. This belonging to the Well-beloved is a matter of fact and practice, not a thing to be talked about only, but really to be acted on. If you are His He will provide for you. A good husband careth for his spouse, and even thus the Lord Jesus Christ cares for those who are betrothed unto Him. You will be perfected too, for whatever Christ has He will make worthy of Himself and bring it to glory.
III. To conclude: the saint feels delight in the very thought of Christ. “He feedeth among the lilies.” When we love any persons, and we are away from home, we delight to think of them, and to remember what they are doing. Now, where is Jesus? What are these lilies? Do not these lilies represent the pure in heart, with whom Jesus dwells? Where, then, is my Lord to-day? He is up and away, among the lilies of Paradise. In imagination I see those stately rows of milk-white lilies growing no longer among thorns: lilies which are never soiled with the dust of earth, which for ever glisten with the eternal dews of fellowship, while their roots drink in unfading life from the river of the water of life which waters the garden of the Lord. There is Jesus! But what is He doing among the lilies? It is said, “He feedeth among the lilies.” He is feeding Himself, not on the lilies, but among them. Our Lord finds solace among His people. His delights are with the sons of men; He joys to see the graces of His people, to receive their love, and to discern His own image in their faces. Then what shall I do? Well, I will abide among the lilies. His saints shall be my companions. Where they flourish I will try to grow. I will be often in their assemblies. Aye, and I will be a lily too. By faith I will neither toil nor spin in a legal fashion, but I will live by faith upon the Son of God, rooted in Him. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Song of Solomon 2:17
Until the day break, and the shadows flee away.
Darkness before the dawn
The spouse sings, “Until the day break, and the shadows flee away,” so that the beloved of the Lord may be in the dark. A child of God, who is a child of light, may be for a while in darkness; first, darkness comparatively, as compared with the light he has sometimes enjoyed, for days are not always equally bright. Yes, and he may be in positive darkness. It may be very black with him, and he may be obliged to cry, “I see no signs of returning day,” Sometimes, neither sun nor moon appears for a long season to cheer the believer in the dark. This may arise partly through sickness of body. But yet it can be only temporary darkness. The same text which suggests night promises dawn: “Until the day break,” etc.
I. First of all, let us consider our prospect. Our prospect is, that the day will break, and that the shadows will flee away. We may read this passage ill many ways, and apply it to different cases. Think, first, of the child of God wire is full of doubt. He is afraid that, after all, his supposed conversion was not a true one, and that he has proved it to be false by his own misbehaviour. He is afraid, I scarcely know of what, for so many fears crowd in upon him. His eyes are looking toward the cross, and somehow he has a hope, if not quite a persuasion, that he will find light in Christ, where so many others have found it. I would encourage that hone till it becomes a firm conviction and a full expectation. The day will break for you, dear mourner, the shadows will yet flee away. This expression is equally applicable when we come into some personal sorrow not exactly of a spiritual kind. I know that God’s children are not long without tribulation. As long as the wheat is on the threshing-floor, it must expect to feel the flail. Perhaps you have had a bereavement, or you may have had losses in business, or crosses in your family, or you have been sorely afflicted in your own body, and now you are crying to God for deliverance out of your temporal trouble. That deliverance will surely come. Yes, in the darkest of all human sorrows there is the glad prospect that the day will break, and the shadows will flee away. This is the case again, I believe on a grander scale, with reference to the depression of religion at the present time. We want--I cannot say how much we want--a revival of pure and undefiled religion in this our day. Will it come? Why should it not come? If we long for it, if we pray for it, if we believe for it, if we work for it, and prepare for it, it will certainly come. The day will break, and the shadows will flee away. I believe that this is to be the case also in this whole world. It is still the time of darkness, it is still the hour of shadows. I am no prophet, nor the son of a prophet, and I cannot foretell what is yet to happen in the earth; it may be that the darkness will deepen still more, and that the shadows will multiply and increase; but the Lord will come. That glorious advent shall end our weary waiting days, it shall end our conflicts with infidelity and priestcraft, it shall put an end to all our futile endeavours; and when the great Shepherd shall appear in His glory, then shall every faithful under-shepherd and all his flock appear with him, and then shall the day break, and the shadows flee away.
