Song of Solomon 1:1
The song of songs, which is Solomon's. This is certainly the title of the book which follows, although in our present Hebrew Bible it is the first verse of the book preceded by the shorter form, 'The Song of Songs.' The Septuagint has simply the title ασμα, So that our English title in the Authorized Version, 'The Song of Solomon,' has no ancient authority. It is well altered in the Revised Version to 'The Song of Songs.' The word "song" ( שִׁיר) does not necessarily convey the meaning. composed to be sung to music. If the performance of the words were chiefly in view, the word would have been מִוְמוֹר, carmen, "lyric poem," "hymn," or "ode." The Greek ασμα ἀσμάτων, and the Latin of the Vulgate, Canticum canticorum, accord with the Hebrew in representing the work as taking a high place either in the esteem of the Church or, on account of the subject, in the esteem of the writer. Luther expresses the same idea in the title he attaches to it, 'Das Hohelied,' that is, the chief or finest of songs. The reference may be to the excellence of the literary form, but probably that which suggested the title was the supreme beauty of the love which prompted the songs. The title may be regarded as applied to the whole book, or to the first portion of it giving the name to the whole. If it be a collection of separate songs strung together, as some think) by mere resemblance in style and subject, then the words, "which is Solomon's" ( לִשְל מוֹ אֲשֶׁר) apply to the first song alone. But the unity which is clearly to be traced through the book to the end makes it probable that the title is meant to ascribe the work to the authorship of Solomon. This is the opinion of the majority of critics. It must have come either from the wise king himself, or from some one of his contemporaries or immediate successors. The preposition is the lamedh auctoris. If the meaning were "referring to," another preposition ( עַל) would have been employed. It has been remarked by Delitzsch that the absence of any description of Solomon as "King of Israel" or "son of David," as in Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, confirms the view that Solomon himself was the sole author. Some have argued against the authenticity of the title on the ground that the longer form of the relative, אֲשֶׁר, is used in it, whereas in the book itself the shorter form, שְׁ, is found, but no dependence, can be placed on that argument regarded by itself, for the same writer employs both forms, as e.g. Jeremiah, who uses the longer form in his prophecies and the shorter in Lamentations. The shorter form is, in fact, the elder, being Old Canaanitish or Phoenician, אשׁ, which is a lengthened form of שׁ, and afterwards became אֲשֶׁר. One writer, however Fleischer), holds that the relative pronoun as a substantive origin, and compares it with the Arabic ithe and the Assyrian asar, meaning "track" or "place," like the German welcher, which comes from wo. But whether this be so or not, it is certainly unsafe to date any book by the form found in it of the, relative pronoun. We know that in poetry the abbreviated form is common. It was probably a North Palestine provincialism, as we see in the Book of Kings. It became common in prose writings after the Captivity because of the degradation of Hebrew, but it was not unknown before that time either in prose or poetry. With regard to the exact description of the poetic form of the Song of Songs, the difference among critics is considerable, but the question is scarcely worth discussing. There undoubtedly is unity of conception in the songs which are brought together, but it cannot be of importance to prove that there is dramatic unity strictly speaking; there is no dramatic procedure, nor can we suppose that there is any ultimate aim at dramatic representation. But the Exposition which follows will suffice to show that there are facts of history in the background of the poem; if the suggestions of the language and scenery be followed, the facts are very beautiful and even romantic—the love of the great king for one of his own subjects, a lovely northern maiden, whose simplicity and purity of character are a great attraction and lend much force to the religious sentiment of the song. In 1 Kings 5:12 we read that "the Lord gave Solomon wisdom, as he promised him." That divinely inspired wisdom enabled him, notwithstanding his own personal errors, to idealize and sanctify the lovely episode of his lifo which lies at the foundation of his poem. And the Church of God in every age has appreciated, more or less widely, the inspiration, both of matter and of form, which breathed in it. We are told that Solomon composed one thousand and five songs (1 Kings 4:32); whether this is a part of that collection or not we cannot certainly say, but that it is a mere fasciculus, or collection of separate songs, strung together by their general erotic character, is what we cannot believe. No doubt, as Dr. Mason Good has observed, the Arabian poets were accustomed to arrange their poems in what they compared to a string of pearls, but we can scarcely carry such a fact into the Bible, and deal with sacred books as mere literary remains. There must be a deep religious meaning in such language, and it is in accordance with Eastern usage that amatory songs should be so employed. What the meaning is we must persistently ask, and however much has been wrongly said in the past, while we believe in the Divine authority of the Old Testament we must not renounce the endeavour to find the Song of Songs worthy of its title and its place.
Part I. MUTUAL LOVE. Song of Shulamith in the royal chambers. Chorus of ladies, daughters of Jerusalem.
Song of Solomon 1:2
Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth: for thy love is better than wine. Whether we take these words as put in the lips of the bride herself, or of the chorus as identifying themselves with her, is of little consequence. It is certain that the idea intended to be expressed is that of delight in the approach of the royal bridegroom. The future is used optatively, "Let me be taken up into the closest fellowship and embrace." All attempts to dispense with the amatory phraseology are vain. The "kisses" must be interpreted in a figurative sense, or the sacred character of the whole book must be removed. The words may be rendered, with one of his kisses; i.e. the sweetness of his lips is such that one kiss would be rapture. Some have thought that allusion is intended to the custom among idolaters referred to in Job 31:27, "My mouth hath kissed my hand;" but the meaning is simply that of affection. The great majority of Christian commentators have regarded the words as expressive of desire towards God. Origen said, the Church of the old dispensation longing after higher revelations, as through the Incarnation, "How long shall he send me kisses by Moses and the prophets? I desire the touch of his own lips." It is dangerous to attempt specific applications of a metaphor. The general truth of it is all that need be admitted. If the relation between God and his people is one that can be set forth under the image of human affection, then there is no impropriety in the language of Solomon's Song. "To kiss a kiss" ( נָשָׁק נְשִׁקָה) is the ordinary Hebraic form (cf. "to counsel a counsel"). Thy love is better than wine. The plural is used, "loves," as in the word "life" ( חַיִים)—the abstract for the concrete, perhaps in order to indicate the manifestation of love in many caresses. The change from the third person to the second is common in poetry. The comparison with wine may be taken either as denoting sweetness or exhilarating effects. The intoxicating power of wine is but rarely referred to in Scripture, as the ordinary wine was distinguished from strong drink. Some, as Hitzig and Bottcher, would read יַשְׁקֵנִי, changing the pointing, and translating, "Let him give me to drink;" but there is no necessity for a reading so forced and vulgar. The Septuagint, altering the vowels of the word "love," turn it into "breasts," and must therefore have supposed it addressed to the bride. The word is connected with the Arabic, and runs through the languages, dodh (cf. Dada, Dido, David). Perhaps the reference to wine, as subsequently to the ointments, may be explained by the fact that the song is supposed to be sung while wine is presented in the chamber, and while the perfumes are poured out in preparation for the entrance of the royal bridegroom. We can scarcely doubt that the opening words are intended to be the utterance of loving desire on the part of the bride in the presence of the daughters of Jerusalem. Some have suggested that verses 1-8 are from a kind of responsive dialogue, but the view of the older interpreters and of Ewald, Hengstenberg, Weissbach, and others of the moderns, seems more correct, that all the first seven verses are in the mouth of Shulamith, and then verse 8 comes in naturally as a chorus in reply to the song of the bride. The use of the plural, "We will run after thee," etc; is easily explicable. The bride is surrounded by her admiring companions and attendants. They are congratulating her on the king's love. She speaks as from the midst of the company of ladies.
Song of Solomon 1:3
Thine ointments have a goodly fragrance; thy name is as ointment poured forth; therefore do the virgins love thee. There is some slight difference among critics as to the rendering of this verse, but it does not affect the meaning. Lovely and delightful thou art. As thy perfumes are so precious, so is thy name; the more it is spread, the more delight is found in it. The idea is that the person is the sweetest, and that his communications are elevating and inspiring. The "virgins" may be taken generally, "Those who are full of the sensibility of youth appreciate thy attractions." The word almah is much disputed about, but the meaning is simply that of "young woman," whether virgin or married. "Thou art the delight of all the young." Mason Good renders the verse—
"Rich thy perfumes; but richer far than they
The countless charms that round thy person play;
Thy name alone, more fragrant than the rose,
Glads every maid, where'er its fragrance flows."
Song of Solomon 1:4
Draw me, we will run after thee: the king hath brought me into his chambers: we will be glad and rejoice in thee, we will make mention of thy love more than of wine: rightly do they love thee. This is best taken as all spoken by the bride. It is the language of the purest affection and adoring admiration. "I drew them," God says (Hosea 11:4), "with cords of a man, with bands of love." "The Lord appeared of old unto me," says Jeremiah (Jeremiah 31:3), "saying, Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with loving kindness have I drawn thee." In the same sense the Greek word ἐλκυεῖν is used by our Lord himself of the Father drawing to the Son, and of the Son, uplifted on the cross, "drawing" all men unto him (cf. John 6:44; John 12:32). If the spiritual meaning of the whole poem is admitted, such language is quite natural. The king's chambers are the king's own rooms in the palace, i.e. his sleeping, rooms and sitting rooms—the penetralia regis. We may take the preterite as equivalent to the present; i.e. "The king is bringing me into closest fellowship with himself, not merely as a member of his household, but as his chosen bride." The concluding words have caused much discussion. The meaning, however, is the same whether we say, "The upright love thee," or "Thou art rightly loved." The intention is to set forth the object of love as perfect. The plural, מֵישָׁרִים, is used to signify the abstract of the word, thought, or act; i.e. "righteous," for "rightly" (cf. Psalms 58:2; Psalms 75:3); but the best critics think it could not be the abstract for the concrete plural, as in the Vulgate, Recti diligunt re. The same use of the word is seen in Song of Solomon 7:9, "The best wine that teeth down smoothly for my beloved" (cf. Proverbs 23:31). Before going further in the song, it is well to observe how chaste, pure, and delicate is the language of love; and yet, as Delitzsch has pointed out, there is a mystical, cloudy brightness. We seem to be in the region of the ideal. It is not a mere love song, though it may have been the commemoration of an actual past. The Eastern form of the words may be less suited to our taste than it would be to those who first embraced Christianity, and to the nineteenth century than to the first; but the loving rapture of the Church in fellowship with the Saviour is certainly seeking a more vivid expression in song, and there are many of the most simple-minded and devoted Christians whose joy in Christ pours itself out freely in strains not much less fervid and almost as sensuous as anything to be found in Solomon's Song. Some are beginning to remonstrate against this freedom of devotional language, but the instinct of the Church seems to justify it as the demand of the heart under the influence of the Word of God itself. Perhaps there is a state of religious feeling coming into the experience of Christians which will remove the veil from such a book as the Song of Songs, and we shall yet find that its language is needful and is not extravagant.
Song of Solomon 1:5
I am black, but comely, O ye daughters of Jerusalem, as the tents of Kedar, as the curtains of Solomon. The word "black" ( שְׁחוֹרָה) does not necessarily mean that the skin is black, but rather sunburnt, dark brown, as in Lamentations 4:8, where the same word signifies the livid or swarthy appearance of one who has suffered long from famine and wretchedness. There is certainly no reason to take the word as an argument for the bride being Pharaoh's daughter; but it points to what is confirmed by the rest of the poem—the rustic birth and northern blood of the bride. She has been living in the fields, and is browned with the ruddy health of a country life. The best explanation of the words is that they are drawn out by the fact that the bride is surrounded by her ladies. Some think that they look askance at her, or with indignation at the boldness of her words; but that is quite unnecessary, and would be inconsistent with the dignity of the bride. The country maiden feels the greatness of the honour, that she is chosen of the king, and with simple modesty, in the presence of courtly ladies around her, sets forth her claim. The simile is not uncommon in poetry, as in Theocritus and Virgil. Comely; i.e. attractive, agreeable. Kedar (whether from the Arabic, meaning "powerful," or from the Hebrew, "black") designates the tribes of the NorthArabian descendants of Ishmael (Genesis 25:13; Isaiah 21:17), Kedareens, referred to by Pliny, and remaining in Arabia until the time of the Mohammedans. The Bedouin still calls his tent his "hair house;" it is covered with goat's-hair cloth, mostly black or grey. Whether the reference is to the colour of the goat's hair or to the tents being browned or blackened by the heat of the sun, we cannot doubt that the allusion is to the complexion, and the rest of the simile would then be applicable to the lovely shape and features of the maiden, the curtains of Solomon being the curtains of a pavilion, or pleasure tent, spread out like "a shining butterfly," i.e. the beautiful cloth or tapestry which formed the sides of the tent or the tent coverings, the clothing of the framework, or tent hangings (see Isaiah 54:2; Exodus 26:36; 2 Samuel 7:1-29.; 1 Chronicles 17:1, etc.). Egyptian hangings were particularly prized. The custom prevailed among Eastern monarchs of sojourning once in the year in some lovely rural district, and at such times their tents would be very magnificent. The LXX. has, ὡς δεῤῥείς σολομὼν, "as the skins of Solomon;" but this is a mistake. The word is derived from a root "to tremble," i.e. "to glitter in the sun." Those who desire to find an allegorical interpretation think there is an evident allusion here to the sojourn of Israel in the wilderness, or the admission of the Gentiles into the covenant; but there is no reason for any such strain upon the meaning. The simile is merely poetical. The soul realizes its own acceptance before God, but ascribes that acceptance to his grace. "The bride, the Lamb's wife," sees the beauty of the Lord reflected in herself, and rejoices in her own attractions for his sake. There is no immodesty in the consciousness of merit so long as that merit is ascribed to him from whom it comes. There is often more pride in the assumption of humility than in the claim to be acknowledged. The same apostle who declared himself less than the least of all saints also maintained that he was not a whit behind the very chiefest apostles.
Song of Solomon 1:6
Look not upon me, because I am swarthy, because the sun hath scorched me. My mother's sons were incensed against me; they made me keeper of the vineyards; but mine own vineyard have I not kept. The meaning seems to be—Do not let the swarthiness of my complexion lower me in your eyes. Literally the words are, Do not see me that I am; i.e. do not regard me as being, because I am. There is no necessity to suppose any looks of the ladies to have suggested the words. They are the words of modest self-depreciation mingled with joyful sense of acceptance. It is difficult to render the Hebrew exactly. The word translated "swarthy" (shecharchoreh) is probably a diminutive from shechorah, which itself means "blackish;" so that the meaning is, "that my complexion is dark." The reference to the sun explains the word still further, as pointing, not to a difference of race, but to mere temporary effects of an outdoor life: "The sun has been playing with my complexion;" or, as the LXX. renders it, παρέβλεψέ μὰ ὁ ἡλίος, "The sun has been gazing at me." So other Greek versions. Some, however, include the idea of burning or scorching, which is the literal meaning of the verb, though in Job 3:9 and Job 41:10 it is used in the sense of looking at or upon. The sun is the eye of the heavens (see 2 Samuel 12:11), and with delicate feeling it is spoken of here as feminine, the bride playfully alluding, perhaps, to the lady seen in the heavens preceding the ladies of the court in gazing on her beauty. It is difficult to explain with perfect satisfaction the next clause of the verse. Doubtless "mother's sons" is a poetical periphrasis for brothers—not "step-brothers," as some have said. Perhaps the mother was a widow, as no father is mentioned. The best explanation is that the bride is simply giving an account of herself, why she is so browned in the sun. The brothers, for some reason, had been incensed against her, possibly on account of her favour in the eyes of the king, but more probably for private, family reasons. They would not have her shutting herself up in the house to take care of her complexion; they would have her in the vineyards. In the word "keeper" (noterah instead of notzerah) we have an instance of the northern dialect—a kind of Platt-Hebrew—hardening the pronunciation. My own vineyard have I not kept no doubt refers simply and solely to her complexion, not to her virginity or character. She means—I was compelled by my brothers to go into the vineyards in the heat of the sun, and the consequence was, as you see, I have not been able to preserve the delicacy of my skin; I have been careless of my personal beauty. The sun has done its work. The reference helps us to recognize the historical background of the poem, and leads naturally to the use of the pastoral language which runs through the whole. The king is a shepherd, and his bride a shepherdess. Without straining the spiritual interpretation, we may yet discover in this beautiful candour and Simplicity of the bride the reflection of the soul's virtues in its joyful realization of Divine favour; but the true method of interpretation requires no minute, detailed adjustment of the language to spiritual facts, but rather seeks the meaning in the total impression of the poem.
Song of Solomon 1:7
Tell me, O thou whom my soul loveth, where thou feedest thy flock, where thou makest it to rest at noon: for why should I he as one that is veiled beside the flock of thy companions? These words carry on the associations suggested by the previous verse. The bride is longing for the bridegroom; but she cannot think of him yet in any other light than as a companion of her simple country life—he is a shepherd, and she a shepherdess. "Take me into closer fellowship with thyself; let me not remain still only one amongst the many." Perhaps there is intended to be an allusion to the common metaphor—the king as the shepherd and the people as his flock; but the uppermost thought of the bride is separation unto her husband. The soul which longs for the enjoyment of fellowship with God desires to be carried away out of all distractions, out of all restraints, lifted above reserve and above doubt into the closest and most loving union. The idea of the veil may be either the veil of mourning or the veil of modesty and reserve. Probably the latter is the true reference. The LXX. has, ὡς περιβαλλομένη. There is some difference of opinion among critics. Ewald thinks it refers to strangeness—"like one unknown," and therefore veiled; Gesenius says, "one fainting;" others connect the word with the root "to roam," "to wander" (see Isaiah 22:17), which is confirmed by Symmachus, the Vulgate, the Syriac, the Chaldee, Jerome, Venetian, and Luther. The simplest explanation is that the bride compares herself, in her absence from her lord, among the ladies of the court, to a veiled woman travelling beside the flocks of the shepherds, seeking her friend, but not yet brought to him.
