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Song of Solomon 2:2
As a lily among thorns, so is my love among the daughters. The king responds, taking up the lovely simile and giving it a very apt and charming turn, "My love is beyond comparison the chief and all around her are not worthy of notice beside her." The meaning is not thorns on the tree itself. The word would be different in that case. Rather it is thorn plants or bushes (choach); see 2 Kings 14:9. The daughters; i.e. the young damsels. The word "son" or "daughter" was commonly so used in Hebrew, the idea being that of simplicity, innocence, and gentleness.
Song of Solomon 2:3
As the apple tree among the trees of the wood, so is my beloved among the sons. I sat down under his shadow with great delight, and his fruit was sweet to my taste. That these are the words of the bride there can be no doubt. The apple tree is noted for the fragrance of its blossom and the sweetness of its fruit; hence the name tappuach, from the root naphach, "to breathe sweetly." The trees of the wood or forest are specially referred to, because they are generally wild, and their fruit sour and rough, and many have no fruit or flower. The Chaldee renders, "citron;" Rosenmuller and others, "quince." The word is rare (see Proverbs 25:11; Joel 1:12). It is sometimes the tree itself, at other times the fruit. It occurs in proper names, as (Joshua 12:17), "The King of Tappuah," etc; and that shows that it was very early known in Palestine. It occurs frequently in the Talmud. The word is masculine, while "lily" is feminine. "I sat with delight" is expressed in true Hebrew phrase, "I delighted and sat," the intensity of feeling being expressed by the piel of the verb. By the shadow is intended both protection and refreshment; by the fruit, enjoyment. Perhaps we may go further, and say there is here a symbolical representation of the spiritual life, as both that of trust and participation. The greatness and goodness of the tree of life protects and covers the sinner, while the inner nature and Divine virtue of the Saviour comes forth in delicious fruits, in his character, words, ministry, and spiritual gifts. If there is any truth in the typical view, it must be found in such passages as this, where the metaphor is so simple and apt, and has been incorporated with all religious language as the vehicle of faith and love. Hymnology abounds in such ideas and analogies.
Song of Solomon 2:4
He brought me to the banqueting house, and his banner over me was love; literally, to the house of the wine. Not, as some, "the house of the vines"—that is, the vineyard. The Hebrew word yayin corresponds with the AEthiopic wain, and has run through the Indo-European languages. The meaning is—To the place where he royally entertains his friends. Hence the reference which immediately follows to the protection with which the king overshadows his beloved. He covers me there with his fear-inspiring, awful banner, love, which, because of its being love, is terrible to all enemies. The word which is used for "banner" (דֶּגֶל) is from a root "to cover," that which covers the shaft or standard; the pannus, "the cloth," which is fastened to a shaft (cf. pennon). Her natural fear and bashfulness is overcome by the loving presence of the king, which covers her weakness like a banner. Some versions render it as an imperative. There can be no doubt of the meaning that the banner is the military banner, as the word is always so used (see Psalms 20:6; Numbers 1:52; Numbers 2:2). Perhaps there is a reference to the grandeur and military strength in which the young bride felt delight as she looked up at her young husband in his youthful beauty and manly vigour. The typical significance is very easily discovered. It would be straining it too much to see any allusion to the ritual of the Christian sacraments; but whether we think of the individual soul or of the people of God regarded collectively, such delight in the rich provisions of Divine love, and in the tender guardianship of the Saviour over those whom he has called to himself, belong to the simplest facts of believing experience.