II. Now consider our posture, “until the day break, and the shadows flee away.” We are here, like soldiers on guard, waiting for the dawn. It is night, and the night is deepening; how shall we occupy ourselves until the day break, and the shadows flee away? Well, first, we will wait in the darkness with patient endurance as long as God appoints it. Whatever of shadow is yet to come, whatever of cold damp air and dews of the night is yet to fall upon us, we will bear it. What next are we to do until the day break? Why, let there be hopeful watching. Keep your eyes towards the East, and look for the first grey sign of the coming morning. Then, further, while we maintain patient endurance and hopeful watching, let us give each other mutual encouragement. What further should we do in the dark? Well, one of the best things to do in the dark is to stand still and keep our place. We are not going to plunge on in a reckless manner, we mean to look before we leap; and as it is too dark to look, we will not leap, but will just abide here hard by the cross, battling with every adversary of the truth as long as we have a right hand to move in the name of the Almighty God, “until the day break, and the shadows flee away. What else ought we to do. Keep up a careful separateness from the works of darkness that are going on all around us. If it seems dark to you, gather up your skirts, and gird up your loins. The more sin abounds in the world, the more ought the Church of God to seek after the strictest holiness.
III. Now notice our petition: “Until the day break, and the shadows flee away, turn, my Beloved,” etc. I am not going to preach about that part of our text, but only just to urge you to turn it into prayer. “Turn to me, O my Beloved, for Thou hast turned away from me, or from Thy Church, Turn again, I beseech Thee, Pardon my lukewarmness, forgive my indifference. Turn to me again, my Beloved. O Thou Husband of my soul, if I have grieved Thee, and Thou hast hidden Thy face from me, turn again unto me! Smile Thou, for then shall the day break, and the shadows flee away. Come to me, my Lord, visit me once again.” Put up that prayer, beloved. The prayer of the spouse is in this poetic form: “Come over the mountains of division.” As we look out into the darkness, what little light there is appears to reveal to us Alp upon Alp, mountain upon mountain, and our Beloved seems divided from us by all these hills. Now our prayer is, that He would come over the top of them; we cannot go over the top of them to Him, but He can come over the top of them to us, if He think fit to do so. Like the hinds’ feet, this blessed Hind of the morning can come skipping over the hills with utmost speed to visit and to deliver us. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Things to be awaited
We can speak confidently of such things only as we now know in part, beginnings that here have no completion, germs that come to leaf and bud, but not to fruit, in the soil of this world; processes that have promise of great results but are cut short of them, desires and aspirations that now have no full satisfaction.
I. We wait for rest. If the question were raised: Is man made for toil or for rest? the answer would be a mixed and qualified one. He is appointed to toil, he is destined to rest; one is his condition, the other is his end. If man is made in God’s image, he is made to share in God’s condition; and both Christian revelation and heathen conjecture unite in conceiving of Deity as in repose, eternally acting yet in eternal rest. If it be said that man can never attain this repose because he can never reach the eternal perfection and power, it may be answered that it does not depend upon the proportions of the being, but upon the harmony of his powers and upon his adjustment to his external condition. One whose nature has been reduced to perfect harmony may have perfect peace within, and also without, if also he is in a world entirely adapted to him. But we have not this rest at present except in some foretaste of it in our spirit. Unceasing toil is the largest feature of human life. It is divinely appointed, but it is painful; it is a blessing, but also a suffering; an evil thing, but with a soul of goodness in it. It is wise, for, if remitted, vice creeps in, but it is no less a bond that chafes, a burden that weighs down, a trial that wearies the spirit. Some morning, this shadow will flee away. In the church of St. Nazaro in Florence is an epitaph upon the tomb of a soldier, as fit for the whole toiling race as for his own restless life: “Johannes Divultius, who never rested, rests,--hush!” We say of our dead, “they rest from their labours.” Whatever the future world may be to us or require of us, it is not clothed in the guise of toil, but offers seats of eternal rest; it is the contrast of earth, the other side of mortal existence as spirit is the other side of matter.