Song of Solomon 1:8
(Chorus of ladies.) If thou know not, O thou fairest among women, go thy way forth by the footsteps of the flock, and feed thy kids beside the shepherds' tents. That another voice is here introduced there can be no doubt; and as it is not like the voice of the bridegroom himself, which is heard in the next verse, we must suppose it to be the chorus of attendant ladies. Delitzsch suggests very plausibly that they are pleasantly chiding the simplicity of the country maiden, and telling her that, if she cannot understand her position, she had better return to her country life. In that case, "if thou know not" would mean—If thou canst not rise up to thy privilege; the knowledge referred to being general knowledge or wisdom. The delicate irony is well expressed, as in the reference to the kids—"feed thy kids," like a child as thou art. But there may be no intentional irony in the words; rather a playful and sympathetic response to the beautiful simplicity of the bride—If thou art waiting to be brought to thy beloved, if thou art seeking thy shepherd, thou most lovely woman, then go quietly on thy way, like a shepherdess tending the kids beside the shepherds' tents; follow the peaceful footsteps of the flock, and in due time the beloved one will appear. This is better than to suppose the ladies presuming to indulge in irony when they must know that Shulamith is the king's favourite. Besides, the first scene of the poem, which is a kind of introduction, thus ends appropriately with an invitation to peaceful waiting for love. We are prepared for the entrance of the beloved one. The spiritual meaning is simple and clear—Those that would be lifted up into the highest enjoyments of religion must not be impatient and doubt that the Lord will reveal himself, but go quietly and patiently on with the work of life, "in the footsteps of the flock," in fellowship with humble souls, and in the paths of peace, in the green pastures and beside the still waters, ready to do anything assigned them, and the time of rejoicing and rapture will come.
Song of Solomon 1:9
(Entrance of the bridegroom.) I have compared thee, O my love, to a steed in Pharaoh's chariots. There can be no reasonable doubt that these words are put into the mouth of the king. The "steed" is in the feminine ( סוּסָה); some would point the word with the plural vowels, that is, "to my horses," or a "body of horses." There is no necessity for that. The reference to a particular very lovely mare is more apt and pointed. In 1 Kings 10:26 we read in the LXX. Version of τεσσάρες χιλίαδες θηλειαὶ ἵπποι, which Solomon had for his chariots—fourteen hundred war chariots and twelve thousand horsemen. The Pharaoh chariots were those which the king had imported from Egypt (1 Kings 10:28, 1 Kings 10:29; 2 Chronicles 9:28). It may be that the reference is to the splendid decoration of the trappings. Delitzsch very rightly sees in such a figure a confirmation of the view that Solomon himself was the author. The horses from Egypt were famed at that time as those of Arabia became afterwards. The names both of horses and chariots in the Egyptian language were borrowed from the Semitic, as they were probably first imported into Egypt by the Hyksos, or shepherd kings. Other examples of the same comparison are found in poetry, as in Horace, Anacreon, and Theocritus. In the last ('Idyl.,' 18.30, 31) occur the following lines, rendered into English verse:—
"As towers the cypress 'mid the garden's bloom,
As in the chariot proud Thessalian steed,
Thus graceful, rose-complexioned Helen moves."
The idea is that of stately beauty and graceful movements. The old commentators see the Divine love of espousals (Jeremiah 2:2), as in the wilderness of the Exodus, and afterwards in the wilderness of the world. The Bible is full of the expression of Divine tenderness and regard for man.
Song of Solomon 1:10, Song of Solomon 1:11
Thy cheeks are comely with plaits of hair, thy neck with strings of jewels. We will make thee plaits of gold with studs of silver. This language may be suggested by the comparison first employed—the trappings of the horse. "The head frame of the horse's bridle and the poitral were then certainly, just as now, adorned with silken tassels, fringes, and other ornaments of silver. Torim, 'round ornaments,' which hang down in front on both sides of the headband or are also inwoven in the braids of hair in the forehead." The strings of jewels were necklaces—three rows of pearls. The ornamentation is, however, quite in accordance with female dress. The king makes the promise of gold and silver decoration as an expression of his personal delight in his bride and acceptance of her. Gold and silver were closely connected; hence silver was called, in the Old Egyptian language, "white gold." The idea seems to be that of silver points sprinkled over golden knobs. Compare the description in 'Faust' of Margaret's delight in the casket she finds in her room. The LXX. and Vulgate have mistaken the word torim for a similar word for "doves," taking the simile to be the beautiful colours of the dove's neck. The bride does not seem to reply immediately to the king; but we may suppose that the king takes his bride by the hand, and leads her into the banqueting chamber. But the next three verses, which are certainly in the lips of the bride, may be taken as her expression of delight in her husband, either while he feasts in the banquet or when it is over. The banquet is a familiar emblem of the delight of mutual love. Hence the feasts of love in the primitive Church were regarded, not only as seasons of fellowship between Christians, but times of rejoicing, when the soul entered into the full appreciation of the Saviour's presence.
Song of Solomon 1:12-14
While the king sat (or, sits) at his table, my spikenard sent (sends) forth its fragrance. My beloved is unto me as a bundle of myrrh, that lieth betwixt my breasts. My beloved is unto me as a cluster of henna flowers in the vineyards of Engedi. The preterite is best taken poetically for the present. The words are evidently a response to those of the king. As such they refer to present feeling and not to a past state. The bride expresses her delight in the king. The table is used generally. The Hebrew word is from a root "to sit round." The habit of reclining at table was introduced much later, during the Persian, Greek, and Roman period. The spikenard was a powerful perfume, probably of Indian origin, as the Indian word nalada, meaning "that which yields fragrance," shows. The Persian is nard, the Old Arabic nardu. It was made from an Indian plant, the Valeriana, called Nardo-stachys 'Gatamansi, growing in Northern and Eastern India. The hairy part of the stem immediately above the root yields the perfume. That it was "very precious" we see from the account of Mary's offering, which was worth more than three hundred denarii, i.e. £8 10s. (Mark 14:5; John 12:2). Horace promised Virgil a whole cask, i.e. nine gallons, of the best wine in exchange for a small onyx box full of the perfume. The metaphor represents the intense longing of love. Myrrh was an exotic introduced into Palestine from Arabia, Abyssinia, and India. Like frankincense, it is one of the amyridae. The Balsamodendron myrrha is the tree itself with its leaves and flowers. From the tree came a resin or gum (Gummi myrrhae), which either dropped from the leaves or was artificially obtained by incisions in the bark. The natural product was the more valuable. It was much prized as a perfume, and employed for many purposes. The Hebrew women were accustomed to carry little bags or bottles of myrrh suspended from their necks and hanging down between the breasts under the dress, diffusing an attractive fragrance round them. The word tseror is, properly, "a little bag," sacculus, "that which one ties up," rather than a "bundle." The meaning, of course, is rhetorical—He is at my heart and delightful to all my thoughts as the fragrance to my senses. The henna flowers, or cypress, in the vineyards of Engedi, is a very beautiful figure. Copher, the cypress cluster,—in Greek, κύπρος: in Arabic, al-henna (Lawsonia)—grows in Palestine and Egypt, as we are told by Pliny ('Nat. Hist.' 12.24). It is a tall shrub reaching to eight or ten feet, exceedingly beautiful in appearance, and giving forth a delightful odour. It is named from a root "to be white or yellow-white." The Moslem women stain their hands and feet with it to give them a yellow tint. Engedi was a lovely district on the west of the Dead Sea—Hazezon Tamar, now Ain Tidy, where Solomon made terraces on the hillsides and covered them with gardens and vineyards. The allusion confirms the date of the writing as contemporary with Solomon, as the gardens would then be in their perfection. The figure is, perhaps, intended to be an advance in rhetorical force upon that which preceded—the fragrance diffused and almost overpowering, as of a blossoming tree.
Song of Solomon 1:15
Behold, thou art fair, my love; behold, thou art fair; thine eyes are as doves; literally, thine eyes are doves. The king receives the worship of his bride and delights in her. She is very sweet and fair to him. The dove is a natural symbol of love; hence it was attached by the classical nations to the garden of love, together with the myrtle, rose, and apple, all of which we find introduced in this Hebrew poem. Hence the Arabic name for a dove, Jemima, as we see in the Book of Job, was the name of a woman (cf. Columbina). The language of the king is that of ecstasy; hence the interjection and repetition. The enraptured monarch gazes into the eyes of his beloved bride, and sees there only purity, constancy, and affection. In So Job 7:4 the eyes are compared to fish ponds, no doubt for their clear, liquid depth and serenity. Some have thought that the allusion is to the very lovely eyes of the doves; but there is no need of the limitation.
Behold, thou art fair, my beloved, yea, pleasant; also our couch is green. The beams of our house are cedars, and our rafters are firs. I am a rose of Sharon, a lily of the valley. We take these three verses together as being, in all probability, the address of the bride to her royal husband. This was the view taken by the Masoretic editors and preserved in our present pointing of the Hebrew, as we see in the masculine form of the first word, הִגֶּךָ, which replies to the feminine form in Song of Solomon 2:15, הִגָּךְ. The seventeenth verse is apparently abrupt. Why should the bride pass so suddenly from the general address of affection, "Thou art fair, thou art pleasant," to a particular description of a rural scene? The explanation suggested by some of the critics is not farfetched, that Solomon whispers to her that she shall go back with him to her country life if she pleases, or she reminds him of his promise made at some other time. Undoubtedly the point of Shulamith's response lies in Song of Solomon 2:1, "I am not at ease in this palatial splendour; I am by nature a rose of Sharon, a lily of the valley. Take me to the green couch, and let me lie under the cedars and the firs." The couch is the divan (cf. Amos 6:4), from a root "to cover over" (like "canopy" in Greek, κωνωπεῖον, so called from its protecting the person under it from the κώνεπες, or "gnats). It is not that the nuptial bed is particularly intended, or even the bridal bower, but the home itself as a bowery resting place. "Our home is a sweet country home; take me, there, beloved one." The word "green" is very suggestive in the Hebrew. It is said to "combine in itself the ideas of softness and juicy freshness, perhaps of bending and elasticity, of looseness and thus of overhanging ramification, like weeping willow." Beams, from a root "to meet," "to lay crosswise," "to hold together." But the meaning depends upon the idea of the whole description. Some would render "fretted ceilings," or "galleries;" but Dr. Ginsburg gives it, "our bower is of cedar arches," which excludes the idea of a formal structure made of cedar beams. The same meaning is conveyed in the last clause, "our rafters are firs." The word rendered "rafters" ( יָחִיט) literally signifies "a place upon which one runs" (like שׁוּק, a "street"), i.e. a charming or pleasant spot. The beroth is the cypress tree, an Aramaic word, or one used in the north of Palestine. The meaning is, "our pleasant retreat is cypresses"—is beautiful and fragrant with the cypress tree. Delitzsch, however, and others would take it differently as describing the panels or hollows of a wainscoted ceiling, like φατναί, lacunae, lacunaria, and the LXX; φατνωμάτα: Symmachus, φατνωσεῖς: Jerome, laquearii (cf. Isaiah 60:13). But the concluding words would then be unfitting. The bride is not describing a splendid palace, but a country home. "I am a tender maiden," she says, "who has been brought up in retirement; take me to a forest palace and to the green, fragrant surroundings, where the meadow flower, the valley lily will be happy." We are so accustomed to the rendering of So Song of Solomon 2:1, which our Revised Version has adopted from the Authorized, that it would be wrong to destroy the effect which it borrows from long familiarity unless it were absolutely necessary. The word chavatseleth, however, has been differently translated; it is literally any wild flower—rose, saffron crocus (Colchieum autumnale), tulip, narcissus, lily. The crocus is, perhaps, nearest to the meaning, as the name is probably derived from a root "to form bulbs" or bulbous knolls. It occurs only once again, in Isaiah 35:1, where it is rendered "rose" in the Authorized Version; LXX; ἄνθος: Vulgate, flos. Some derive it from the root chavaz, "to be bright," with לas termination. Sharon may be here a general denomination of the open field or plain, from יָרַשׁ, "to be straight, plain." There was a district called Sharon on the coast from Joppa to Caesarea. There was another Sharon beyond the Jordan (see 1 Chronicles 5:16). According to Eusebius and Jerome, there was yet another, between Tabor and Tiberias, and this, as being in the north, may be referred to. Aquila renders "a rosebud of Sharon." The lily (shoshannah) is only found as here in the feminine form in the Apocrypha. The red and white lily were both known. Some would derive the word from the numeral (shesh) "six," because the liliaceae are six-leaved, while the rosaceae are five-leaved; but it is probably akin to shesh, "byssus," shayish, "white marbles" (cf. Hosea 14:5, "He shall bloom as a lily"). Our Lord's reference to "the lilies of the field" reminds us that they were in Palestine both very beautiful and very abundant. Zockler thinks it is not the strongly scented white lily (Lilium candidam) to which reference is made, but the red lily (Lilium rubens); but either will convey the same idea of a flower of the field which is meant. "My beauty is the beauty of nature—artless and pure."
Song of Solomon 1:1-4
I. THE INSCRIPTION.
1. The title. We are told (1 Kings 4:1-34 :82) that the songs of Solomon were a thousand and five. This is the chief of all, the Song of Songs. It stands alone in the Old Testament. It is a pastoral drama of singular loveliness. It shows a delight in the beauties of nature such as we might look for in him who "spake of trees, from the cedar tree that is in Lebanon even unto the hyssop that springeth out of the wall; of beasts also, and of fowl, and of creeping things." It exhibits a touching picture of early affection gradually ripening into the blessed love of wedlock—that love which, when pure and unselfish, tends more than anything that is of this world to elevate and refine the soul. And it has a higher meaning. Holy men of widely different times have seen in it the spiritual Converse of the Church, or of the individual soul, with the heavenly Bridegroom. A famous Jewish rabbi, after saying that all the books of the Hagiographa are holy, describes the Song of Songs as a holy of holies; and a great Father of the Church says that in this book the perfected, who have the world beneath their feet, are joined to the embraces of the heavenly Bridegroom. Thus it combines all the elements which give a charm to poetry—beauty of form and elevation of thought; a delicate appreciation of the attractions of external nature; a deep sense of the sweetness and power of the most universal, the most dominant, of human affections; and an uplook to higher things, an uplook from that love which is of God—for such surely is the love of husband and wife (see Ephesians 5:25-28)—to God who is love. Thus the title is abundantly justified. There are great difficulties here and there; but yet much of the Song of Songs has ever sounded to believing souls like far-off echoes of the new song which only the redeemed from the earth could learn (Revelation 14:3). There are few passages of Holy Scripture sweeter to the Christian heart than those thrice-repeated words, "My Beloved is mine, and I am his."
2. The authorship. "Which is Solomon's." The Hebrew preposition may be translated "of" or "for." In the titles of Psalms 72:1-20, and Psalms 127:1-5. it is rendered in our Authorized Version "for Solomon," "of Solomon" standing in the margin. Psalms 127:1-5; like the rest of the "songs of degrees," is almost certainly post-Exilic; and in Psalms 72:1-20, the LXX. translators are probably right in regarding Solomon as the subject, not the author, of the psalm. If the Song of Songs was written by Solomon himself, we have in it a most awful warning of the fickleness, the sinfulness, of the human heart. Solomon, who knew so well what is the sweetness of pure and holy love, was led astray by that sensual passion which usurps the name of love. Solomon, who was called Jedidiah, "the darling of the Lord," whom "the Lord loved" (2 Samuel 12:24), who himself "loved the Lord" (1 Kings 3:3)—that same Solomon "loved many strange women" (1 Kings 11:1), and "when he was old, his wives turned away his heart after other gods." "Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall;" "Ye that love the Lord, see that ye hate the thing that is evil." The soul that would live in the love of Christ must hate, and reject with horror and loathing, the very smallest beginnings of that sin of impurity which separates a man from God utterly and with a tearful rapidity. If, on the other hand, it was written by some prophet or poet of Northern Palestine in Solomon's time, we have an explanation of those peculiar words which some scholars regard as Aramaic, others as dialectic peculiarities of the Lebanon country; and we have a warning not to trust too much in human leaders. We must not put our trust in man, but only in God. When men, once honoured and esteemed, fall into sin, we cannot but be distressed; but we must not allow our faith to waver. God is the truth; he continueth faithful; we must trust in him. The internal evidence of the song itself points to a time anterior to the separation of the northern and southern kingdoms; this is not the place to discuss the arguments for a later origin.
3. The weaning. The song seems to rest on an historical basis; its many details, its geographical notices, its many references to circumstances of Solomon's time, to its peace and prosperity (such a period of peace and prosperity as perhaps never occurred again during the chequered history of Israel), to its commerce, its magnificence, point to a groundwork of actual fact. It relates the love of the great king for some innocent country maiden—a love that was returned, that for a time at least brought happiness to both, and seemed to refine and elevate the characters of both, as a pure love which leads to a blessed marriage ever does. But holy men of old were led by the Spirit to incorporate this beautiful narrative into the canon of Holy Scripture. That fact invests the song with another and a higher meaning. Jewish rabbis regarded it as a parable of the relations between God and Israel. Many of the Christian Fathers have seen in it the love that is between Christ and his Church; the longings of the Christian soul for the presence of the heavenly Bridegroom; the vicissitudes of the spiritual life; the blessed union of the bride, the Lamb's wife, with the Lord of her redemption at the last. There are great difficulties in the spiritual interpretation of some passages; but when we consider the position of the song in the sacred book; when we remember that "every Scripture inspired of God is also profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for instruction which is in righteousness;" when we remember the great value which many of God's saints have set upon this book, the great spiritual benefit which they have derived from it, we feel that it must be right to regard it as a parable of Divine love, to see under this earthly story a deep and holy heavenly meaning.