Song of Solomon 2:5
Stay me with raisins, comfort me with apples: for I am sick of love. Again the intensive form of the verb is chosen. She is almost sinking; she cries out for comfort. The food for which she longs is the grape cakes—the grapes sufficiently dried to be pressed together as cakes, which is very refreshing and reviving; not raisins as we know them, but with more of the juice of the grape in them. So date cakes are now offered to travellers in the East. "Refresh me; for I am in a state of deep agitation because of the intensity of my love." Ginsburg thinks the cakes are baked by the fire, the word being derived from a root "to burn." The translation, "flagons of wine," in the Authorized Version, follows the rabbinical exposition, but it is quite unsupported by the critics. Love sickness is common in Eastern countries, more so than with us in the colder hemisphere. Perhaps the appeal of the bride is meant to be general, not immediately directed to the king, as if a kind of exclamation, and it may be connected with the previous idea of the banner. The country maiden is dazzled with the splendour and majesty of the king. She gives up, as it were, in willing resignation of herself, the rivalry with one so great and glorious in the expression of love and praise; she sinks back with delight and ecstasy, calling upon any around to support her, and Solomon himself answers the appeal, and puts his loving arm around her and holds up her head, and gives her the sweetest and tenderest embraces, which renew her strength. We know that in the spiritual life there are such experiences. The intensity of religious feeling is closely connected with physical exhaustion, and when the soul cries for help and longs for comfort, the presence of the Saviour is revealed; the weakness is changed into strength. The apostolic seer in the Apocalypse describes himself as overcome with the glory of the Saviour's appearance, and being brought back to himself by his voice (Revelation 1:17).
Song of Solomon 2:6
His left hand is under my head, and his right hand doth embrace me. We may render the verb either as indicative or imperative. The hand gently smooths with loving caresses. The historical sense is more in accordance with the context, as the next verse is an appeal to the attendant ladies. Behold my happiness, how my Beloved comforts me!
Song of Solomon 2:7
I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem, by the toes, and by the hinds of the field, that ye stir not up, nor awaken love, until it please. The fact that these words occur again in So Song of Solomon 3:5 and Song of Solomon 8:4 shows that they are a kind of chorus or refrain. It is also evident that they are in the lips of Shulamith the bride. Some have suggested that they are uttered by some one else, e.g. the queen-mother subsequently referred to, Solomon himself, the heavenly Bridegroom, the shepherd lover from whom Shulamith had been taken. But all these suggestions are unnecessary and unsupported. The natural and simple view is that the same voice is speaking as in Song of Solomon 8:6. But what is the meaning of this adjuration? Is it merely, "I throw myself on the sympathy you have already expressed"? Ewald well remarks, "In common life people swore by things which belonged to the subject of conversation or were especially dear to the speaker. As, therefore, the warrior swears by his sword; as Mohammed by th e soul, of which he is just about to speak (see Koran, ch. 91:7); so here Shulamith by the lovely gazelles, since she is speaking of love." The Israelites were permitted to adjure by that which is not God, but they would only solemnly swear by God himself. Delitzsch thinks this is the only example of direct adjuration in Scripture without the name of God. The meaning has probably been sought too far away. The bride is perfectly happy, but she is conscious that such exquisite happiness may be disturbed, the dream of her delight broken through. She compares herself to a roe or a gazelle, the most timorous and shy of creatures (see Proverbs 5:19). The Septuagint has a peculiar rendering; which points to a different reading of the orignial ἐν δυναμέσι καὶ ἰσχυσέσι τοῦ ἀγροῦ "by the power and virtues of the field." Perhaps the meaning is the same—By the purity and blessedness of a simple country life, I adjure you not to interfere with the course of true love. It is much debated whether the meaning is, "Do not excite or stir up love," or, "Do not disturb love in its peaceful de light." It certainly must be maintained that by "love" is meant "the lover." The refer once is to the passion of love itself. A similar expression is used of the feeling of jealousy (Isaiah 42:13). The verb עוֹרר (piel) is added to strengthen the idea, and is always used in the sense "to excite or awaken," as Proverbs 10:12 of strife; Psalms 80:3 of strength or power. We must not for a moment think of any artificial excitement of love as referred to. The idea is—See what a blessed thing is pure and natural affection: let not love be forced or unnatural. But there are those who dispute this interpretation. They think that the main idea of the whole poem is not the spontaneity of love, but a commendation of pure and chaste conjugal affection, as opposed to the dissoluteness and sensuality fostered by polygamy. They would therefore take the abstract "love" for the concrete "loved one," as in So Psalms 7:6 The bride would not have the beloved one aroused by the intrusion of others; or the word "love" may be taken to mean "the dream of love." Which ever explanation is chosen, the sense is substantially the same—Let me rejoice in my blessedness. The bride is seen at the close of this first part of the poem in the arms of the bridegroom. She is lost in him, and his happiness is hers. She calls upon the daughters of Jerusalem to rejoice with her. This is, in fact, the keynote of the song. The two main thoughts in the poem are the purity of love and the power of love. The reference to the toes and gazelles of the field is not so much to their shyness and timidity as to their purity, as distinguished from the creatures more close to cities; hence the appeal to the daughters of Jerusalem, who, as being ladies of the metropolis, might not sympathize as they should with the country maiden. The rest of the poem is a remembrance of the part which illustrates and confirms the sentiment of the refrain—Let the pure love seek its own perfection; let its own pleasure be realized. So, spiritually, let grace complete what grace begins. "Blessed are all those who trust in him."