II. We wait for the renewal of lost powers. However we answer the question, if life is a process of loss or gain, it cannot be denied that real or apparent loss is one of its largest features, even when life is at its best. Is this loss absolute, or do we regain that which seems to pass? Shall I never,--so we are forced to ask ourselves,--shall I never have again the buoyancy of youth, the zest, the innocence, the unquestioning faith, the ardent desire and unconquerable will, the bounding vigour of body and mind, with which I began life? We do not get halt: way through our allotted years before these riches are gone from us. If they are gone for ever, one half of life, at least, is spent under an ever-deepening shadow. It is difficult to believe that existence is so ordered; that God’s increated gifts are annihilated; that the impress of His hands, the similitudes of Himself, are blotted out for ever. St. Paul speaks of the redemption of the body as something that is waited for. He means no narrow doctrine of a physical resurrection, but a renewal of existence,--a restoration of lost powers. It changes the whole colour of life, and its character also, if we take the one view or the other,--if we regard existence as a dying-out process, or as passing into temporary eclipse, to emerge with all its past glories when the shadows of death flee away.
III. We wait for the full perfecting of character. I do not mean, of course, that we are to wait in the sense of relaxing effort after perfection--such waiting may end in an eternal failure of character, but rather that the effort that now only partially succeeds will finally reach success. There is nothing that weighs more heavily upon a right-minded man than the slow progress he makes in overcoming his faults. There is nothing a right-minded man desires so much as entire right-mindedness. Will it never come? Yes--but it must be awaited. Entireness is nowhere a feature of present existence, else it could not be a world of hope and promise. On no thing can we lay our hand and say, Here is finality and perfection. The adamant is crumbling to dust; the orderly heavens oscillate towards final dissolution, and foretell “new heavens”; in every soul is weakness and fault. We are keyed not to attainment, but to the hope of it by struggle towards it. And it is this struggle, and not the attainment, that measures character and foreshadows destiny. Character is not determined by faults and weaknesses, and periodic phases of life, nor by the limitations and accidents of present existence, but by the central purpose, the inmost desire of the heart. If that be turned towards God and His righteousness, it must at last bring us thither.
IV. We await the renewal of sundered love. When love loses its object its charm is interrupted, for love is oneness and cannot brook separation. It is impossible to believe that God has organized into life an incurable sorrow; that He has made love, which is the best conceivable thing--being the substance of Himself,--the necessary condition of the greatest misery. Love may suffer an eclipse, but it is not sent wailing into eternal shadows. It is as sure as God Himself that human love shall again claim its own. But this eternal union must be awaited. It begins here, springing out of mysterious oneness; it grows up amidst unspeakable tenderness, rising from an instinctive thing to an intellectual and moral union, losing nothing, and weaving into itself every strand of human sympathy till it stands for the whole substance of life, and so vanishes from the scene. If this prime reality is an illusion, then all else is. If it does not outlast death, then all may go. But love is not a vain thing, and God does not mock Himself and us when tie makes us partakers of His nature.