II. THE FIRST SONG.
1. The bride's longing for the beloved. The three verses (2-4) are often regarded as the song of a chorus of virgins, the companions of the bride; perhaps the mingling of the singular and plural pronouns seems rather to suggest that we have in this first song the voice of the bride herself blended with the strains of her virgin friends. The bride yearns for the embrace of love. In the pure love of Christian man and maid, the maiden long desired gives at last the full treasure of her love in answer to that love which had with earnest devotion sought for her affection. Ancient writers see in these words the longing of the Jewish Church for a closer union with God, for the fulfilment of the promise given through the prophet (Hosea 2:16), "In that day, saith the Lord, thou shalt call me Ishi ['my Husband'], and shalt call me no more Baali ['my Lord ']." The Christian Church, the Christian soul, longs for the enjoyment of the Saviour's love. We notice the abrupt beginning, "Let him kiss me." The bride is speaking of one well known, greatly loved. There is no need of exact description; the pronoun is enough; there is only One whose image is ever present to that loving heart. When the Christian, taught by the Holy Ghost, is learning, slowly and imperfectly (as, alas! it must be here), to fulfil the first of all the commandments, he will yearn above all things for that manifestation of himself which the Lord promises to them that love him (John 14:21, John 14:23). The traitor's kiss, treacherous as it was, shows that such a token of affection was usual in the intercourse between our Lord and his apostles. His love is unchanging, everlasting; still the Christian soul may say, "The Son of God loved me, and gave himself for me;'" still the soul longs for the sense of that blessed love; "the love of Jesus, what it is, none but his loved ones know." The woman that was a sinner kissed the Saviour's feet. The kiss of peace was in apostolic times the token of the love which Christians had one towards another. The kiss of pure and holy love is a parable of the blessed love which is betwixt Christ and his Church. That love is better than wine. Now the bride speaks to the Lord. "Thy love," she says; she feels that he is coming in answer to the call of love. Earthly joys are poor indeed when compared with that joy which is in the Lord. St. Paul contrasts them in the Epistle to the Ephesians (Ephesians 5:18, Ephesians 5:19). Excess in wine brings degradation, misery. The Christian soul needs not this spurious excitement; it has a source of joy higher beyond all comparison. It is filled with the Spirit, and the fruit of the Spirit is joy—joy which manifests itself in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.
2. The response of the chorus. The attendant virgins assent. The love of the Bridegroom is better than wine, better than the fragrance of the sweetest of perfumes, sweeter than ointment poured forth which sheds its scent around. The odour of the precious ointment which Mary poured upon the Saviour's head filled the house; the sweet odour of the name of Jesus fills the whole Church; it sheds its penetrating influence everywhere throughout the Church; "therefore," the chorus sings, "do the virgins love thee." The plural number seems to remind us that the love of Christ is personal, individual. The bride, the Lamb's wife, is, indeed, the whole company of the elect. But the Lord's love is not only general; it does not bless only the Church as a whole, an aggregate; he loves all and each; the whole Church and each separate Christian soul; therefore each separate Christian soul, all who take their lamps and go forth to meet the Bridegroom, rejoice in the Bridegroom's love, and desire above all things to return it. "We love him, because he first loved us."
3. The blended voices of the chorus and the bride.
"Break up the heavens, O Lord! and far,
Thro' all yon starlight keen,
Draw me, thy bride, a glittering star,
In raiment white and clean."
It seems too much to ask; none feel their unworthiness, their guilt, so keenly as those whom the Lord is calling nearer to himself. But faith hears his voice and believes in his power. If only he will draw us, we shall run after him. Love is the magnet of love. When God deigns to shine into his people's hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, when the blessed word, "We have seen the Lord," is realized in the heart, then the soul runneth in ever-deepening desire to respond to that condescending love. None can come to Christ, we know, "except the Father who hath sent me draw him" (John 6:44); therefore that prayer, "Draw me, we will run after thee," is often in the Christian's heart, often pleaded by the Christian's lips. We are weak and helpless; but when he draws us with that holy invitation, "Come unto me," we must arise, we must run after him. To look back is ruin. "Remember Lot's wife." And his call giveth strength to follow, to run after him. So St. Augustine says in well known words ('Conf.,' 9.1), "How sweet did it at once become to me to want the sweetnesses of those toys; and what I feared to be parted from, was now a joy to part with! For thou didst cast them forth from me, thou true and highest Sweetness. Thou castedst them forth, and for them enteredst in thyself, sweeter than all pleasures, though not to flesh and blood; brighter than all light, but more hidden than all depths; higher than all honour, but not to the high in their own conceits."
Song of Solomon 1:5-8
Dialogue between the bride and the chorus.
I. THE BRIDE'S SENSE OF UNWORTHINESS.
1. "I am black." The country maiden loved by the great king feels her own imperfections; she artlessly describes her misgivings to the daughters of Jerusalem, who constitute the chorus; she has been accustomed to rustic occupations; she has been ill-treated; the sun has embrowned her cheeks till she is black as the tents of Kedar, the tents of goat's hair in which the wandering Arabs lived. The Christian soul knows its guilt. Worship begins ever with confession; when we draw near to Christ, we are most sensible of the plague of our own hearts. Christians will find help and comfort in communion with the like minded; they will tell them their spiritual troubles; but such holy communion can be held only with the like minded, with the daughters of Jerusalem. Christians sometimes have home troubles; they seem unable to keep their own vineyard, to attend to their own spiritual needs, because other work is forced upon them, because their time is taken up in matters which seem not to belong to their peace; they must be patient and meek, and wait for the Bridegroom's call.
2. "But comely." In her artless simplicity she mentions her own beauty: she is fair as the curtains of Solomon. The king, we may suppose, had a stately pavilion in the Lebanon country, near the dwelling of the bride. The Christian recognizes with humble and adoring thankfulness the working of the Spirit of God within his soul. "By the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed on me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me." If God is drawing us nearer to himself we must know it. True unaffected humility recognizes his working in our unworthy hearts, and longs to be found in Christ, "not having mine own righteousness, which is of the Law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith." The bride compares herself to the curtains of Solomon; the Christian owes whatever he may possess of the beauty of holiness to his communion with the King of saints.
II. THE BRIDE'S LONGING FOR THE BRIDEGROOM'S PRESENCE.
1. Her seeking love. He is not with her now, but her soul goeth forth to him; she apostrophizes her absent lord, and pours forth her yearning in the presence of her companions.
2. Her years. Compare Gesenius, s.v; "Lest I be as one who faints by the flocks of thy companions; lest I should wander in search of thee from flock to flock, languid even to fainting through the noontide heat." The bride seeks the king himself. His companions may be kind and good, but they are not the beloved. The soul seeks the good Shepherd. Other shepherds may be doing what they can to feed the flock of God (see 1 Peter 5:2-4), but they can only bring the flock to the chief Shepherd. He is the Desire of all nations; he only is the Saviour; without him we can do nothing. It is not safe to wander from flock to flock, to heap up to ourselves teachers (2 Timothy 4:3). We must seek Christ himself, for the true sheep are his; they hear his voice and follow him. They that are his shall never perish; no man is able to pluck them out of his Father's hand. But they must not listen to other voices which are not his; they must watch with earnest attention for the voice of the good Shepherd, and attend to every intimation of his will; they must ask him with loving entreaty—"O thou whom my soul loveth"—by what way, in what path, he is to be found; they must not weary themselves in wandering from teacher to teacher, seeking always, like the Athenians, to hear some new things; they must walk in the old paths, where is the good way; and they will find rest, for they will find, not Solomon, whose name means "peace," but the Prince of Peace himself, who giveth peace, the peace of God, to all who seek his face with faithful and true hearts.
III. THE COUNSEL OF THE DAUGHTERS OF JERUSALEM.
1. The address. "O thou fairest among women." The bride is addressed by the chorus in the same words in two other places (So Daniel 5:9; Daniel 6:1). She had described herself as "black, but comely." The daughters of Jerusalem see in her the fairest among women. Jerusalem was the holy city, the dwelling place of the great King. Her daughters are the saints, the children of the kingdom. The true Christian knows his own sinfulness, though he feels with thankfulness the work of grace within his heart; other Christians recognize in him the beauty of holiness. There must be no jealousies among the people of God; they must not dispute among themselves, as even apostles once did, who should be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven; they must gladly acknowledge the workings of the grace of God in other Christian souls; they will do so the more generously, the nearer they themselves are to the Lord.
2. The direction. "If thou know not," they say; as if to intimate that one so highly favoured must surely know the way herself. They can but guide her to the old way where all the saints have walked; she must follow the tracks of the sheep, the footsteps of the flock. They have followed the good Shepherd; she must do the like. "Be ye followers of me," said St. Paul, "even as I also am of Christ." It is good to read the lives of the saints, to study the graces of holy men. Holy Scripture bids us to follow their faith, considering the end of their conversation. But the bride is also told to feed her kids beside the shepherds' tents. We shall most surely find the Lord in faithful work for him. It he is to us what he was to the bride, "O thou whom my soul loveth;" if we can say in truth, "Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee," we shall surely hear his voice speaking in our hearts, "Feed my lambs;" "Feed my sheep." Those who, like St. Paul, labour most abundantly for Christ (if only that labour is wrought in faith and love) are sure, like St. Paul, themselves to win Christ and to be found in him. "He that watereth shall be watered also himself;" "They that turn many to righteousness shall shine as the stars forever and ever." Christ is most surely found by those faithful servants who do their best to bring others to the Lord.
Song of Solomon 1:9-17
The communion of the bridegroom and the bride.
I. THE APPROACH OF THE BRIDEGROOM.
1. His address. He compares the bride to a beautiful mare of his own in the chariots of Pharaoh. The words come fitly from the lips of the speaker. He was the first king of Israel who took delight in horses and chariots, and he imported them from Egypt. The words are thought to have suggested a similar comparison in Theocritus ('Idyll,' 18.30); they indicate the stateliness of the bride's beauty; they remind us of Psalms 147:10,Psalms 147:11, "He delighteth not in the strength of a horse ... The Lord taketh pleasure in them that fear him, in those that hope in his mercy." Men like Solomon take delight in horses; the Lord in the graces of his people. The king calls the bride "my love," or "my friend;" the word is derived from a verb which in its secondary sense means to take delight in the companionship of those whom we love. We are reminded of the Lord's gracious words, "Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you" (John 15:15). The king proceeds to commend the graces of the bride; he promises costly gifts. She was wearing the simple ornaments of a country maiden (the words "jewels" and "gold" are not in the original of Psalms 147:10). "We will make thee," he says (that is, his servants will make at his order), "borders of gold with studs of silver." Whatever graces the Church possesses come from the gift of the heavenly Bridegroom; it is he who will "present her to himself a glorious Church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing;" but holy and without blemish (Ephesians 5:27). It is only God who can "keep us from falling, and present us at the last faultless before the presence of his glory with. exceeding joy" (Jude 1:24). The fine linen, clean and white, the wedding garment of the bride, is the Bridegroom's gift (Revelation 19:8).
2. The bride's delight in the bridegroom. The king is come; he sitteth at his table in the midst of the circle of his friends. We are reminded that the presence of his father David was once required to complete such a circle. "We will not sit around" (the literal translation of Samuel's words) "till he come hither" (1 Samuel 16:11). The bride anoints him with "ointment of spikenard very costly;" the house is filled with the odour of the ointment. While the heavenly Bridegroom is present in the blessed sacrament, or in the circle of true worshippers, whenever two or three are gathered together in his Name, the sweet odour of prayer and adoration giveth forth its fragrance. Such worship, worship in spirit and in truth, is always acceptable. "My Father," he saith in his condescending love, "seeketh such to worship him." It is his presence which draws forth that holy worship. While he is with us, in the circle of worshippers, the heart goeth forth unto him. "Lord, it is good to be here;" "Thy Name is as ointment poured forth." It is sweet to the believer; it refreshes his soul in sorrow, and in the hour of death; therefore do thy people love thee. The King's presence is very sacred; those whom he deigns to visit must respond with their heart's love, with the sweet odours of true spiritual worship.
3. What the bridegroom is to her. The odour of her spikenard is pleasant to him; he is to her as a bag of myrrh, or a cluster of henna flowers. So, in Psalms 45:8, the royal Bridegroom's garments smell of myrrh, aloes, and cassia. The bag of myrrh was kept in the bosom for its sweetness and its medicinal properties; the henna flowers which grew abundantly among the vines of Engedi were highly esteemed for their fragrance. The Savior's presence in the heart sheds a fragrance through the soul. "He that hath the Son hath life;" a principle of life which preserves the soul from the corruption of sin, which heals its diseases, which prepares it for the hour of death. The Saviour's body lay for a while in the mixture of myrrh and aloes which Nicodemus brought; that holy body needed not the earthly unguent. The Christian needs the preservative virtue which the Saviour giveth. No flowers of earth, no earthly fragrance or beauty, can compare for one moment with the blessedness which his presence bringeth.
II. THE CONVERSE OF THE BRIDEGROOM AND THE BRIDE.
1. The voice of the beloved. He commends the beauty of the bride; her eyes, as they look on him, are like doves, gentle, innocent, loving. So, in Psalms 45:1-17; the king greatly desires the beauty of the bride. She "is all glorious within: her clothing is of wrought gold." The Lord would have the Church, his bride, to be "a glorious Church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing;" but holy and without blemish. Alas! in the visible Church the evil are ever mingled with the good, and there is none that sinneth not. But just in proportion as the Christian walks in the light (in the light of his presence who is the Light of the world), the blood of Jesus Christ is cleansing him from all sin, and he becomes in his poor measure a light, shining with the reflected light of the Saviour's holiness. Christ is made unto his people wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption; whatever beauty of character they possess comes only from communion with him. "Beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, they are changed into the same image from glory to glory." They must be harmless as doves, gentle, humble, innocent. The Lord in his condescending love accepts their imperfect service. "I know thy works, and thy love, and faith, and ministry, and patience; and that thy last works are more than the first."
2. The answer of the bride. Perhaps they have now gone forth into the air; they are sitting together, as the words seem to imply, on a green couch, on some grassy slope in the Lebanon country, under the interlacing boughs of cedars and fir trees. The bride enjoys the fair prospect around her; she delights still more in the presence and love of the bridegroom. She calls him "my beloved;" the Hebrew word is another form of the name of the king's father, David, which means "beloved." He is very fair in her eyes; yea, pleasant. The Lord is fairer than the children of men; to the Christian there is no vision of earthly beauty which will bear one moment's comparison with the tender loveliness of the Saviour's character, the exalted beauty of his self-sacrificing love. The Christian soul delights in the fair beauty of the Lord; it is to him the one thing to be desired above all others. "One thing have I desired of the Lord, that I will seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord" (Psalms 27:4). So Isaiah, who alone of the prophets uses the bride's word of endearment, "my Beloved" (Isaiah 5:1), has the blessed promise, "Thine eyes shall see the King in his beauty" (Isaiah 33:17). The king is pleasant also; not only fair to look upon, but possessed of every charm, of all spiritual grace. We have the same word applied to God in Psalms 27:4 and Psalms 90:17. May God "shine into our hearts, to reveal to us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ"!
HOMILIES BY S. CONWAY
Song of Solomon 1:1
The Song of Songs, which is Solomon's.
What does this mean?
I. AS TO THE TITLE? "The Song of Songs." It affirms that this song is the most excellent of all songs, the incomparably beautiful song, a song beside which, as one writer says, "all others hide their heads."
II. AS TO THE NAME AFFIXED TO IT? Not that Solomon was the author. For the very title would convict him of egregious vanity. A writer would hardly thus speak of his own productions. But it would be quite lawful that another should so speak; hence the poem might be Solomon's and the title be added on by another writer. But even then we question his authorship of this song. For:
1. If we take the literal interpretation of it, as well nigh all modern competent Bible scholars do, in greater or less degree (cf. Ginsburg, Ewald, Maurer, Stanley, 'Speaker's Commentary,' Hartwell Horne's 'Introduction,' etc.),—then, since it represents Solomon as foiled and frustrated in his endeavours to persuade the maiden Shulamith, whose constancy and fidelity the poem celebrates, to become his bride, it is hardly likely that he would depict himself in such an unlovely light, or in such undignified guise as that in which, in this song, he certainly appears. Or, if we take the most ancient and most common interpretation of the song, the spiritual and allegorical, which affirms that the bride—though there is no bride in the song at all, but only one who is betrothed—represents the Church; and that Solomon, whom this interpretation identifies with "the beloved," is a type of our Lord Jesus Christ; and that the poem is intended to set forth the mutual love of Christ and his Church;—then we say that Solomon is in no sense a fit type of the Lord Jesus Christ, for he was not a man after God's own heart, but very far from it. Moreover, he was not the man to write a spiritual poem of such exalted character. They were "holy men of old" whom the Spirit inspired. But, certainly, Solomon can lay no claim to that character. Then:
3. David and Solomon are both spoken of in such manner as would hardly be likely if Solomon were the writer. (Cf. So Song of Solomon 3:9, Song of Solomon 3:11; Song of Solomon 8:11, Song of Solomon 8:12.) It is the manner of one speaking of them, telling facts concerning them; but it is not as they would. speak themselves.