Part II. SONG OF SHULAMITH IN THE EMBRACE OF SOLOMON. Recollections of the wooing time in the north.
Song of Solomon 2:8
The voice of my beloved! behold, he cometh, leaping upon the mountains, skipping upon the hills. There can be little doubt as to the meaning of this song. The bride is going back in thought to the scenes of her home life, and the sweet days of first love. "The house stands alone among the rocks and deep in the mountain range; around are the vineyards which the family have planted, and the hill pastures on which they feed their flocks. She longingly looks out for her distant lover." The expression, "The voice of my beloved!" must not be taken to mean that she hears the sound of his feet or voice, but simply as an interjection, like "hark!" (see Genesis 4:10, where the voice of the blood crying merely means, "Hark how thy brother's blood cries;" that is, "Believe that it does so cry"). So here, "I seem to hear the voice of my beloved; hark, he is coming!" It is a great delight to the soul to go back in thought over the memories of its first experience of the Saviour's presence. The Church is edified by the records of grace in the histories of Divine dealings.
Song of Solomon 2:9
My beloved is like a roe or a young hart; behold, he standeth behind our wall, he looketh in at the windows, he showeth himself through the lattice. The tsevi is the gazelle, Arabic ghazal. Our word is derived through the Spanish or Moorish gazela. The young hart, or chamois, is probably so called from the covering of young hair (cf. 2 Samuel 2:18; Proverbs 6:5; Hebrews 3:19). Shulamith represents herself as within the house, waiting for her friend. Her beloved is standing behind the wall, outside before the house; he is playfully looking through the windows, now through one and now through another, seeking her with peering eyes of love. Both the words employed, convey, the meaning of searching and moving quickly. The windows; literally, the openings; i.e. a window broken through a wall, or the meaning may be a lattice window, a pierced wooden structure. The word is not the common word for a window, which is shevaka (now shabbaka), from a root meaning "to twist," "to make a lattice." Spiritually, we may see an allusion to the glimpses of truth and tastes of the goodness of religion, which precede the real fellowship of the soul with God.
Song of Solomon 2:10
My beloved spake, and said unto me, Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away. The word "spake" Conveys the meaning in answer to a person appearing, but not necessarily in answer to a voice heard. We most suppose that Shulamith recognized her beloved, and made some sign that she was near, or looked forth from the window. As the soul responds, it is more and more invited; the voice of the Bridegroom is heard calling the object of his love by name, "I have called thee by thy name; thou art mine" (Isaiah 43:1).
Song of Solomon 2:11-13
For, lo, the winter is the rain is over and gone; the flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land; the fig tree ripeneth her green figs, and the vines are in blossom, they give forth their fragrance. Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away. Winter; i.e. the cloudy stormy time (sethauv). The Jews in Jerusalem to this day call rain shataa. The rain; i.e. the showers. The flowers, or the flowery time, corresponding with the singing time. Several versions, as the LXX. and other Greek, Jerome in the Latin, and the Targum and Venetian, render, "the time of pruning," taking the zamir from a root zamar, "to prune the vine." It is, however, regarded by most critics as an onomatopoetic word meaning "song," "music," like zimrah, "singing." The reference to the voice of the turtledove, the cooing note which is so sweet and attractive among the woods, shows that the time of spring is intended. Ginsburg says wherever zamir occurs, either in the singular or plural, it means "singing" (cf. 2 Samuel 23:1; Isaiah 24:16). The form of the word conveys the idea of the time of the action, as we see in the words for "harvest" (asiph) and "ploughing time" (charish). The fig tree and the vine were both employed as symbols of prosperity and peace, as the fig and grape were so much used as food (see 1 Kings 5:5; 2 Kings 18:31). The little fruits of the fig tree begin, when the spring commences, to change colour from green to red. The word "to ripen" is literally, "to grow red or sweet." The blossoming vines give forth a very delicate and attractive fragrance. The description is acknowledged by all to be very beautiful. The invitation is to fellowship in the midst of the pure loveliness of nature, when all was adapted to meet and sustain the feelings of awakened love. The emotions of the soul are blended easily with the sensations derived from the outward world. When we carefully avoid extravagance, and put the soul first and not second, then the delights of the senses may help the heart to realize the deepest experience of Divine communion. But the bridegroom first solicits the bride. We reverse the true spiritual order when we place too much dependence on the influence of external objects or sensuous pleasures. Art may assist religion to its expression, but it must never be made so prominent that the artistic pleasure swallows up the religious emotion. Love of nature is not love of Christ. Love of music is not love of Christ. Yet the soul that seeks him may rejoice in art and music, because they blend their attractions with its devotion, and help it to be a joy and a passion.