V. We wait for the mystery to be taken off from life. The crucial test of a thoughtful mind is a sense of the mystery of life in this world. This highest order of mind is not antagonistic to faith; it is simply conscious of the incomprehensible range of truth. None but an inferior mind has a plan of the universe; it is to the thoughtless that all things are plain. What is life? What is matter! What is the relation between them? What is creation? Granting evolution, what started the evolving process? Assuming God, what is the relation of creation to Him? What the relation of man? What is this that thinks and wills and loves--this I? And then, what is it all for? Is there a final purpose and an order tending to it, or is it but the whirl of molecules, the dust of the universe circling for a moment in space, of which we are but some atoms? Is there a bridge between consciousness and the external world, or a gulf that cannot be spanned or fathomed? Is life a reality, or is it a dream from which we may awake in some world of reality to find that this world was but the vision of a night? It is useless to deny that this mystery carries with it a sense of pain. It is alien to mind, a condition foreign to our nature. And the more thoroughly mind is true to itself, the more painfully does it feel the darkness. When Goethe, dying, said, “Let the light enter,” he uttered, not the highest and best hope of the heart, but the dearest satisfaction of the intellect. He felt that lie was going where the shadows that hang over this world would flee away, and he could find some answer to the questions that had vexed him here. So, too, those commoner questions, Why does evil exist? Why do the innocent suffer? Why does one suffer on account of another? Why does life end untimely? Why is man so subject to nature? Why is the experience of life so long in ripening the fruit of wisdom? Why are the chances so against man that he spends his days in sorrow and evil? Why is there not more help from God? Why does life gradually assume the appearance of a doom, spent in vanity and ending in death? We get no full answer to these questions in this life. Shall these questions never be answered? It is not easy to believe that mind will for ever be harassed by an alien element; it may always require something other than itself to stand upon, or as a toil like that which the jewel-merchant puts under precious stones to reflect their colour, but it will not for ever wear this other as a clog and burden. The mystery of the present life is due to the fact that it is so heavily conditioned by its material environment; matter contends against spirit. But as existence goes on, if it is normal, it throws off these conditions and presses towards absolute action and full freedom. This is the eternal state, and this action is eternal life, and the world where it is achieved is the eternal world.
VI. We wait for full restoration to the presence of god. There are hours when the whole world, and all it contains, shrivels to nothingness, and God alone fills the mind; hours of human desolation, seasons of strange, mysterious exaltation, times of earthly despair, or of joy; the height and excess of any emotion bears us away into a region where God Himself dwells. But even if we have taught ourselves to make the impression of these hours constant, there is still an unsatisfied element in the knowledge. We long for more, for nearness, for sight or something that stands for sight, for the Father at hand, and the home of the soul. I know that in many and many of God’s children there is a longing for God that is not satisfied, because they are children and are away from the Father’s house. And I know still better that the unrest of this weary world is its unvoiced cry after God. This full, satisfying presence of God, must be awaited. It is contended against by sense, by the world of things, by the limits that shut out the infinite, and by our own slow and hesitating departure from the evil and the sensual--a muddy vesture of decay doth grossly close us in; hut when this falls off, and these earthly shadows flee away, we shall see face to face, and know as we are known. (T. T. Munger, D. D.)
The saint’s might and day
I. A soul once truly married to Christ, will from thenceforth look on the lifetime in this world as a night-time, a shadowy one, as indeed it is.