4. And even if the words, "which is Solomon's," be held to mean that he was the author, such ascription need have no more value than the titles of many of the psalms, which are allowed to be of no authority.
5. But we read the words as "concerning Solomon." True, the poem literally understood has nothing to say in his favour; for what was there to say? But if he be a type at all, and we think he is, it is of that greedy, selfish, soul-corrupting world, which would draw away the faithful from the pure love of God, and seek to replace that pure love by its own. Shulamith loved and was beloved. Solomon tried by all manner of enticements to draw her from that love. But he utterly fails. So that the poem is a parable of the faithful soul and its constancy to its true Lord. By means of a beautiful earthly story, the yet more beautiful fidelity of the soul truly affianced to God is set forth—a fidelity tried so as by fire, and therefore more precious than all gold (cf. 1 Peter 1:6, 1 Peter 1:7), which might be taken as a text for the interpretation of very much in this book. It was written, probably, near the age of Solomon, but we think subsequently; and by some Israelite belonging to the northern tribes; and from the absence of all praise of Solomon, and the conduct it ascribes to him, the writer was probably hostile to him, perhaps one of those who in Rehoboam's day raised the cry of "To your tents, O Israel!" and broke away from the kingdom of Judah altogether. The poem is sensuous, but not sensual, unless it be where Solomon is to be understood as speaking, when such speech would be in character. It is Oriental, of course, and not to be interpreted by those far different canons of taste which prevail in our more Northern and Western lands. And it is not a mere story of a maiden's constancy. Were it so, however beautiful (and for remarks on its beauty cf. Isaac Taylor's 'Spirit of the Hebrew Poetry'), still it would not, we think, have found a place amongst the sacred writings. We hold it to be an allegory or parable of the soul's true love to God, and, so read, it is like the rest of Holy Scripture, "profitable for doctrine, for reproof," etc. He who has no love of God in his heart, or even little, will never understand it, and had better leave it alone. But to the pure, devout, and Christ-loving heart the vision of him who is for them the "altogether lovely" is seen everywhere in it, and delighted in wherever seen. That vision may we see!—S.C.
Song of Solomon 1:2-4
Desire after God.
Translated into language more congenial to our ordinary Christian thought, these verses may be taken as a parabolic setting forth of the blessed truth contained in the well known words of the psalm, "My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God; when shall I come and appear before God?" It surely would be speaking blasphemy, and an abasement of the Bible, if we were to look on the sensuous words with which these verses begin as meaning nothing more than they say in their ordinary plain and literal meaning. We, therefore, feel bound to lift them up from such low level, and to look upon them as telling—no doubt in a vivid, Oriental way—of the soul's desire after God, the holy thirst of which the verse from the psalm is the expression. And we observe—
I. THAT THE CONSCIOUS POSSESSION OF THE LOVE OF GOD IS THE SOUL'S DEEP NEED AND DESIRE. Men try all manner of other delights, but they turn out mere apples of Sodom. He who wrote the Book of Ecclesiastes had left untried no single source of earthly joy. All were within his power, and he did his best to get their best out of them. And no doubt he succeeded. But what then? Was he satisfied? did they content him? "Vanity of vanities; all is vanity!"—that is his verdict upon them all. And his experience is that of myriads more, all which goes to prove that the love of God alone can satisfy. "Nostrum cor inquietum est donec requiescat in te." This saying of St. Augustine's is the sober truth, which finds such impassioned expression in our text. And the soul's desire for that love is the fruit of that love. "I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto me," said our Lord; and it is because of his gracious drawings, the mighty lure with which he attracts our wills, that we are possessed by this desire.
II. THE DIVINE LOVE IS THE EXHILARATION OF THE SOUL. "Thy love is better than wine." "Be not drunk with wine, but be filled with the Spirit," says St. Paul; and he thereby teaches us, as does the text, that there is a likeness between the two—wine and the Spirit of God. And the resemblance lies here—in the stir and joy of heart which wine for a while causes; and this, though in no mere physical sense, is the blessed effect of the Spirit of God. For his office it is to shed abroad the love of God in our hearts, and that causes joy indeed.
III. AND IT IS FRAGRANT WHEREVER IT DWELLS. It is likened to "perfume poured forth" and it fills "all the house."
IV. THE PURE IN HEART LOVE IT. "Therefore do the virgins love thee." The desire for the Divine love is not universal—far from it. But "the pure in heart" "see God," and hence their desire.—S.C.
Song of Solomon 1:3
"His Name is as ointment poured forth." We apply the text to him. It cannot be shown that such application is wrong. Perfumes largely used in the East—in acts of worship; in entertainments, as marks of favour to honoured guests (cf. Psalms 23:1-6.; John 12:1-50.). The Name of Christ is here likened to such precious perfume, the sweet odour of which fills the whole house, as did that which Mary poured on the Lord. The "Name" stands for all that Christ is to us. The comparison is appropriate if we consider concerning such perfumes—
I. THEIR COSTLINESS. They were on this account exceeding precious, large sums of money being demanded for them (John 12:3). But does not this tell of the "precious blood of Christ," and how "God so loved the world "? Think of the cost of the "unspeakable Gift" of Christ:
1. To the Father. Was the heart of God unmoved by the sorrows of the Son? Is not the touching story of Abraham's offering up of Isaac, and of his anguish at having to surrender his son, his only son Isaac, "whom thou lovest," brought before our minds when we read how "God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son"? Does it not tell of the anguish of the Divine mind in that sacrifice? A God that cannot know sorrow or joy, that is not "touched with the feeling of our infirmities," is not the God of the Bible, "our Father which art in heaven." Therefore what of uttermost sorrow must he not have known when he beheld the "beloved Son, in whom he was well pleased," expire in agony on the cross?
2. To Christ himself. Was he not "the Man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief"? "Come, see if ever there was sorrow 'like unto my sorrow"—to whom do these words apply as to him? Cf. Psalms 22:1-31; that psalm which was in the mind and on the lips of our Lord as he hung upon the cross. The parable of the pearl of great price and of the treasure hid in the field may have other meanings than those commonly given to them. May they not tell of our salvation, and how our blessed Lord was set upon obtaining this, and therefore, though "he was rich, yet for our sakes he became poor," that he might obtain this, to him, most precious pearl, this treasure of untold worth.
3. To the Holy Spirit. For he it is who takes of the things of Christ and shows them unto us; who seeks men, and woos and wins them for Christ. The whole of the Passion of our Lord is patterned forth and perpetuated in the grievings and outrages, in the Gethsemane-like "groanings which cannot be uttered" (Romans 8:1-39.), which tell of what he suffers to save men.
4. And if we think of the Gift itself, the very Son of God—no creature, no man, no angel or archangel, but he who was one with the Father—that sacrifice was the cost of our redemption. All comparison fails, no matter what of worth and value in earthly things are thought of; they can but faintly image the worth and preciousness of Christ.
II. THEM COMBINED EXCELLENCE. The choicest perfumes were composed of many ingredients. Cf. the sacred anointing oil (Exodus 30:31-38). And so Christ is "made unto us," not one thing only, but many—"wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption" (1 Corinthians 1:30). Whether we think of the combined excellences that are in his own nature and character, or of those which he bestows upon us—so many, so manifold, so precious all of them—the comparison is true.
III. HOW GRATEFUL THEY ARE TO THOSE ON WHOM THEY ARE POURED. To this day Orientals delight in such perfumes. They deem them to be as healthful as they are pleasant; and still they are given to honoured guests, as Simon should have given them but did not, but as the Magdalen and Mary of Bethany also did to our Lord. "Thou anointest my head with oil," tells in the twenty-third psalm of the exuberance of joy that the believer has in his Lord. "How sweet the Name of Jesus sounds!" so still his people love to sing. And what they sing is true.
IV. THEIR DIFFUSIVE FRAGRANCE. "Poured forth," released from the vessel which contained it, and in consequence spreading its sweet odours all around. Again the comparison is just. Has not human life become sweeter in innumerable places because there the Name of Christ has been poured forth? Heaven is heaven because there his "Name is above every name."
V. THAT THEY MAKE FRAGRANT AS WELL AS ARE SO IN THEMSELVES. By this may we know whether we are Christ's. If character, temper, spirit, life, be of ill odour, how can we have known Christ's Name?—S.C.
Song of Solomon 1:4-8
The Christian soul, its trials and triumphs.
The maiden who speaks has been separated unwillingly from her beloved, after whom she incessantly mourns; she is kept in the king's chambers, the apartments of the women in his palace at Jerusalem. They ridicule her swarthy look, and she tells how her half-brothers had been unkind to her, and had made her work in the drudgery of the vineyards, beneath the scorching sun. Those about her wonder and scoff at her persistent affection. The story may be taken as telling of the Christian soul, its trials and triumphs.
I. ITS TRIALS. The Christian soul may be:
1. Unwillingly deprived of conscious enjoyment of her Lord's presence. How often in the psalms do we find the complaint of the Lord being "far from me," of the failure to realize his presence and his love! And how often the same thing occurs now! Our sun is hidden behind a cloud, and the soul grieves over her absent Lord.
2. Despised. This is another though a less trial. The child of God is a poor kind of creature in the world's esteem, and it is not slow to let the believer know and feel its contempt. And with many this is a terrible thing. Not a few who would lead a forlorn hope and do any deed of daring that required only physical courage, will shrink and quail beneath the world's scorn.
3. Persecuted and ill-used also, as she was who is spoken of here. So, too, is it and has been with the Christian soul. And often a man's foes are they of his own household. Our Lord told us it would be so, and so they have found it; but have found also, as here, that he knows how to sustain his servants in this trial,
4. Mockery likewise has to be reckoned with. For though Song of Solomon 1:8 tells a truth which has very real and blessed. meaning in regard to the soul's way to God, yet it seems to us to have been spoken mockingly, bidding her to whom it was spoken track the footprints of the sheep if she wanted to know where her beloved was, if she would persist in being so foolish. Such is the force of the words rendered, "If thou know not." They are contemptuous, and contain a sneer. But "cruel mockings" have been the lot of Christ's people in all ages, and when we have to bear them we are not to be surprised "as if some strange thing had happened" unto us. But these verses tell not of trials alone, but of—
II. ITS TRIUMPHS. For:
1. Her soul still clave unto her beloved. (Song of Solomon 1:4.) And so, notwithstanding the Christian soul may be by one cause or another held in captivity and "walk in darkness," yet it will all the more cry out after him whom it loveth, and remember his love more than any of the joys of earth. Thus the very design of her adversary is baffled, for her heart beats true to Christ still
2. She is certain that Christ delights in her. Those about her may despise her because she is "black," because she seems contemptible in their sight. But she knows that the Lord looks upon her with different eyes, that in his sight she is "comely." Others may think what they wilt, but his estimate is everything to her, and that is as she would have it be.
3. She desires and obtains yet more of happy communion with him. (Song of Solomon 1:7, Song of Solomon 1:8.) Often is it with the faithful soul that as the frown of Christ's foes and her own deepen, the light of Christ's countenance shines on her more steadily, brightly, and fully than ever. He drew her (Song of Solomon 1:4) by her need of his grace, and she ran after him, seeking that grace and finding it.
4. She knows that her present for of hardship and trial is not her true portion. "Why should I be as one that is veiled?" (margin), that is, one despised and despicable. She knows that such portion is not hers.
5. She cannot be moved. She is conqueror. So will it ever be.—S.C.
Song of Solomon 1:4-7
The soul's joy in the love of God.
"The king hath brought me into his chambers," etc. If we may take this book as only an allegory, we find suggested in these verses this subject of the soul's joy.
I. SUCH JOY IS BECAUSE OF THE KING'S CHAMBERS. He has opened for her the unsearchable riches of his grace, "filled with all pleasant and precious riches" (cf. Proverbs 24:4).
II. IS VERY GREAT. She will be glad and rejoice. She will "remember" his "love more than wine." That is, the soul's joy is more than any earthly means of delight and exhilaration can afford.
III. IS SHARED IN BY ALL THE SAINTS OF GOD. "The upright love thee." "No good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly." Our joy is heightened by the fact that those whom we most esteem count it their joy also.
IV. HER OWN UNWORTHINESS DOES NOT SHUT HER OUT FROM IT. "I am black."
"Since therefore I can hardly bear
What in myself I see,
How vile, how black, I must appear,
Most holy God, to thee!
"But oh! my Saviour stands between,
In garments dyed in blood;
'Tis he instead of me is seen
When I approach to God."
The remembrance of her own unworthiness serves as a foil to set off the comeliness with which inwardly he has endowed her. "The king's daughter is all glorious within" (cf. Ezekiel 16:14). And as she thinks of her unworthiness she tells how it came to be so with her—by the cruelty of others and her own neglect. They made her serve in such way that she became "black." How often our foes are they of our own household! But she, too, was neglectful. "My own vineyard have I not kept." Nevertheless, the king loved her.
V. HENCE SHE WILL BE SATISFIED WITH NOTHING LESS THAN HIMSELF. "Tell me where thou feedest?" etc. (Song of Solomon 1:7). She appeals to him to bring her where he is. She desires to know the rest he can give. His "companions" will not compensate for him (cf. "Whom have I in heaven but thee?" etc.; cf. Psalms 42:9; Ezekiel 34:1-31.; Psalms 25:4, Psalms 25:5; Psalms 16:2, Psalms 16:3).—S.C.
Song of Solomon 1:6 (part)
The pastor's peril.
"They made me … I have not kept." If we were to understand these words literally, then what is told of might be without either blame or loss. For if, as seems to have been the case, the speaker's neglect of her own vineyard was forced upon her in order that she might keep the vineyards of others, then no fault attached to her. She could not help herself; she was made to work for others. She might grieve, as it is plain she did, to see her own fair vineyard neglected, and, in consequence, overgrown with weeds, and all prospect of fruit gone; but no blame belonged to her, though there might be loss. And it is quite comprehensible that there might be neither blame nor loss, although her own vineyard was neglected. For it might be far more profitable to cultivate the vineyards of others than one's own; and if so, why should there be blame, and how could there be loss? But when we come to the spiritual suggestions of our text, when we look upon it as telling of those whose office and duty it is to cultivate the vineyard of the soul, then the conduct told of here can never be without blame and loss both; blame to the vineyard keeper who kept not his own whilst keeping others, and loss both to him and them. For—
I. MEN'S SOULS ARE GOD'S VINEYARDS. They were created to bring forth fruit for his glory, and for the strengthening, cheering, and every way helping of the souls of their fellows. For this purpose, also, were they redeemed, and for this end are they supplied with manifold Divine gifts—the influences of the Holy Spirit, the aid which the Church, the Scriptures, and the ministers of Christ are appointed to render. Now, such—
II. PASTORS ARE THE KEEPERS OF THESE VINEYARDS. They are to watch over them continually. They are to cultivate them with all diligent care. They are to aim ever to render help to those committed to their care in the formation of that character, and in the exercise of those graces which God regards and rejoices in as fruit. They are to remember always that the vineyards are for fruit, and that whatever else they may yield, if they yield not this, their work has failed. Now, this verse suggests that—
III. THERE IS A GREAT PERIL WHICH BESETS THESE KEEPERS OF THE VINEYARDS. It is this, that whilst keeping the vineyards of others, their own they should not keep. Now, that this is a very real peril is evident from:
1. Their own confessions. The words of our text are a confession, and a sorrowful one. And they have been adopted by such vineyard keepers again and again. Before God, on their knees, they have owned how marred and faulty their work has been, owing to the ill-prepared condition of their own souls. Pastors, teachers, and all who toil for Christ, in striving to tell of him to their fellow men, and to persuade them to come to him, have mourned—oh, how often!—that their lips have outrun their hearts; that they have uttered words to which their hearts often gave but faint response. They have declared truths which, alas! they have failed to realize. They have spoken of the love of Christ, and had but little consciousness of it within them. As we read the biographies of such men, or as, in the confidence of friendship, they confess how it has been with them, or as we think over our own experiences, who is there of us that may not make the confession of the text cur own? It is the perpetual struggle of the right-minded servant of God to maintain the balance between the spoken words and the inward thought; and the struggle is never easy, but often the reverse. These facts show how real the peril is.
2. And it is evidently possible to be guilty of that which is here said. For words and work are both external to us, and they can be assumed and adopted even when there is but little or even no spiritual reality behind them. A man can drill himself into saying or doing almost anything. He can become official, perfunctory, and a mere actor in the way of expressing sentiments in which his soul has no share. This is a dreadful possibility, from which may God graciously deliver us all! And our Lord, and the Scriptures generally, declare and denounce such conduct. God says to the wicked in the fiftieth psalm, "What hast thou to do to declare my statutes?" It is certain, therefore, that wicked men can do this and have done it. Our Lord utters his awful warning to those who say "Lord, Lord," prophesy in his name, and in his name do many wonderful works, to whom at the last he will say, "I never knew you." Yes, God's Word is very plain as to the possibility of this sin and its fearful results.