Song of Solomon 2:14
O my dove, that art in the clefts of the rock, in the covert of the steep places, let me see thy countenance, let me hear thy voice; for sweet is thy voice, and thy countenance is comely. The wood pigeon builds in clefts of rocks and in steep rocky places (see Jeremiah 48:28; and cf. Psalms 74:19; Psalms 56:1; Hosea 7:11). The bridegroom is still addressing his beloved one, who has not yet come forth from the house in the rocks, though she has shown herself at the window. The language is highly poetical, and may be compared with similar words in Homer and Virgil (cf. 'Iliad.' 21.493; 'Aeneid.' 5.213, etc.). The Lord loveth the sight of his people. He delightcth in their songs and in their prayers. He is in the midst of their assemblies. Secret religion is not the highest religion. The highest emotions of the soul do not decrease in their power as they are expressed. They become more and more a ruling principle of life. There are many who need this encouragement to come forth out of secrecy, out of solitude, out of their own private home and individual thoughts, and realize the blessing of fellowship with the Lord and with his people.
Song of Solomon 2:15
Take us the foxes, the little foxes, that spoil the vineyards; for our vineyards are in blossom. There is some difficulty in deciding to which of the persons this speech is to be attributed. It is most naturally, however, assigned to the bride, and this is the view of the majority of critics. Hence she refers to the vineyards as "our vineyards," which the bridegroom could scarcely say. On the other hand, it must be acknowledged that the words are abrupt regarded as a response to the beautiful appeal of the lover. The following are the remarks of Delitzsch on the subject: "This is a vine dresser's ditty, in accord with Shulamith's experience as the keeper of a vineyard, which, in a figure, aims at her love relation. The vineyards, beautiful with fragrant blossoms, point to her covenant of love, and the foxes, the little foxes, which might destroy those united vineyards, point to all the great and little enemies and adverse circumstances which threaten to gnaw and destroy love in the blossom ere it has reached the ripeness of full enjoyment." Some think that Shulamith is giving the reason why she cannot immediately join her beloved, referring to the duties enjoined upon her by her brethren. But there is an awkwardness in this explanation. The simplest and most straightforward is that which connects the words immediately with the invitation of the lover to come forth into the lovely vineyards. Is it not an allusion to the playful pleasure which the young people would find among the vineyards in chasing the little foxes? and may not the lover take up some well known country ditty, and sing it outside the window as a playful repetition of the invitation to appear? The words do seem to be arranged in somewhat of a lyrical form—
"Catch us the foxes,
Foxes the little ones,
Wasting our vineyards,
When our vineyards are blossoming."
The foxes (shualim), or little jackals, were very numerous in Palestine (see Judges 15:4; Lamentations 5:18; Psalms 63:11; Nehemiah 4:3; 1 Samuel 13:17). The little jackals were seldom more than fifteen inches high. There would be nothing unsuitable in the address to a maiden to help to catch such small animals. The idea of the song is—Let us all join in taking them. Some think that Shulamith is inviting the king to call his attendants to the work. But when two lovers thus approach one another, it is not likely that others would be thought of. However the words be viewed, the typical meaning can scarcely be missed. The idea of clearing the vineyards of depredators well suits the general import of the poem. Let the blossoming love of the soul be without injury and restraint. Let the rising faith and affection be carefully guarded. Both individuals and communities do well to think of the little foxes that spoil the vines.