II. To those that are truly married to Christ, the day will break in the other world, and the shadows flee away; and they should live in the comfortable expectation of it. Consider the day’s breaking, and the shadows fleeing away thereupon. I am to speak of the day’s breaking in the other world to those that are married to Christ. And here I shall show what a day will break to them there. A clear and bright day (Isaiah 60:1-2). A fair day and calm. There are no storms nor tempests, no blustering winds nor rains in Immanuel’s land (Revelation 21:4). A glad and joyful day (Psalms 126:5). An eternal day. Let us next see how this day will break there to those who are married to Christ. As coming near their night-journey’s end, they enter the passage betwixt the two worlds, the darkness and shadowiness of the night will come to a pitch. For as the darkest hour ordinarily goes before daybreak, so is it here, the hour of death is so in a signal manner, “the valley of the shadow of death” (Psalms 23:4). As soon as they are got over to the other side, immediately the day breaks, and it is fair daylight to them. I proceed to consider the shadows, upon this breaking of the day, fleeing away. What is that fleeing away of the shadows? The utter removal of everything interposing betwixt God and them, and intercepting the light of His countenance (Revelation 21:3). The removal of all dark, gloomy, and melancholy things out of their condition (Matthew 25:23). The removal of all imperfection of light, and whatsoever gives but a faint and shadowy representation of Christ and the glories of the other world (1 Corinthians 13:12; Revelation 22:4). What are the shadows that will flee away when that day breaks? The shadow of this world will then flee away (1 Corinthians 7:31). The shadow of sin (Hebrews 12:23). The shadow of temptations (Romans 16:20). The shadow of outward troubles will flee away, of troubles on your bodies, relations, names, affairs, etc. (Job 3:17). The shadow of inward spiritual troubles, through desertions, and hidings of the Lord’s face. The shadow of ordinances will flee away (Revelation 21:23). The shadow of all manner of imperfections (1 Corinthians 13:12). I shall now confirm this point, That the day will break, and the shadows flee away, as to those who are married to Christ. It was so with their Head and Husband, and the procedure with them must be conformable to that with Him (Hebrews 12:2). The nature of God’s work of grace in them; it cannot be left unperfected (Psalms 138:1-8.). The bounty and goodness of God to His people. God is essentially good, and He is good to them in Christ His Son. It is inconsistent with the goodness of His nature to keep them always in the darkness of the night, and horror of shadows. The nature of the covenant, which is everlasting, and cannot be broken. Consider believers living in the comfortable expectation of the day’s breaking to them in the other world and the shadows fleeing away. It implies these following things:
III. It will be the great concern of those married to Christ during their night-journey in this world, that he may turn and come to them, till the day breaking and the shadows fleeing away, they get to him in the other world.
1. I am to show what is Christ’s turning and coming to those married to Him, that will be their great concern to have.
(a) His seen or sensible presence with them, of the want of which Job complains (Job 23:8-9), and in the enjoyment of which the Psalmist triumphs (Psalms 23:4).
(b) His operative or efficacious presence in them (Philippians 3:8; Philippians 3:10).
2. The import of this concern of those married to Christ, that He may turn and come to them, till the day’s breaking and the shadows’ fleeing away, they get to Him in the other world.
3. The reasons of this concern in those married to Christ, that He may turn and come to them.
(a) The sense of their liableness to mistake their way, that they need Him for their direction and guidance (Jeremiah 10:23).
(b) The sense of their weakness for the journey, that they need to go leaning on Him, as a weak woman on her husband (Song of Solomon 8:5).
(c) The sense of the great opposition and difficulty to be met with in the way (Ephesians 6:12-13).
4. We shall now confirm this point, That it will be the great concern of those married to Christ, during their night-journey in this world, that He may turn and come to them till the day breaking and the shadows fleeing away, they get to Him in the other world.
In the shadow
To all the light is very dear, and more so perhaps because this life is a twilight season to all of us, we are all in the shadow. It is not all dark, neither is it all light, but it is full of shadows, shadows of sin, shadows of sorrow, shadows of sickness, of want, of disappointment, of death. The brightest life cannot be all sunshine, over rich and poor alike the shadows fall. The brightest eyes must be dim with tears sometimes, the gayest voices must turn to mourning sometimes, the merriest Church bell must toll sometimes.
1. The Church on earth has ever been in the shadow of trouble, its holiest members have had to suffer many things. In the Jewish Church there was the shadow of idolatry and unbelief, the shadow of self-will and bad government, ending in the darker shadow of captivity and exile. In the Christian Church there have been shadows of persecution, of division, of false doctrine, of lukewarmness, of tyranny.
2. So with ourselves, the individual members of the Church, we are all more or less in the shadow.
3. We cannot make the darkness light, or scatter the shadows, or hasten the daybreak, Jesus alone can do that. He who once said “Let there be light,” will say so again in answer to our prayers. (H. J. Wilmot-Buxton, M. A.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Song of Solomon 2". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
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