3. And it is without excuse. There is no need for it. No amount of busy activity in keeping the vineyards of others need hinder our duly keeping our own. On the contrary, diligent care here will help us mightily when we strive to do good to others and to keep their vineyards. For when we remember that it is the spirit which breathes through what we say or do, rather than the words and deeds themselves, which more than aught besides influences our fellow men, it is evident that the right cultivation of our own spiritual life is of unspeakable importance. As one has said, "A holy minister is a mighty instrument in God's hand for the conversion and sanctification of souls." Therefore whatever of time and energy we give to the keeping of our own vineyard is the very best preparation and aid in keeping the vineyards of others. Moreover:
4. Not to give this is fatal to our work. There is nothing men detect so soon or despise so much as unreality, want of sincerity. The words may be true and well ordered, and lit up with fine imagination and beautiful illustration; be very interesting to hear, and command rapt attention; but if they be lacking in the indispensable quality of sincerity, they will be nothing but words after all, and will have no real effect. Religion must be a reality to ourselves, or we shall never persuade others to become religious men. "Si vis me flere dolendum est." And not to be thus real ourselves is:
5. Most perilous for our own souls. Being so busy in keeping others' vineyards, caring for the interests of others' souls, what can we lack? Must it not be well with us? And people praise and flatter us, and count us to be all we should be: what wonder, then, that we should be deceived? And all the while the holy truths we tell of, like the heated iron that the blacksmith handles, affect us less and less; we scarcely feel them though we talk so fluently about them. And we have already referred to Scripture which make plain the mind of God on this matter. "The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination unto the Lord." Such is the perpetual language of the Word of God. May he help us to remember it, and that always!
IV. BUT IT IS A PERIL INTO WHICH THEY NEED NOT FALL. For Christ, who called us to keep and cultivate the vineyards, our own and others', which he has entrusted to our charge, will help us therein if continually we look to him. Without him, indeed, we can do nothing; but with him what cannot we do? Therefore, see to it that our souls are committed to him, that day by day we do our all unto him. Only let us abide in him, and then all our outer service will be the natural product of our inner life; not mere fruit fastened on, but fruit grown, produced naturally by our life. And so shall we find that the inner and the outer act and react one upon the other for the mutual good of each. So, whilst we keep the vineyards of others, our own vineyard will also be kept.—S.C.
Song of Solomon 1:6 (part)
Not faithless, yet not faithful.
"They made me the keeper of the vineyards … kept." Text a sorrowful confession, but it is not the most sorrowful of all. That will come from those who cannot say even as much as is said here. For there was, we may readily suppose, the keeping of the vineyards of others, though the speaker's own was not kept. But the confession suggests sin of a deeper dye, a condition of things more sad than this. Let us speak of it first, and consider—
I. THOSE WHO KEEP NEITHER—the vineyards of others nor their own. We take (see previous homily) the vineyard to represent the soul of man. Now, we are all of us, and some especially, appointed to keep the vineyards of others—to watch and tend the spiritual interests of those entrusted to our care; such as our children, our class, our congregation. And all of us, not merely some, are appointed to keep our own vineyard, to care for our own souls. Now, our text speaks of those who did fulfil one part of this duty—they kept the vineyards of others, though they did not keep their own. But partial failure is less terrible than entire failure. And it is of this we speak; of those who keep neither the souls of others nor their own, who neglect both alike. Deplorable is it for those for whom they were appointed to care. What chance have such neglected ones? The mightiest influence that can possibly bear upon them—I speak especially of our children—the influence of parental love and care to train their souls for God, is kept back. What wonder that in such neglected vineyards "ill weeds grow apace"? But yet more deplorable will it be for those thus guilty to such neglect. What will they say when at the last great day it is asked of them what they have done with the vineyards they were appointed to keep? And of course such persons, as a rule, keep not their own vineyards. The same indifference to spiritual things which made them neglect the vineyards of others makes them neglect their own. They have no hunger after God, no thirst for the living water which Christ alone can give. They care not for any of these things. And so the rank undergrowth which the world, the flesh, and sin propagate, spreads over all their spiritual being, and over that of those whom they were appointed to keep. Godless parents have godless children; they have not sought that it should be otherwise. And the teacher who knows not Christ for himself will never persuade his class to yield themselves to Christ. And the unholy minister—ah! what will his congregation be? Oh, dreadful will it be for those who have kept neither the vineyards of those others that have been entrusted to them, nor their own. But our text tells especially of—
II. THOSE WHO HAVE KEPT BUT ONE. They have kept the vineyards of others, but not their own. Or it might have been, for it often is, the other way—They might have kept their own, but not others'. Let us speak of these first. There are many of them. They think only about their own poor wretched souls, and how they can make them secure. For this they keep up certain religious habits and do many things. But it is all self-contained; it is mere selfishness, for it all centres in the man's own soul. This is the sin of the Church today. Its members are so busy keeping each their own vineyards that they care but very little indeed for those of others. But such selfishness brings with it its own proper punishment, as it ought to and cannot but do. "The liberal man deviseth liberal things, and by liberal things he shall stand." But the churlish common Christianity of our day fails to devise liberal things, and therefore does not stand. For is it standing high in men's esteem? Is its odour fragrant; its name, like his of whom we read in Song of Solomon 1:8, as "perfume poured forth"? And does it stand strongly, firmly on its faith? Is not that faith faltering in many places? and do not many fall away, and that daily? If we would have our own vineyard yield large luscious fruit to our Lord, care for the vineyards of others as well as our own.
2. But the text tells chiefly of those who kept others and not their own. Of this we have spoken already in the former homily. Therefore we come to speak of that most desirable and blessed condition which is found in—
III. THOSE WHO KEEP BOTH—the vineyards of others and their own. Yes, the one we should do, but the other we should not leave undone. Certainly begin with your own. It may be an awful peril to begin with others. But having committed your own soul into Christ's blessed keeping, and found him your very Lord and Saviour, now go straight away and try and persuade others to do just what you have done. Then you shall find fulfilled for you that parable of reward which all nature is full of. See that running brook. How merrily it prattles over the pebbles that form its bed, as it speeds away to render up its little tribute to the larger river, which will bear it on to the great and wide sea at last! The miry pond hard by the brook sneers at it, and says, "You haven't got so much water that you can afford to let it all run away in that wasteful fashion; you should take care of what you have got as I do." But the brook took no heed, and went on singing merrily just as before. And the hot summer came round at last, when, lo! the pond was dried up almost to its last puddle; but the brook went on as before, bright and clear and merry, sparkling and dancing along its appointed way. And we all know the reason why. The brook gave up its strength to the river, and that to the sea; but the sea gave back in vapour all that she had received, and so the fountains from which the brook flowed forth were filled again, and the brook was glad and not sorry that she had given her strength to others, for now her waters had not failed like those of the pond, but were renewed to her day by day. And so, when the water of life flows into our souls, if we let it flow out again to bless the souls of others, be sure that he who first gave us of this grace will give us yet more grace, and we shall find that there is that which scattereth and yet increaseth. The life of the merry healthful child spends itself in the vigorous activity of which it never seems to tire; but that active exercise replenishes the child's life, and it makes increase in strength daily. So, then, as to the vineyards of your own soul and those of others, resolve and pray that you may not be found amongst those who keep neither. Pray, too, that you be not so unhappy as to be a keeper of but one, and especially if that one be not your own. But let this last condition of which we have been telling be yours. Keep your own vineyard and your brother's too.—S.C.
Song of Solomon 1:8
How to find God.
The daughters of Jerusalem—the inmates of Solomon's harem—who scornfully addressed these words to the faithful girl who was mourning after her beloved, never meant to utter a great spiritual truth when they thus spoke; any more than Caiaphas did when he said, "It is expedient that one man die for the people." The doctrine of the atonement is in that Caiaphas-speech; and so, sacred suggestions for souls that seek their Lord are found in these words of Jerusalem's daughters. The parallel passage, or comment on this verse, is Hebrews 11:12, "Be ye followers of them who through faith," etc. Now, it is suggested by this verse that if we would find God—
I. WE MUST GO FORTH. (Cf. Hebrews 13:13, "Let us go forth unto him," etc.) We cannot stay
II. OUR WAY MUST BE THE WAY OF THE LORD'S TRUE PEOPLE. We must go by "the footsteps of the flock." As to who the flock are, cf. John 10:1-42. They are the true sheep of Christ; those whom he calls "my sheep." They consist not of those who are indifferent, still less strangers, and, least of all, hostile to him; but of those who have followed him, and do follow him "whithersoever he goeth." It is good, oftentimes, when we are in doubt as to what we should do, to ask ourselves what some sincere follower of Christ whom we have known would have done in like circumstances. Such people leave footprints, and they are clearly discernible, and if we track them we shall come where they are.
III. WE MUST FEED OUR SOULS UPON THE WORDS OF THE LORD'S SHEPHERDS. (Cf. Hebrews 13:7, "Remember those who have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the Word of God," etc.) Such words are spoken in the Scriptures, and from many a Christian pulpit, and they who seek the Lord have ever found strength and help in the preaching of the Lord's true pastors. It is easy to joke and jibe at the pulpit, and to say it is time that it were put away amidst old lumber; but let the pulpit be filled by a real Christ-given pastor, the words that are uttered from it shall still feed the flock of God. But especially let us feed upon the Word of him who is "the good Shepherd." We shall newer find him whom we seek unless we obey these counsels.
IV. THOSE WHO WOULD THUS FIND HIM ARE VERY DEAR TO HIM. The speaker had addressed him as "thou whom my soul loveth," and now he addresses her as the "fairest among women." She had said of herself, "I am black," but he says to her, "Thou fairest," etc. All this suggests what so many Scriptures teach as to the children of God being "beautiful" in his sight, and as to his rejoicing over them.—S.C.
Love assailed, but steadfast.
According to the interpretation we have taken of this poem, Solomon is here introduced as endeavouring to win the maiden's consent to become his wife by flatteries and promises of rich gifts of jewels and adornments; but he altogether fails. The above-named subject is therefore suggested. Note, therefore—
I. LOVE ASSAILED.
1. By flatteries. Solomon compares her to whom he is speaking to the "horses of Pharaoh's chariot." This comparison is not so coarse as it sounds. It was not unusual amongst the ancients to compare beautiful women to splendid horses (cf. Exposition). The ideas intended are those of grace in form and movement, courage, generosity, rare beauty. Then (Song of Solomon 2:15) he tells her that her eyes are like "doves' eyes." Then (So Song of Solomon 2:2) he disparages all other women in comparison with her. They are as thorns, whilst she is amongst them as the lily. All this is just such flattery as Solomon may be well conceived as employing. And it suggests how the soul affianced in God is often assailed. The world seeks to flatter it, that so it may be the more readily bent to evil. What is the self-satisfaction, the pride, the serene content with itself, in which many souls are weak, but just the effects of the world's flatteries? Satan suggests them to the soul, and his servants repeat them continually, and his victims believe them. Flattery, what harm has it not wrought? So seductive, so powerful, so ruinous always when listened to. If we believe what the world, the flesh, and the devil whisper to us about ourselves and our own excellences, such as they are, we shall never think we need the grace of God, or, if for a while we have thought so, we shall soon give up such thoughts altogether.
2. By promises that the world makes of its pomps, adornments, and wealth. So Solomon here tries to win her to whom he speaks. "Rows of jewels," for headdress, strings of pearls for her neck, gold chains studded with silver (Song of Solomon 2:10, Song of Solomon 2:11). Such gewgaws and finery would he give her. Homer tells ('Odyssey,' lib. 15.) how attractive and tempting such things are—
"A man of theirs, subtle and shrewd, produced
A splendid collar, gold with amber strung.
With deep delight my mother and her maids
Gazed on it."
And thus Solomon appealed to the natural love of adornment in a young maiden all unused to such rich presents. How many a woman's heart has been won by them! how the love of them has made many a home miserable by the extravagance to which they have been the temptation! how many a fair character has been blasted and lives ruined by their deceitful glitter! And are not such facts parables of one of the chief temptations of the soul, whereby it is sought to seduce it from God? Jewels and pearls and gold, how they flash and sparkle] how they dazzle and delight poor human nature! Types are they of more terrible things still—the pomps and vanities of this wicked world, for the sake of which all too many men are only too ready to sell their souls. How Moses was tempted by them! How brilliant was the career offered him! he, the cast out child of a slave, to be adopted into the house and family, the possessions and honours, of the imperial dynasty, the Pharaohs of Egypt! How our Lord was tempted in like manner! "All these things"—all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them—"will I give thee if," etc.
II. LOVE STEADFAST. Solomon did not prevail with her whom he tried to win. All his flatteries and fineries failed. Not one word such as the royal tempter would fain have heard did she address to him, though many to her absent beloved. As showing her steadfastness, note here:
1. How at once her heart turns to him she loved. (Song of Solomon 2:12.) The king has left her alone, has gone to his banquet. At once the sweet memories of her beloved fill her soul as with the fragrance of myrrh (Song of Solomon 2:13). "While the king is in his circle, my spikenard sendeth forth," etc. Her heart is always perfumed with these memories, and is bright therewith as well as fragrant, as with fair flowers and myrrh.
2. See, too, how she transfers all praise from herself to him. The king had told her she was fair (Song of Solomon 2:15). Her thoughts fly away to him whom she loves, and she gives the praise to him (Song of Solomon 2:16).
3. And her love consecrates all the scenes where she has been with him. The soft green turf (Song of Solomon 2:16), on which they had cast themselves down beneath the cedars and fir trees, whose branches over them were as the beams and rafters of a house.
4. And makes her think all lowlily of herself but very loftily of him. She is—so she says—but as a common field flower (cf. So Song of Solomon 2:1), just nothing at all. But he, her beloved, was as the citron tree, fragrant, stately, fruitful, affording refreshing shade (Song of Solomon 2:3). Travellers tell of the beauty of this tree. And amid the leafy arcades of the vine, and beneath its o'erarching branches, she had loved to linger with him (Song of Solomon 2:4); for with him, because of his dear love for her, she was safe as if under the protection of an army, following the banners of a mighty chief.
5. And these are ever the effects of a steadfast love. "Not I, but the grace of God which was in me:" so does Paul transfer praise from himself to God. Places where fellowship with Christ have been enjoyed are consecrated by that fact. And love is lowly. "Less than the least of all saints:" so speaks Paul of himself. But of Christ, what does he not say of him? What is not Christ to him, and all such? Fruit, and shade, and safeguard sure.
III. THE SECRET OF ALL THIS. The heart possessed by the love of Christ. There is no other antidote that will serve as does this against the flatteries and the bribes of the world. Nothing else will make us so deaf to its appeals, so blind to all its blandishments.
"Lord, let thy fear within us dwell,
Thy love our footsteps guide;
That love shall all vain love expel,
That fear all fear beside."
Song of Solomon 1:9-11, Song of Solomon 1:15
Characteristics of those whom Christ loves.
We need not mind who said what is written in these verses; or why it was said, according to their literal interpretation. But we may consider what is said, for it is true of all people who are "of the Lord beloved."
I. THEY ARE HIS BELOVED. This more than justice; for that would have regarded them as they were in themselves—the reverse of well pleasing to him. It is more than mercy; for that, though it may have spared the wrong doer, would not have received him into affection. It is grace abounding. And Christ does thus regard his people. "Henceforth I call you not servants, but friends." What rich store of consolation to all cast-down souls there is in this!
II. THEY ARE AS "A COMPANY OF HORSES IN PHARAOH'S CHARIOT." (Cf. Zechariah 10:3, "The Lord hath visited his flock, and hath made them as his goodly horse in the day of battle.") And such comparison is frequent both in the Scriptures and in the ordinary literature of that age. In this song the ideas intended are their alacrity and vigour, swiftness, strength, grace, courage, etc. The image suggests:
1. The alacrity and vigour of the believer's service. (Cf. Psalms 119:1-176; "I will run in the way of thy commandments when thou shalt enlarge my heart.") And what so enlarges the heart, so causes it to swell with delightful emotion, as the consciousness that the Lord's love rests upon us.
2. Their courage. (Cf. Job's description of the battlehorse—how he "paweth in the valley," and "rejoiceth in his strength," "mocketh at fear, and is not affrighted;" "suffereth the quiver to rattle against him, the glittering spear and the shield.") And how often the dauntless courage, of which the horse is a symbol, has been found in God's servants (cf. Daniel; the three Hebrew youths; Paul; and many more)! Think of the martyrs who
"Mocked the cross and flame.
They met the tyrant's brandished steel,
The lion's gory mane."
And in less marked and tragic, but in equally real way, has this courage been shown—is shown—in our own day. Illustrate: Arthur kneeling in prayer before the whole room at Rugby (see 'Tom Brown's School days'). And such courage is yet needed, and, thank God, is yet found.
3. The exquisite symmetry of form for which the choicest Arabian steeds were famous tells of that moral symmetry and harmoniousness of character which will one day, and should now, distinguish his Church and people. It is the same idea as in St. Paul's image of the symmetry of the perfected Church. Hence he tells of its "breadth, and length, and depth, and height," which "all saints" are to "comprehend," because they shall share in and exhibit it.
4. His people's unity is also suggested by the comparison with "a company" of horses. The Church is militant here upon earth, and therefore the idea of a war chariot is appropriate. But the company of steeds who draw it, are they not so esteemed because of their ordered obedience? Not struggling hither and thither as each wills, nor each struggling to get its own way and so pulling in different directions. Alas! it is a sarcasm to liken the Church of our day to "a company of horses in Pharaoh's chariot." Would to God it were not, and that what is may not much longer be!
III. THEY ARE BEAUTIFUL WITH ADORNMENTS. (Song of Solomon 1:10; cf. Proverbs 1:8, Proverbs 1:9, "My son hear,… For they shall "be an ornament of grace unto thy head, and chains about thy neck.") What, therefore, these adornments are is evident. They are the graces wrought by the Spirit; what St. Paul calls, "the fruits of the Spirit"—love, joy, peace, etc. These are the golden links of the chain, added one by one, each connected with and dependent on its fellow. Frequently is the adornment of the soul set forth in Scripture under the imagery of the adornment of the body. We read of "the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit," etc. And thus Christ will array his Church and each individual believing soul.