Song of Solomon 2:16
My beloved is mine, and I am his; he feedeth (his flock) among the lilies. These are the words of the bride. The latter clause is repeated in So Song of Solomon 6:2, with the addition, "in the gardens," and it is evident that Solomon is lovingly regarded as a shepherd, because Shulamith delights to think of him as fully sympathizing with her simple country life. She idealizes. The words may be taken as either the response given at the time by the maiden to the invitation of her lover to come forth into the vineyards, or as the breathing of love as she lies in the arms of Solomon. Lilies are the emblem of purity, lofty elevation above that which is common. Moreover, the lily stalk is the symbol of the life of regeneration among the mystical mediaevalists. Mary the Virgin, the Rosa mystica, in ancient paintings is represented with a lily in her hand at the Annunciation. The people of God were called by the Jewish priests "a people of lilies." So Mary was the lily of lilies in the lily community; the sanctissima in the communio sanctorum. There may be an allusion to the lily forms around Solomon in his palace—the daughters of Jerusalem; in that ease the words must be taken as spoken, not in remembrance of the first love, but in present joy in Solomon's embrace. Some would render the words as simply praise of Solomon himself, "who, wherever he abides, spreads radiancy and loveliness about him," or "in whose footsteps roses and lilies ever bloom." At least, they are expressive of entire self-surrender and delight. She herself is a lily, and the beloved one feeds upon her beauty, purity, and perfection.
Song of Solomon 2:17
Until the day be cool, and the shadows flee away, turn, my beloved, and be thou like a roe or a young hart upon the mountains of Bether. This is generally supposed to be the voice of the maiden addressing her suitor, and bidding him return in the evening, when the day cools, and when the lengthening shadows fall into night. Some have seen in such words a clear indication of a clandestine interview, and would find in them a confirmation of their hypothesis that the poem is founded on a romantic story of Solomon's attempt to draw a shepherdess from her shepherd. But there is no necessity to disturb the flow of the bride's loving recollections by such a fancy. She is recalling the visit of her lover. How, at first, she declined his invitation to go forth with him to the vineyards, but with professions of love appealed to him to return to the mountains, and in the evening come once more and rejoice in her love. But the words may be rendered, "during the whole day, and until the evening comes, turn thyself to me," which is the view taken by some critics. The language may be general; that is, "Turn, and I will follow." "The mountains of Bether" are the rugged mountains; Bether, from a root "to divide," "to cut," i.e. divided by ravines; or the word may be the abstract for the concrete—"the mountains of separation" i.e. the mountains which separate. LXX; ὄρη τῶν κοιλωματῶν, "decussated mountains." The Syriac and Theodotion take the word as for beshamim, i.e. offerings of incense (θυμιαματῶν). There is no such geographical name known, though there is Bithron, east of Jordan, near Mahauaim (2 Samuel 2:29). The Chaldee, Ibn-Ezra, Rashi, and many others render it "separation" (cf. Luther's scheideberge). Bochart says, "Montes scissionis ita dicti propter ῥωχμοῦς et χασματὰ." The meaning has been thus set forth: "The request of Shulamith that he should return to the mountains breathes self-denying humility, patient modesty, inward joy in the joy of her beloved. She will not claim him for herself till he have accomplished his work. But when he associates with her in the evening, as with the Emmaus disciples, she will rejoice if he becomes her guide through the newborn world of spring. Perhaps we may say the Parousia ot the Lord is here referred to in the evening of the world" (cf. Luke 24:1-53.). On the whole, it seems most in harmony with the context to take the words as preparing us for what follows—the account of the maiden's distress when she woke up and found not her beloved. We must not expect to be able to explain the language as though it were a clear historical composition, relating facts and incidents. The real line of thought is the underlying connection of spiritual meaning. There is a separation of the lovers. The soul wakes up to feel that its object of delight is gone. Then it complains.
Song of Solomon 2:1-7
Converse of the bridegroom and the bride continued.
I. THE VOICE OF THE BRIDE.
1. The rose of Sharon. They were sitting, it seems, in a forest glade at the foot of some lofty cedar, sheltered by its embowering branches; beneath was their grassy seat, bright with many flowers. The bride feels that she is as one of those fair flowers in the bridegroom's eyes. "I am the rose of Sharon," she says, in her artless acceptance of the bridegroom's loving approval. We cannot identify the flower called here and in Isaiah 35:1, the rose. Our rose, we are told, was brought from Persia long after the time of Solomon; it is first mentioned in the Apocrypha (Ecclus. 24:14; 39:13; 50:8). The rose of the canonical Scriptures may be, as many have thought, the narcissus, which is very common in the Plain of Sharon, and is still the favourite flower of the inhabitants. The word "Sharon" may mean simply "a plain;" but, as it has the article, it probably stands here for the famous Plain of Sharon, so celebrated in ancient times for its fertility and beauty. The bride is like a lowly flower of the field, not majestic like those lofty cedars, but yet lovely in the bridegroom's sight. The Christian is humble of heart; he is helpless and short-lived as a flower. "All flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass." But because Christ hath loved him and died for him, he knows that he is dear to his Saviour.
2. The lily of the valleys. Here, too, there is an uncertainty. The word rendered "lily" (shushan, the name of the famous Persian city, the "Shushan the palace" of the Book of Esther) is used of many bright-coloured flowers, We infer from So Isaiah 5:13 that this lily was red; hence some writers identify it with the scarlet anemone, which is very abundant all over Palestine. Solomon's bride compares herself to the lily; but even Solomon himself, the Lord said, "in all his glory was not arrayed as one of these." The Lord bids us "consider the lilies." When we look up to the heaven, to the vast distances, the enormous magnitude of the heavenly bodies, in their ordered movements, we think, as the psalmist thought, "Lord, what is man, that thou art mindful of him?" But when we consider the lilies, we see that he who framed the universe in its vastness regards things small and humble. The delicate pencilling, the gorgeous colouring of the flowers of the field, the complicated structure of many of them, the arrangements, for instance, for fertilization, show a wisdom, an exact accommodation of means to ends, as astonishing as the celestial mechanism; a great and loving care, too, for us men, in providing us not only with the necessaries of life, but also with objects of rare and exquisite loveliness, to give us pure and innocent pleasures, to teach us lessons of truthfulness. He who thus clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, will surely clothe us, though, alas! we are of little faith. The bride is as one of these flowers, frail as they are; she trusts in the bridegroom's care. The Christian must learn to cast all his anxiety upon God. He careth for us.
II. THE REPLY OF THE BRIDEGROOM. The king takes up the words of the bride. She is to him as a lily; other maidens, when compared with her, are but as thorns in the bridegroom's eyes. Alas! there are tares in the Lord's field, barren fig trees in his garden. They are as thorns; his chosen are as lilies. The thorns set forth by contrast the beauty of the lily; the deformity of sin brings into sharper contrast the beauty of holiness. But whatever beauty the Christian soul possesses comes only from the Bridegroom's gift; he gives it. In his infinite love he condescends to be pleased with that which is truly his, not ours; we hope to be "found in him, not having our own righteousness, which is of the Law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith" (Philippians 3:9).
III. THE GRATITUDE OF THE BRIDE.
1. The excellence of the bridegroom. He had compared the bride to a lily among thorns; she compares him to an apple tree among the trees of the wood. As the apple tree with its sweet fruit and its fragrant smell excels the barren trees of the wood, so the bridegroom excels all other men in the eyes of the bride. It is uncertain what the tappuach, called in our version "apple tree," really is; it has been identified by different writers with the quince, the citron, or the orange. It is enough for our purpose to know that it excels the trees of the wood, that its foliage gives a pleasant shade, that its fruit is sweet and fragrant and possesses certain restorative properties. The fact that it is five times mentioned in the Book of Joshua (Joshua 12:17; Joshua 15:34, Joshua 15:53; Joshua 16:8; Joshua 17:7) in connection with the name of various towns or fountains, Beth Tappuach or En Tappuach, shows that in the old times it must have been widely cultivated and greatly valued. It excels other trees; so does the beloved excel all other men in the estimate of the bride. Christ is very dear to the Christian soul. He is the Treasure hid in the field, the Pearl of great price; those who have found him and known him by a real spiritual knowledge count other objects of human desire as nothing worth in comparison with him. "What things were gain to me," says St. Paul, "those I counted loss for Christ;" and again, "I do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, and be found in him."