IV. THEY SHALL RECEIVE "GRACE FOR GRACE;" that is, grace upon grace—grace in addition to grace already given (cf. Song of Solomon 1:11, "We will make thee," etc.). And this is so. We are bidden "grow in grace;" and the soul does thus advance, does receive more and more of those beautiful adornments which are the Spirit's workmanship, those good works for which we were created in Christ Jesus.
V. THE LOVELINESS OF THE HOLY SPIRIT IS SEEN IN THEM. This the suggestion of Song of Solomon 1:15, "Thine eyes are doves'." We read of the "evil" eye (Matthew 20:15); of "eyes full of adultery" (2 Peter 2:14); and of the "high look and proud heart" (Psalms 101:5). But what a contrast to all these have we here! Eyes of gentleness, of purity, of heavenly mindedness; eyes through which the Holy Spirit—whose chosen emblem is the dove—looks and is seen. What a description! Would that all we who profess and call ourselves Christians corresponded to it far more than we do!—S.C.
Song of Solomon 1:12
The form of expression in this verse has suggested thoughts on this theme to so many devout students of this book that, whilst not admitting their interpretation as correct, we may nevertheless avail ourselves of such suggestions in order to set forth some precious and important truths concerning it—the soul's communion with Christ. And we note—
I. THE ORDINANCES OF THE GOSPEL ARE CHRIST'S TABLE. (Cf. Revelation 3:20, "If any man will open the door, I will come in to him, and sup with him, and he with me.") In such communion we have the "feast of fat things full of marrow" of which the prophet speaks (cf. also our Lord's words, "Come, for all things are ready; my oxen," etc.), Now, such communion is had:
1. In prayer. Not mere saying prayers, but in true prayer.
2. In the worship of the Church. How often have we found this to be so! On the sabbath, and in the sanctuary, how often we have there found that
"The cares which infest our day
Have folded their tents, like the Arabs,
And as silently steal away!"
3. The table of the Lord is especially the King's table. Hence to our service there the name of "holy communion" has been pre-eminently given. All these are opportunities of such communion, and were designed so to be. But—
II. THEIR VALIDITY AND VALUE DEPEND ON THE KING'S PRESENCE. "While the King sitteth," etc. How poor and wretched are our prayers if there be no realization of the presence of Christ! And the worship of the Church, what an empty form! And at the table of the Lord not to "discern the Lord's body," that is to make the service worse than useless; it is to incur his judgment and condemnation. Let us never come to this or to any season of communion without invoking his presence.
III. AND ARE MANIFESTED BY THEIR EFFECTS. "While … my spikenard sendeth forth," etc. "It is in seasons of communion with the Lord that the graces of the Spirit are called forth in most lively exercise." A holy fragrance, a "sweet smell," well pleasing and acceptable, is yielded at such seasons by the heart of the Lord's servants. And:
1. To the Lord himself. Our prayers rise up before him "as incense, and the lifting up of our hands as the evening sacrifice." He is well pleased. He told Nathanael, "When thou wast under the fig tree I saw thee;" there, where he had poured forth his fervent prayer. And in our assemblies for worship, where that worship is real, the Lord loveth such "gates of Zion." Of such worshippers it is written, "The Lord hearkened and heard, and a book of remembrance was written before him." And of them he says, "They shall be mine in that day when I make up my jewels." And at his table, if we do indeed commune with him, the faith and hope and love, the contrition and humility and self-surrender, all which the soul then and there offers to him, these are fragrant indeed, sweet and precious as were the anointings of his sacred body by the penitent Magdalen and by Mary of Bethany.
2. And many others are conscious of, and share in that fragrance. Our fellow guests. What a source of true blessing and manifold help to any Church is the presence of those who live in constant communion with their Lord! What a hallowed influence such exert! what real good they do l Like their Lord's, in their measure and degree, the name of such is "as ointment poured forth." And all those with whom such persons have to do—their children, servants, neighbours, associates, and the world generally—will, as it was with the apostles, "take knowledge of them that they have been with Jesus."
3. And they themselves are blessed. For is it not good to have all that is pure and holy and Christ-like in us quickened, confirmed, strengthened, as is the case through communion with our Lord? Moses' face shone after he had been in the presence of the Lord. The spiritual help which comes to the real worshipper is so great, and has always been so recognized, that for the sake of having opportunity for such communion Christ's people have risked everything. If they would only have kept their religion to themselves no one would have said anything; but they would not. They would come together for worship and for communion; and hence, all over the world, they have been led "as sheep to the slaughter," and for Christ's sake they "have been slain all the day long." What proof and evidence this is of the real blessedness of communion with Christ! May he help us to add each one our testimony to this same sure truth!—S.C.
Song of Solomon 1:13, Song of Solomon 1:14
What Christ is to his people.
He is here said to be as—
I. "A BUNDLE OF MYRRH." See Exposition for explanation of ancient customs alluded to by this "bundle," or small box, or other such receptacle for perfumes. Its religious teachings are such as arise from the fact' that:
1. Myrrh was used in the "anointing oil" with which Aaron and the priests were anointed. It was "the oil of gladness" with which Christ was anointed above his fellows (cf. Psalms 123:2). The teaching, therefore, is that Christ is the Joy of his people. Cf. "Then will I go unto the altar of God, unto God my exceeding Joy" (Psalms 43:4). Then:
2. Myrrh was largely used for incense. Cf. in the Revelation the vision of the angel to whom "was given much incense." It represented the acceptableness of the prayers of God's saints. And it is Christ's Name that gives worth and validity to our poor prayers. We join them on to his all-availing intercession, and we find ourselves "accepted in the Beloved."
3. Myrrh was used for embalming, so as to prevent corruption and decay. And this is just what Christ is to us. He prevents the moral corruption which would destroy our souls having power over them. It would fasten upon them as it does on those in whom Christ is not; but he arrests its power, and preserves our souls in life. And he will, he does, stay the corruption of the grave. That does, indeed, fasten on the poor cast-off garment of the soul; but on the soul itself Christ suffers corruption to have no power, for he clothes it with the spiritual body, so that "mortality is swallowed up of life," and "this corruptible puts on incorruption." But note:
4. In order to be all this to us, he must ever abide in our hearts. (Cf, "He shall lie always on my bosom.") So speaks the maiden who is the type of the believing, Christ-loving soul. Can we each, then, say of Christ, "He is 'my Beloved'"? If so, we may go on and say, "He is unto me as myrrh."
II. "A CLUSTER OF CAMPHIRE." (Verse 14.) Such flowers were used for the decoration of rooms and for personal adornment. It is not easy to fix what precise flower is meant. We are told its habitat, but not its special characteristics, amongst the many flowers amid which it is found. But its name is very significant.]t is the same word that elsewhere is rendered "propitiation," or "atonement." The Jewish rabbis took it as a type of the Messiah. Hence they rendered this verse thus: "My beloved is unto me the man who propitiates all things." And is not this a most true and beautiful rendering? For is not this just what our blessed Lord does for us? Is not his cross the antitype of that tree which Moses had shown to him, and which, when he had cast it into the bitter waters of Marah, made those waters sweet? The cross of Christ is the sweetener of life's bitter waters. Well, therefore, might the flower which bore the name of "the propitiation" be taken as telling of him. Is it not he who, by his grace, propitiates the worries and cares of life, so that they no longer irk and fret my will; and the perplexities and mysteries I everywhere meet with, so that they no longer bewilder and beat down my faith; and the temptations which would defile my soul, so that they no more work me such harm; and the sin for which I might have been condemned, so that it is silent forever against me; and the grave and its corruption, so that they will not hold me therein? True, his gracious work is done on me; but it is as if the mouths of the lions themselves were stopped, so powerless to do me harm are they if Christ be to me my Propitiation. Oh, most sweet and blessed flower! May it ever beautify my home, my life, my heart!—S.C.
Song of Solomon 1:16, Song of Solomon 1:17, and Song of Solomon 2:4
The house of the Lord.
Before the soul delightedly tells of the house of her Lord, she speaks—
I. OF THE LORD OF THE HOUSE. She declares not only that he is fair, but pleasant also. How many of his people fail here! Some are fair, but not pleasant. Some are pleasant, but not fair. Alas! some are neither. But of him supremely can it be said that he is fair and pleasant. Not only fair in outward seeming, but pleasant in his spirit, temper, and demeanour.
II. OF HIS HOUSE. The soul says "our" in speaking of his abode. And so closely are we united with him, that his people may, though out of reverence they seldom do, speak of that which is his as theirs also. The picture drawn in these verses (16, 17) is one of rural delight—the soft and verdant turf, the o'erarching and umbrageous trees, the noble cedar, the stately fir, beneath which those spoken of have cast themselves down. The ideas suggested are those of happy rest. Psalms 23:1-6; "Thou makest me to lie down in green pastures," etc; tells substantially of the same spiritual rest. And the house of the Lord is the place of such blessed rest of heart and soul and mind. Because of this, we find those many impassioned expressions in the Psalms as to the psalmist's delight in the house of the Lord; how he had rather be a doorkeeper there than hold any place of worldly honour or pleasure, however exalted (Psalms 84:1-12.). The agitations and cares of the mind hush themselves to rest there. The psalmist tells in one place how the mystery of the Divine rule over men—wicked men often prospering and good men cast down—how this distressed, dismayed, and all but destroyed his faith in God, "until," he says, "I went into the sanctuary; then I understood." Yes, the house of the Lord should be, and often is to his people, what this beautiful picture of rest on the green grass, beneath the cool, refreshing shade of fragrant and stately trees, presents to us—a place of pure delight, rest, and refreshment of heart.
III. ITS PROVISIONS. It is a "banqueting house." It is so when the Lord brings us there and is with us there (cf. on verse 12).
IV. ITS DEFENCE. "His banner over me is love." That is, the soul's protection and guard, so sure and strong as that of a banner-led host, is the Lord's love. Is it not so? What guards us there and everywhere but his love? What is the defence of the home but the father's love? What the safeguard of the wife but her husband's love? Love is always a mighty protector, a sure defence, a strong bulwark. "How doth the hen protect her brood," but by her love? And love ever guards the beloved ones. And so with our souls, the Lord's love is their defence.—S.C.
HOMILIES BY J.D. DAVIES
Song of Solomon 1:1-4
The Bridegroom and the bride.
Love's native language is poetry. When strong and happy feeling dominates the soul, it soon bursts into a song. As young life in a fruit tree breaks out into leaf and blossom, so the spiritual force of love unfolds in metaphor and music. Among the lyrics composed by King David, those which celebrate the Messiah-Prince have the richest glory of fervour, blossom most into Oriental imagery; and inasmuch as Solomon inherited somewhat the poetic genius of his father, it was natural that he should pour out in mystic song the heart throb of a nation's hopes. The deep and inseparable union between Christ and his saints is by no one set forth so clearly as by Jesus the Christ; hence love is strong and tender, because love's Object is noble, winsome, kingly, Divine.
I. THE BRIDEGROOM'S CHARMS.
1. The love of Christ is incomparably precious. "Thy love is better than wine." All true love is precious—a sacred thing, a mighty force. The love of Jesus is absolutely perfect, without any admixture of alloy. Love is the mightiest force in the universe, a magnet whose attractive power reaches from the throne of God to the very gates of hell. And love is as precious as it is potent. It makes a desert into a paradise; changes base metal into gold; transforms foul rebels into loving sons. It is a banquet for the heart; a perpetual feast; a fountain of purest joy. What the rarest wine is for a fainting body, that the love of Jesus is to a burdened soul.
2. The love of Christ is diffusive. It is as "unguent poured forth." The love of God's Son existed long before it was manifested. That love is seen in all the arrangements of creation. That love is unfolded in all the methods of daily providence. "By him all things consist." That love is shed abroad in the believer's heart "by the Holy Ghost." As the flowers in our gardens pour out their essential life in their sweet fragrance, so the love of Christ is Christ's life poured out for us. All the love which angels cherish is Christ's love diffused. He is the "Firstborn of the creation of God." All the parental love that has ever glowed on the altar of human hearts is the love of Christ diffused. All practical benevolence for the well being of mankind is the outflow of Immanuel's love. The love that constrains me to compassionate deeds and to intercessory prayers is the love of Christ diffused. Discovering the heavenly savour inspires our hearts with joy. Heaven is knit with silken cords to earth.
3. The love of Christ is condescending and gracious. "The King hath brought me into his chambers." Had we been told that God admitted into his presence chamber the unsinning angels, we should not have been so profoundly moved. They are meet for his service. But to admit the base and degenerate sons of men into his intimate friendship, this reflects a singular glory upon his kindness; this is a miracle of love. By such familiar intercourse he trains us in kingly conduct, communicates to us Divine wisdom, moulds us into his own image. Beyond this deed of grace not even God can go. As there was no depth of humiliation to which he was not willing to stoop for sinners, so there is no height of excellence from which he would exclude us. Such love no human thought can measure. It is higher than heaven: how shall we scale it? It is deeper than hell: how shall we fathom it?
II. THE BRIDE'S RESPONSE.
1. Her love originates in the high renown of his love. "Thy Name is as ointment poured forth." So long as this strong force of love was confined within the heart of Christ, no human soul could suspect its existence. On what ground could any dweller on earth conjecture or imagine that he was the object of Immanuel's love? That love must be unfolded, declared, made clearly known. And this is what Jesus has done. Not content with warm protestations of his affection, he has stooped to perform impressive deeds of kindness—yea, prodigies of compassion. All the romantic stories of heroic love Jesus has immeasurably surpassed. His renown is sung in all the courts of the heavenly palace. He has made for himself a "Name above every name," human or angelic... This high reputation warrants our approach, our admiration, our trust, our responsive love. "We love him, because he has first loved us."
2. Our love craves a closer fellowship with his Person. "Draw me!" We have made such discoveries of excellence in our Immanuel that we long for larger acquaintance. To us he is a vast mine of spiritual wealth, and the deeper we go the rarer jewels do we find. His charms seem infinite, and no fear troubles us that we shall exhaust them. We are troubled that our own love is so inadequate, so unworthy; hence we desire a closer approach, that his spiritual beauty may quicken our languid affection. Feeling the magnetic power of his love, we too may be magnetized. We cannot command, by a mere volition or a mere resolve, that our love shall flow out. So the only way to intensify our love is by coming into fuller contact with his. Only life can generate life, and only the love of Christ can stir into activity the principle of true love in us. Therefore we pray, "Draw us into nearer fellowship, into more vital union!"
3. Our love desires a prompt obedience. "We will run after thee." We love to walk in his footsteps, and when we discover where his haunts lie, we run to seek him there. So sincere is our love, that we long to do his will promptly and heartily. We wish to hear every whisper of his commands. We deprecate that anything on our part should chase the smiles from his face. We long that his thoughts may be our thoughts, his dispositions our dispositions, his purposes our purposes; so that between Christ and us there may be perfect concord. As said Ruth to Naomi, so say we, "Whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou dwellest, I will dwell." We can do without food, we can do without friends, we can do without health, but we cannot do without Christ. Wrote Samuel Rutherford to a friend, "If hell fire stood between you and Christ, you would press through in order to reach him." All service is delight when the feet are winged by love.
4. Love brings us into the best society. "The upright love thee." The love that draws the best men near to Christ likewise draws them near each other. As the spokes of a wheel get near to the hub they get into closer proximity to each other. The more love we give out the more substantial good we get. The friendship of the pious is a precious treasure; their wisdom enlightens, their piety stimulates, their love enkindles, ours. In their society we are elevated and gladdened. The story of their experience inspires us for new endeavour; their triumphs awaken our most sacred ambitions. With Moses, we learn meekness; with Elijah, we learn how to pray; with Job, we learn endurance; with Martin Luther, we learn courage. The society of saints throws into the shade the society of sages or of kings.
5. Love treasures up the recollection of past favours. "We will remember thy love more than wine." What Jesus Christ has done for us in the past he will do again. Since his love is infinite, he has not exhausted his love tokens in the past; he has more costly things yet to give, richer dainties yet to place on his banquet table. Still, there are times when we cannot realize a present Saviour, when the conscious possession of his love is suspended, and at such times it is a cordial to our spirits to bring out the memorials and tokens of past affection. Our memory is a vast chamber, hung round with ten thousand mementoes of Immanuel's love. Thus, in a dark hour of depression, King David sang, "Yet will I remember thee from the land of Jordan, and of the hill Mizar." In winter's dark days we will feast upon the fruits of well remembered summer.
6. Love creates the purest joy. "We will be glad and rejoice in thee." Joy arises when a felt want is satisfied; but so long as we are sensible of needs and cravings for which no supply is at hand we are miserable. A thirsty man upon a scorching desert, leagues removed from any well, is a stranger to gladness. The misery of lost spirits, doubtless, arises from passionate cravings for which there is no supply. On the other hand, when we can feel that Christ is ours—ours in bonds which nothing can sever—we feel that every want is met, every ambition is realized, every aspiration fulfilled. "Then shall I be satisfied, when I awake, in thy likeness." Therefore, although outward surroundings may tend to depress, we can always find in the fulness of Christ sources of hope and joy. "With him is the fountain of life."—D.
Song of Solomon 1:5, Song of Solomon 1:6
Low estimate of self.
A genuine Christian will take a modest estimate of himself. "He has learnt not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think." Many Christians undervalue themselves; and though this practice is not so obnoxious in the eyes of others as over valuation, yet this also is a fault. It is better to pass no judgment on ourselves; it is seldom called for; it is often a folly.
1. EXTERNAL BLEMISH. "I am black."
1. This blemish (if it be one) is very superficial; it is only skin deep. A strong comparison is employed to convey more vividly the impression—"black as the tents of Kedar." These were manufactured from camel's hair, and, from long exposure to sun and dew, were in colour a dingy black. So when a Christian views himself as he appears externally to others, he sees, perhaps, his ignorance, his poverty, his imperfections, his obscurity, the contempt with which he is regarded by others, If the heavenly Friend should view him only in his outward appearance, he is devoid of attraction, destitute of ordinary beauty.
2. This blemish arises from the hard treatment of others. "My mother's children were angry with me; they made me keeper of the vineyards." Compulsion was used. The speaker had been coerced into employment which was menial and exhausting. It demanded long exposure to scorching sun and to chilling dews. The effect was to mar the beauty of the countenance. Yet the eye of love would detect beneath the surface a richer beauty—the beauty of patient obedience and unmurmuring submission. Men of the world may oppress and persecute; they cannot injure character. Earthly kings and magistrates may scourge and imprison the bride of Christ; they may despoil her of much external comeliness; but in the eye of reason—in the eye of God—she is more comely than before. Only the dross is consumed; real excellence of soul comes clearer into view.
3. Or this may be a real blemish through self-neglect. "My own vineyard have I not kept." Possibly, in the endurance of such hardships, it might have been possible to escape the blemish. Suitable precautions were not taken. Under stress of cruel compulsion, there had been a feeling of self-abandonment—a weak yielding to despair. It is hard to maintain a heavenly tempor under daily provocations; yet it can be done. It is hard to cultivate the Christian graces amid scenes of suffering and mockery; yet it ought to be done. The King Omnipotent has said, "My grace is sufficient for thee." We shall render the most faithful and useful service to others when we maintain in vigour our own piety. The healthful face of a holy character must under no circumstances be neglected.
II. INTERNAL BEAUTY. Though black (i.e. sun-browned), she was yet "comely"—yea, beauteous "as the curtains of Solomon." Likely enough, there is in this poetic drama a conversation, the parts of which are not distinctly marked. Likely enough, the daughters of Jerusalem here interject the remarks, "comely;" "as the curtains of Solomon."
1. The judgment of others respecting us is often more equitable than self-judgment. Some persons, confessedly, have a sad habit of overrating their virtues; but others are diffident and over-modest—they are given to self-depreciation. Through a jealousy for truth, or through a fear of self-delusion, they underrate their real goodness. As we can judge the merit of a painting or a statue a little distance removed, so a judicious onlooker can often more accurately judge us than we can judge ourselves. It is better for our comfort and for our usefulness neither to underrate nor to overrate ourselves. Very precious is the inward spirit of truth.
2. Internal beauty is preferable to external. It is not so apparent to the eye of man, but it is more prized by God, by angels, and by the best class of men. It is superior in itself, because it belongs to the soul. It is more influential for good. It brings more joy to the possessor. It is permanent, and outlasts all changes of time and pain and death. The genuine Christian may be poor in earthly wealth, but he is endowed with the treasures of heaven. He may wear coarse and homespun apparel, yet his soul is clothed in a robe of perfect righteousness. His face may be marred with suffering and ploughed with the effects of arduous toil, yet is he comely with holiness and beautified by the hand of the great Artificer.
3. Internal beauty is obtained through self-sacrificing service. The bride was really comely, though she had been compelled to work, like a slave, in the vineyards; yea, she was comely in character, as the result of this toil. Very true is it that no persecution can injure us; it brings, sooner or later, real advantage. The noblest characters have been fashioned and burnished in the furnace of suffering. Even of the Son of God we are told that "he learned obedience by the things which he suffered." The statue is not perfected until it has felt ten thousand strokes of the chisel. The diamond does not sparkle at its best until it has been well cut on the wheel of the lapidary. The pearl of great price is the fruit of pain. The verdict of experience records, "It was good for me that I was afflicted." Suffering is God's lancet, whereby he produces health. A vital lesson is here taught. Without personal piety there can be no permanent usefulness. A man's character is the mightiest instrument for recovering and elevating others. If we long to see the vineyards of others fair and fruitful, our own vineyard must be a pattern of good culture. Our first duty is respecting ourselves. If we are full of light, we can lead others along the path to heaven. Personal holiness is the great desideratum.—D.
Song of Solomon 1:7-9
Seeking and finding.
The Christian pilgrim has to pass through a variety of fortunes in his passage to the celestial city. His fluctuations of joy and sorrow, hope and fear, resemble an April day. Sunshine alternates with storm. Now he is on the mountain top; now in the valley of humiliation. Now he looks into his Master's face, and sees a smile of heavenly love; now that gracious face is hid, like the sun during eclipse.
I. WE HAVE A SENSE OF DESERTION. This is a matter of personal feeling, not an external reality. God does not undergo any change, nor does he ever forsake his friends. But it sometimes happens that we cease to realize our vital interest in Jesus; we lose for a season the enjoyment of his favours. The sun is as near the earth—yea, nearer—in December as in June; yet, because our northern hemisphere is turned away from the sun, flowers do not bloom, nor do fruits ripen, on our side the globe. So we may unintentionally have drifted away from Christ; our hearts may have flagged in devotion or in zeal; the bloom of our love may have vanished; some cloud of earthliness may have intervened, some mist of doubt may have risen up, and we no longer see the radiant face of our Beloved. In proportion to our appreciation of our heart's best Friend will be the sorrow we shall endure. No earthly good will compensate for the loss. No other joy can take its place. It seems as if the natural sun were veiled; as if earth were clad in mourning; as if all music had ceased, because Jesus is not a Guest in the soul.
II. HERE, NOTWITHSTANDING, THERE IS AN UNDERCURRENT OF HOPE. We find yet, within the soul, strong love to Jesus, although we no longer realize his love to us. This is solid comfort; for it is evident that our love is real, and not simply a desire for self-advantage. It is not a refined form of selfishness, inasmuch as our love to him abides, although it brings no enjoyment. And we still perceive and appreciate his office. We still regard him as the great Shepherd of the sheep. As such he will not allow a single lamb to stray. It is the part of a good shepherd to care for each member of the flock, and to restore the wanderer. Though we no longer bask in the sunshine of his favour, we are sure that others do, and we love him for his compassion to them. Further, we are sure that he is not far away. He is busy with his flock, feeding them, caring for their needs; so we will seek him out. We will not sullenly wait until he shall come to us; we will search for him, for we are sure that he will approve our search. If we heartily desire him, this is hopeful.
III. WE HAVE ALSO AN EAGER INQUIRY. "Tell me where thou feedest, where thou makest thy flock to rest at noon." So fully conscious is the soul of its loss and injury, that it longs to end this sad experience. Its main difficulty is what to do, what step to take. No hindrance in the way of finding Jesus shall be allowed to remain. If we have been guilty of any misdeed or neglect, we will confess it honestly. One question only perplexes us—Where shall we find our Well-beloved? We want information, guidance, light. Yet this same Jesus is our All in all. He is our Light. He will reveal himself. In due time he will give us light. So we speak to him directly, and we employ a very discreet argument: "For why should I be as one that turneth aside by the flocks of thy companions?" In other words, "Why should I seek for satisfaction elsewhere but in thee?" If I seek, I shall find only disappointment. These fancied joys will be as apples of Sodom, as the grapes of Gomorrah. I must have some object on whom to expend my love. Let it be no other object, no inferior object, than thyself. Only show me thy chosen haunt, and I will find. thee out. Distance shall be annihilated. Mountains shall be levelled.
IV. A GRACIOUS RESPONSE. "Go thy way forth by the footsteps of the flock, and feed thy kids beside the shepherds' tents." Prayer for light is especially acceptable to God. In him is no darkness, and nothing is further from him than to keep us in darkness. Most of all does he delight in the prayer which yearns after him. It has been his business all through the past eternity to reveal himself, and to come into nearer union with the human soul; hence our prayer is only the echo of his own wish, our desire is his desire, and response is ready. How tender is his rebuke of our ignorance! "If thou know not." It is as if he said, "Yet surely you ought to know. You have found the way to me aforetime. It is the same way still, for I change not." Or, "If thou canst not find the way to me directly, then act as my friends act. Learn from the successes of others. I have instructed others how to find me. They have found me, and now they are patterns and helpers for all seekers. Observe the 'footsteps of the flock.'" If we are earnest in our search after Christ, we shall use all and every means likely to ensure our success. Very often it is not more light we want, but a humble and diligent readiness to use the light we have. Unfaithfulness to our light is a common failing. The instruments employed to convey the electric current must be scrupulously clean, and every law must be delicately observed, or the mystic force refuses to act. Our spiritual sensibilities are far more delicate, and a neglect, which may seem minute or insignificant, will defeat our purpose, and rob us of our joy. They who desire intimate fellowship with Jesus must be companions of the friends of Jesus, and must learn lessons in the humblest school. The footprints of other pilgrims we must carefully note and faithfully follow. Jesus is no respecter of persons. Others have found him: why should not we? They have not exhausted his love; they have merely tasted a sip of the infinite ocean. I may, if I will, drink more deeply than any mortal yet has done.—D.
Song of Solomon 1:12-17
Love, manifested and known, will always beget love. As every plant has in its womb seed of its own kind, so, too, love has within itself generative power. If any human heart does not love our Immanuel, it is because that heart is ignorant of him, its eyesight is blurred, its vision is obscured. No sooner is Jesus known as a true and substantial Friend, than love in some form springs up. In the form of gratitude it first appears; then in the form of admiration; then in delight; then in intimacy; then in passionate devotement. Jesus known is Jesus loved.
I. OBSERVE THE CHRISTIAN'S LOVE FOR JESUS CHRIST.
1. The soul esteems him as its Sovereign King. As love is the mightiest force in the human breast, love's object is at once promoted to the supreme place. No elevation is too great for our Beloved. It would be a restraint upon our love—yea, a pain—if we did not give to Jesus the highest throne. We perceive that he has all the qualities of a king, and that it is for our own advantage that he should rule within. And when we make the experiment we find such rest, such security, such triumphs, that we would fain exalt him to a higher place. To be the servant—ay, the slave—of such a King is honour infinite, joy ineffable.
2. The renewed soul desires to have the closest friendship with Jesus. Where the heavenly King comes, he always spreads a feast for the soul. Out of his fulness he freely bestows. As a fountain spontaneously sends up its limpid waters, so doth Christ our Lord. To be in his presence, to listen to his ripe wisdom, to realize all the advantage of his friendship, this is a spiritual feast. The wisdom he has, he gives. His everlasting righteousness he shares with us. His heavenly peace he conveys to us. His own love is shed abroad in our hearts. All the wealth of his kingdom he conveys to his chosen. We are "heirs of God, joint heirs with Jesus Christ." The friendship of Immanuel is a perpetual feast. They who daily eat at the same table enjoy the closest intimacy with each other.
3. The presence of Jesus Christ draws out our hidden graces. "My perfume sends forth its sweetest odours." Just as the summer sun draws out the essence of our garden flowers, so the energy of the Saviour's love stirs into activity the hidden forces of our souls. In every man is a principle of imitation. If we see a splendid deed of generosity, we are impelled to copy it. When the heart is free from sinful bias, it aspires to imitate every excellence it beholds. So, when the glories of Christ's nature are unfolded, like graces begin to unfold in us. Repentance, gratitude, humility, faith, patience, devoted love, are drawn out in the sunny atmosphere of Jesus' presence. Fragrant flowers and spicy herbs, which had lain long hidden in the frozen soil, spring up and send out a rare perfume. When Jesus dwelt in the house, Mary was constrained to break the alabaster box, and to set free the delicious odour; and when Jesus dwells in our hearts, every restraint gives way, and the essence of our graces yields a sweet perfume.
4. We esteem the love of Jesus for its constancy. The bundle of myrrh abides with us "all night." Our beloved Friend is not easily offended. "He hates putting away." In darkness as well as at noon, in times of pain and calamity as in days of prosperity, his love remains unchanged. If for a season we should neglect him, and be absorbed in other pursuits, he does not abandon us. lie may visit our folly with chastisement, and to the soul there may be temporary night, yet the remembrance of his love will be a sweet and reviving cordial. It will have a healing efficacy. We shall be touched with a sense of shame; and as myrrh soothes and quiets pain, so will the fragrant breath of our Immanuel heal us.
5. The friendship of Jesus satisfies every want. "My Beloved is unto me as a cluster of camphire in the vineyards of Engedi." The cluster of camphire flowers had a renown both for beauty and for fragrance. So the excellence of Jesus has a fascination forevery sense of the renewed man. Every organ is a channel through which Christ's life flows. We look unto Jesus, and we are charmed with the beauty of his character. We listen, and his words of promise kindle in us a holy rapture. His deeds and sacrifices for us have a sweet-smelling savour. His intercession for us is like the temple incense. "We taste that the Lord is gracious." He is to us heavenly manna—"the Bread of life." The coming of Christ is like autumn abundance. "He is all our salvation and all our desire;" "My God shall supply all your need, according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus;" "He that cometh to me shall never hunger; he that believeth on me shall never thirst." Nothing so enchants and satisfies the soul like Jesus. Amongst the verdant and generous vineyards of Engedi, the cluster of camphire was distinguished for fragrance and for usefulness; so among the charms of nature, among the genial society of human friends, Jesus stands out prominently the most precious and the most prized of all. There is nothing on earth we can compare with him. He is without a rival.
II. OBSERVE THE REGARD WHICH JESUS CHRIST HAS FOR HIS FRIENDS.
1. He fully esteems all the good there is in them. "Behold, thou art fair, my love." The eye of friendship will discover many virtues in a man which the eye of malice can never find. It is not love that is blind; it is malice that is blind. Love has eyesight keener than an eagle, keener than an archangel. The eye of Jesus sees in us excellences which he himself has created; and though as yet these are only in tiny germ, yet, with the magnifying power of love, Jesus beholds them as they shall be, full-orbed and beautiful. There is no future to him. What to us is in the future is with him present. He looks with tenderness upon the tiny blade of pious love, and lo! already 'tis a cedar of Lebanon, among whose branches the feathered minstrels sing. If only a heavenly ambition begins to stir within the breast, he hastens to foster it. Says he, "It is well that it was in thine heart."
2. He repeats the commendation in order to confirm it. "Thou art fair; thou art fair, my love." The conscience of the Christian, filled with light from heaven, is painfully sensible of its faults, and asks in astonishment, "Lord, didst thou call me fair?" Then, to banish doubt and to pierce to the heart unbelief, Jesus repeats his approval, "Behold, thou art fair, my love." "Though it may be that our hearts condemn us, God is greater than our hearts, and knoweth all things." Full clearly he sees the young germ of newborn love, and this he will make to grow until it shall fill the soul with beauty. Hence he already says, "Thou art fair, my love." Under the magic wand of love, the nature that had sunk into a beast becomes incarnate beauty. Love creates. Love transfigures.
3. Love makes like unto itself. Because Christ our Lord is beautiful, we shall be beautiful. Because Christ is pleasant, we shall be pleasant. Every quality of mind and heart that Jesus possesses he will communicate unto us. "He emptied himself" that he might fill us. It is a special pleasure to discover a new excellence in our Immanuel, inasmuch as that excellence shall be ours. "We shall be like him when we see him as he is."
4. Jesus identifies himself completely with his ransomed ones. The couch, or resting place, in the palace garden is said to be "ours." "Our bed is green." It is a verdant oasis in this world's desert. Or, if the palace is described, it is our house. To all the possessions of the Bridegroom the bride is encouraged to lay claim. It is always the result of the marriage tie that the interests and fortunes of the two are identical. One is the complement of the other. Neither is complete alone. There could be no shepherd unless there were sheep. There can be no bridegroom without a bride. There can be no king without subjects. Nor can there be a Saviour unless there are also the saved. The glory of Jesus Christ is seen nowhere but in his ransomed Church. Therefore Jesus completely and generously identifies himself with us. All his possessions are to be our possessions. All his noble qualities are to be our noble qualities. His purity is to be our purity. His throne is to be our throne likewise. It is his everlasting purpose that we shall be "joint heirs." "They shall have my joy fulfilled in themselves."—D.
HOMILIES BY J.R. THOMSON
Song of Solomon 1:1
There are many songs in Old Testament Scripture—the song of deliverance from the Red Sea (Exodus 15:1-27.); the song of the well (Numbers 21:17, Numbers 21:18); the song of Moses (Deuteronomy 32:1-52.); the song of Deborah ( 5:1-31.); the song (pre-eminently such) of David, in Psalms 18:1-50.; and the song of Isaiah (5). But this of Solomon is described as the Song of Songs, i.e. of all the most excellent, as it is the richest in imagery, the intensest in feeling, the most complete in poetic form. Although there is something dramatic in the structure of this poem, inasmuch as several speakers are introduced, uttering varying moods of feeling, still the poem is mainly lyrical, inasmuch as its spirit is prevailingly sentiment. Song expresses—
I. FEELING GENERALLY; AND FEELING OCCUPIES A PRE-EMINENT PLACE IN RELIGIOUS LIFE. True religion has its root in knowledge and belief; a God not known cannot be truly worshipped, a religion not understood cannot be acceptably practised. Yet religion is not merely an exercise, a possession, of the intellect. Our strongest convictions are naturally accompanied by our deepest emotions. The measure of feeling will, indeed, vary with individual temperament, but a religion with no sentiment is mechanical and unlovely. Now, it is in accordance with human nature that feeling should break forth into song. Cheerfulness finds utterance as in the carol of the lark, and melancholy as in the plaintive warble of the nightingale. The Bible without the Canticles would not correspond with the whole constitution of man.
"The Church delights to raise
Psalms and hymns and songs of praise."
The words of inspiration, exact or paraphrased and adapted, have ever given shape and form and utterance to the profoundest emotions of God's worshippers.
II. LOVE, WHICH IS THE CHARACTERISTIC ELEMENT OF THE RELIGIOUS LIFE. Human love is the copy, always faint and imperfect, yet not illusive, of love Divine. The love of the Hebrew king and his mountain bride figures forth, as does all true wedded affection—the love which exists between the Eternal and his intelligent creatures, between the Church and the adorable Bridegroom who deigns to address her as his spouse. The language of the Canticles has often seemed to cold natures extravagant, and so unreal. "Love's language is a foreign language to those who do not love." We have the foundation of the Song of Songs laid in the forty-fifth psalm—the "song of love." Christianity is admitted to have introduced into religion an element of deeper personal feeling than was known before. The love of Christ is declared to "pass knowledge;" and love which passes knowledge, which cannot express itself in propositions, must pour itself forth in song. The nuptials of the soul, of the Church, with Christ, demand a poetic epithalamium. How thoroughly in place, so regarded, seems the "Song of Songs"!
III. JOY, WHICH SPRINGS FROM LOVE FELT AND RETURNED. The history of love is not always one of uninterrupted prosperity and gladness. "Our sweetest songs are those which tell of saddest thought." And even in the Canticles we have varying moods; shadows lie upon the land for a season as clouds obscure the face of heaven. Yet the main current of feeling throughout this book is a current of gladness; the music is of the nature of a carol of spontaneous sweetness, a chorale of triumphant delight. The king and the bride alternately give utterance to their joyful emotions, for heart finds heart. So with the relations with the redeeming Lord and those whom he has saved. God rejoices over that which was lost but is found; and man rejoices in the great salvation. It is thus that the lyrics, though sacred, are glad, breathing a "joy unspeakable and full of glory."—T.
Song of Solomon 1:2
Love better than wine.
The desire of the soul awakened to the higher life is a desire which earth cannot satisfy; it is a desire for God, for the manifestations of Divine favour, the proofs of Divine affection. As one has said, "The Christian is not satisfied, like Mary, to kiss the Master's feet; he would kiss the Master's face." The enjoyment of God's kindness enkindles a desire for more knowledge of God, a closer intercourse with God. This is the result of a sense—an imperfect but genuine sense—of the incomparable preciousness of Divine friendship and favour. "Thy love is better than wine."
I. GOD'S GIFTS ARE GOOD. He is good unto all. Every good gift and every perfect boon must be traced to his bounty. Wine is used here poetically as one of the evidences of Divine provision for man's needs. Wine maketh glad the heart of man, oil maketh his face to shine, bread strengtheneth his heart. Heaven bestows in abundance gifts which men often accept with ingratitude or misuse to their own detriment.
II. GOD'S LOVE IS BETTER. Material possessions, temporal enjoyments, the pleasures of sense, are contrasted with what enriches, purifies, and rejoices the spirit. To the spiritual man the favour of Heaven yields more true joy than he experiences in the time when corn and wine increase.
1. This follows from the very nature of man, who is a being made originally in the Divine image, endowed with an immortal nature. Such a being cannot find satisfaction in any lower source of happiness.
2. It follows especially from the fact of man's sin and salvation. As a dependent being, man is a recipient of Divine bounty; but, as a being who has departed from God, and has been restored by forgiving mercy to favour and fellowship, he is especially in need of constant revelations of Divine love. And as Christians we gratefully recognize that, in bestowing upon us his own Son, God has given unto us that love which is better than wine.
3. In partaking of Divine love we are in no danger of excess. It had been better for many a professing Christian had God's providence withheld the gifts which have by the abuse of worldliness been prized above the Giver himself. Not wine only, but the wealth and luxuries of life generally, have too often been the occasion of forgetting and departing from God. But Divine love is a draught of which none can drink in excess.
4. The love of God is a lasting blessing, a perennial joy. The gifts of Divine bounty perish, for they are of the earth. The love of God is imperishable as God himself.—T.
Song of Solomon 1:3
The fragrant name.
The sense of smell furnishes much of the imagery of this poetical book. Perfumes not only gratify the smell, they awaken the emotions, and have a remarkable power of reviving, by association, bygone scenes and far-distant friends and companions, in whose society the fragrant wild flowers or blooms of the garden have been enjoyed. Perfumed unguents were in the East employed for anointing the body, for health and comfort. Their use was associated with hospitable reception and entertainment. The Name of our Saviour is as the unguents poured upon his form, diffusing sweet fragrance abroad.
I. THE NAME OF CHRIST IS FRAGRANT TO THE SPIRITUAL SENSE OF HIS PEOPLE. In fact, the Christ is "the Anointed," who, by his appointment and devotion, is marked out as the beloved Son of God, and the honored Saviour of the world. The perfume of Divine grace, treasured up from eternity, was poured forth in abundance upon the Word when he "became flesh, and dwelt among us."
II. THE NAME OF CHRIST HAS A COSTLY, PRECIOUS FRAGRANCE. It is well known that large sums of money were lavished on the scented unguents stored in vessels, bottles, and vases of alabaster and other expensive materials. The perfumes used were brought in many cases from distant lands; they were distilled from rare and beautiful flowers; they were purchased by the wealthy and used by the luxurious.
III. THE NAME OF CHRIST POSSESSES A DELIGHTFUL AND REFRESHING FRAGRANCE. As the mere mention of the king's name was welcome to the bride and to her companions, so is the Name of our Saviour, when pronounced in the hearing of his friends, the occasion of delight. The Name of Jesus is music to the ear, and is as "ointment poured forth." It dispels the lassitude, the discouragement, the despondency, which are sometimes apt to steal into the soul of the disciple during the Master's bodily and temporary absence. It is a "Name above every name." "Ointment and perfume rejoice the heart."
IV. THE NAME OF JESUS DIFFUSES A FAR-REACHING FRAGRANCE. The penetrating power of odours is well known. Poets tell of the "spicy breezes" that "blow soft o'er Ceylon's isle;" how "filled with balm the gale sighs on, though the flowers are sunk in death." Thus the precious Name of Christ sheds its sweetness far and wide, bringing life, hope, and salvation to those in remotest lands. The Plant of Renown which was bruised upon the soil of Palestine has given forth perfume of blessing which has reached the uttermost ends of the earth, reviving those ready to perish with its refreshing and reinvigorating power.
V. THE NAME OF CHRIST DIFFUSES A LASTING AND PERMANENT FRAGRANCE. It is known that some perfumes, such as musk, will continue to pour forth their sweetness day after day and year after year, diffusing effluvia unceasingly, and. yet suffering no perceptible loss of bulk, no diminution of power to give forth their special odour. Similarly is it with the power of Christ to bless mankind. Generation after generation has found healing, life, and blessing in the gospel; yet is its freshness undimmed and its power undiminished. And today more are rejoicing in the ever-fragrant Name than at any former time. Nor shall that Name ever lose its sweetness or its power.—T.
Song of Solomon 1:4
There is evidence of attraction throughout the physical universe. The earth draws all things upon it towards its centre; it draws the moon and keeps it revolving round itself. The sun draws the planets, which in their regular orbits unconsciously yield to the influence which he unconsciously exerts. We cannot study any bodies, however distant and however vast, without perceiving the power of attraction. And this power is as manifest in the molecule as in the mass; there is attraction in the smallest as in the greatest of material bodies. As the planets by gravitation are held in their courses by the sun, so are souls led to feel the attraction of our Saviour God. But whilst material things obey unwittingly, it is for spiritual natures consciously and voluntarily to yield to the spiritual attraction of him who is the Centre, the Law, the Life of all.
I. THE SPIRITUAL DRAWING OF THE KING OF LOVE.
1. The language reveals a dread of being far from God. The soul cries, "Quicken me! lest I remain in death; turn me! lest I continue in error; draw me! lest I live at a distance from thee."
2. The language reveals a recognition of authority. The cry is to the King. Many are the attractions of the world. Trahit sua quemque voluptas. Yet these attractions should always be suspected, should sometimes be resisted. But when God draws, his is the drawing of royalty and of right.
3. The language reveals the power of love. "I drew them with cords of a man, with hands of love." "I will draw all men unto myself." Such are the declarations of infinite grace. Those whose souls they reach and touch cannot but seek to be laid hold of by the silken chains, and led and kept near their Lord.
"O Christ, who hast prepared a place
For us beside thy throne of grace,
Draw us, we pray, with cords of love
From exile to our home above."
II. THE OBEDIENT FOLLOWING- OF THOSE WHO FEEL THE DIVINE ATTRACTION.
1. The drawing of the King proves its own effectiveness. "With loving kindness have I drawn thee." The charm is felt, the summons is obeyed, the presence and society which bring spiritual blessing are sought.
2. There is eagerness and haste in the response.
"He drew me, and I followed on,
Glad to confess the voice Divine."
Running denotes interest and zeal. The willing following becomes a diligent and strenuous race. The soul finds in Christ a Divine Friend and Lover and Spouse, and in his society satisfaction that never cloys, and joy that never fails.
APPLICATION. Here we have the history of the Divine life in man, related in a few words. In providence, in revelation, in the incarnate Word, in the power of the spiritual dispensation,—in all this God is drawing us. And every movement of the spirit, every impulse towards holiness, every true endeavour after obedience, may be regarded as the practical yielding to the Divine attraction. God's work on earth is just "drawing" us; our religious life is just "running" after him.—T.
Song of Solomon 1:4
The joyful celebration of Divine love.
The king is represented as conducting his friends and guests into his splendid palace, admitting them to the apartments reserved for his most intimate and favoured courtiers, and thus revealing to them his condescension and affection. Such treatment awakens their joy, and calls forth the celebration of his love. The whole scene is symbolical of the privileges and the sacred delights of those who share in the "shining of God's countenance."
I. DIVINE LOVE IS WORTHY OF BEING CELEBRATED.
1. It is undeserved love, and therefore love of pure compassion.
2. It is condescending love, on the part of the King of heaven towards poor, ignorant, and sinful man.
3. It is too often ill-requited love.
4. Yet it is bountiful and beneficent love.
5. It is sacrificing love—love to display which costs God much.
6. It is forbearing, patient, constant love.
II. THERE ARE MANY WAYS IN WHICH REDEEMED MEN MAY CELEBRATE THE DIVINE LOVE REVEALED TO THEM.
1. Its pre-eminence may be maintained. There may be other prerogatives and privileges which we may be tempted to make our boast and cause of rejoicing, but we must ever keep before our minds the supreme excellence of the love of God; "more than wine," and more than blessings far more desirable and precious than this.
2. Its most glorious proof may be commemorated. First and foremost among the meanings of the eucharistic meal celebrated in the Church of the Redeemer is its beauty and justice as a memorial of that love "whose height, whose depth unfathomed, no man knows."
3. Its natural power to awaken joy and praise should be practically confessed. To "be glad and rejoice" in God is only just and becoming; and Christians should not so steadfastly contemplate their own unworthiness as to lose sight of the infinite worthiness of him to whom they owe their salvation.
4. Love may be celebrated in the exercise of willing obedience. There is on our part no response to God's kindness so acceptable as consecrated service. "The love of Christ constraineth us;" this is the practical principle of the new life. There is a world of meaning in the language of the text, "In uprightness do they love thee."—T.
Song of Solomon 1:6
The keeper of the vineyards.
Men have put into their charge responsibilities concerning others, and these they may to some extent worthily observe. They may promote the interest of their family, the comfort of their household and dependants. They may even give time and money to advance schemes of benevolence and religion. But the question suggested by the language of the text is this—What are they the better for regarding the welfare of others if they neglect their own? if, being guardians of vineyards, they must acknowledge in all sincerity that their own vineyard they have not kept?
I. OUR RELIGION IS LIKELY TO CONSIST, TO A VERY LARGE EXTENT, IN A SENSE OF OUR PROPER RESPONSIBILITY FOR THE WELFARE OF OUR FELLOW MEN.
1. The very position of Britain among the nations of the world favours this view. Our range of influence is immense, our power is vast, our work of colonizing and of governing is heavy and serious. How can we serve our generation according to the will of God?
2. Add to this, the efforts which are called for on behalf of the ignorant and irreligious millions around us, and which seem to demand all the attention and zealous energies of the Church of Christ.
3. Hence a conception of the Christian life as one of constant activity and progressive usefulness.
II. THIS VERY SENSE OF RESPONSIBILITY FOR THE WELFARE OF OUR FELLOW MEN MAY OCCASION THE NEGLECT OF PERSONAL DEVOUTNESS AND SPIRITUALITY. To explain the action of this principle it may be remarked:
1. When we care for others, we naturally take it for granted that all is well with ourselves. In any work and enterprise, if we are engaged in teaching and in leading others, it is natural that we should overlook the importance of examining our own qualifications.
2. The opinion of others acts as an auxiliary in bringing about this state of feeling. Not only do we take it for granted that all is well with ourselves; others do the same, and their attitude encourages us in our good opinion of ourselves.
3. Time and thought may be so taken up in the service in which we are engaged, that attention is drawn away from our own condition, our own obligation to ourselves. A man may awaken to the fact of his own foolish and sinful neglect of his own spiritual state, and may cry aloud, in anguish and remorse, "They made me keeper of the vineyards, and mine own vineyard have I not kept!"
III. YET THERE IS NO NECESSARY CONNECTION BETWEEN USEFULNESS TO OTHERS AND NEGLECT OF ONE'S OWN SPIRITUAL SAFETY AND GROWTH. One duty does not conflict with another. It is in the cultivation of our own hearts that we gain strength and wisdom to be of benefit and service to others. Works of Christian benevolence are to be undertaken, not under the influence of superficial excitement, not under the contagion of enthusiastic example, but from sober conviction, and with a clear understanding of the law that only those who themselves have received can to any purpose give to others.
APPLICATION. Let those whose position is described in the text bestir themselves at once, apply with diligence to their proper work, restore the hedges, dig about the vine roots, take the "foxes that spoil the grapes," and climb the watch tower, that they may discern the approach and resist the incursions of their foes. Then shall they be privileged to present, even from their own vineyard, some fruit which shall be acceptable to the Divine Master and Lord, to whom all must at last give in their great account.—T.
Song of Solomon 1:7, Song of Solomon 1:8
The shepherd's care.
As the beloved maiden or bride seeks her shepherd lover who is yet the king, she makes use of language which gives an insight into pastoral duty and care, and which serves to suggest the relations borne by the flock to the good Shepherd who gave his life for the sheep.
I. THE GOOD SHEPHERD FEEDS THE FLOCK.
II. THE GOOD SHEPHERD PROVIDES NOONDAY REST FOR THE FLOCK.
III. THE GOOD SHEPHERD PROTECTS THE FLOCK, KEEPING HIS SHEEP NEAR THE WELL-GUARDED TENTS.
IV. THE GOOD SHEPHERD GUIDES HIS SHEEP, LEADING THE FOOTSTEPS OF THE FLOCK ACCORDING TO HIS OWN KNOWLEDGE AND WISDOM.
V. THE GOOD SHEPHERD CARES FOR THE KIDS—THE YOUNG OF THE FLOCK.—T.
Song of Solomon 1:9-15
Love and admirations.
It requires imagination and a knowledge of Oriental habits of thinking fully to appreciate the language of this passage, which otherwise to our colder and less fanciful natures may appear extravagant. But expressions which may be open to the charge of extravagance as applied to ordinary human affection, may well come short of the truth if interpreted as indicating the emotions which distinguish those spiritual relations of absorbed delight subsisting between Christ and his spouse, the Church. Beneath the rich metaphors of the poet we discern certain principles which are of deepest moment and beauty.
I. CHRIST'S INTEREST IN HIS PEOPLE IS INTEREST IN HIS OWN WORKMANSHIP, IN HIS OWN PURCHASE AND POSSESSION. The descriptions of the charms of the beloved, couched in the figurative language of Eastern poetry, can only be applied in any sense to the Church of the Lord Christ upon the distinct understanding that whatever excellences she may possess she owes to the Divine care and munificence of the heavenly Spouse. She owes her existence to his power, her safety to his faithful watching, her gifts and excellences to the provision of his love and care, her position to his compassion. Nothing has she which she did not receive from him; nothing of which she can be vain, of which she can boast. For all, her lowly acknowledgments of gratitude are forever due to her Almighty Lord.
II. CHRIST'S PERFECTIONS DESERVE AND DEMAND THE ADORING AND AFFECTIONATE ADMIRATION OF HIS CHURCH.
1. She admires him for what he is in himself. In him is all that is excellent and valuable, sweet and lovable. His beauty is spiritual, incomparable, delightful, unfading, and unwearying.
2. She adores him for his treatment of herself and his regard for her. The Church knows, from her Lord's own revelation, that he holds her dear, precious, fragrant; that, having laid down his life for her redemption, he never can or will forget her, or cease to cherish towards her the affection of his Divine and loving heart.
3. Hence she commemorates his love in the Eucharist, honours him by her obedience, and by her witness and her praise commends him to the world.—T.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Song of Solomon 1". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week after Epiphany