2. The bride's delight in him. The tappuach offered a pleasant shade; the bride delighted in it; she sat down beneath its bower of foliage; its fruit was sweet to her taste. We think of the holy women who stood by the cross of Jesus (John 19:25). The shadow under which the Church finds rest must be the shadow of the cross. The Lord Jesus Christ is to the believer "a refuge from the storm, a shadow from the heat;" "the shadow of a great rock in a weary land" (Isaiah 25:4; Isaiah 32:2). He bids the weary and heavy laden to come to him that they may find rest—rest for their souls. There is no other true and abiding rest for these restless, dissatisfied souls of ours, but only the rest which he giveth—rest in the Lord. But it was the agony and bloody sweat, the bitter cross and passion, which made the Lord Jesus what he is to the believer; it is the exceeding great love of our Master and only Saviour manifested forth in that sacred suffering; it is the blessed atonement for the sins of the world wrought once for all through the virtue of the precious blood;—it is this which makes the Saviour's cross a place of rest and refreshment for the weary soul, which causes the Christian to take delight in the shadow of the cross rather than in any form of earthly joy; hence the words of St. Paul, "God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world" (Galatians 6:14). As St. Paul gloried in the cross, so the bride delighted in the shadow of the beloved. "In his shadow I delighted, and I sat down," is the literal rendering of the Hebrew words. It is delight in the Saviour's love which draws the penitent to the cross; as the Lord said, "I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me." The Lord's love draws the penitent soul burdened with the sense of sin; the cross is to such a soul like the shadow of a great rock in a weary land; there only is a sure refuge from the heat and turmoil of the world, from the cares and the manifold temptations of this life. Therefore the Christian sits down beneath it, taking the cross for his portion, meditating much on the Saviour's cross, seeking to live ever nearer and nearer to it, within the inner depths of its awful shadow, and finding there a deep and holy peace which the world can neither give nor take away. Under the shadow of the cross we learn ourselves to take up the cross, and to follow after Christ; there we learn that in patient self-denials practised in the faith of Christ there is a spiritual delight, a joy severe indeed, but far more abiding, far more precious, than any joy this world can give. There we learn what St. Paul means when he says, "We glory in tribulations also" (Romans 5:3); what St. James means when he says, "My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations." For "his fruit is sweet to the taste." The soul that sits under the shadow of the cross of Christ feeds upon Christ, in spiritual conmmnion with him, and in the blessed sacrament which he ordained, and finds in that holy food a Divine sweetness, which wholly passes every form of earthly delight. But it is only they who sit under the shadow, who live very near to Christ in daily bearing of the cross, in patient continuance in well doing, who can realize that blessed sweetness; they "by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil" (Hebrews 5:14); they know that Christ is the Bread of life, that his flesh is meat indeed, and his blood drink indeed; their earnest, persevering prayer is, "Lord, evermore give us this bread."
3. Her remembrance of his love. "He brought me to the banqueting house," she says; literally, "to the house of wine." The bride passes from metaphor to facts. The bridegroom is no longer a fair and fruitful tree; he is once more the King of Israel who sought and loved the lowly maiden; she recounts her past experience of his love. He had brought her, humble as she was, into his palace, into the banqueting house. The literal translation brings to our thoughts the Lord's words, "I say unto you, I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom" (Matthew 26:29). It is he who must bring his people into his banqueting house; it is his presence manifested to faith which makes the holy communion what it is to the believer. He gives us then the wine that maketh glad the heart of man, when he saith, "Drink ye all of it: for this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins." We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under his table; but when he brings us thither, when we come led by the Spirit, drawn by the constraining love of Christ, then we know that it is his banqueting house, the house to which he calls his guests, where he seats them at his own board. "With desire have I desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer." There he bids us drink: "Drink ye all of it;" we all need that cup, for it is the cup of the new covenant. When we take it in faith and love, the new covenant, the covenant of grace, is confirmed to us afresh; for he gives us the blood that was shed for the remission of sins, the blood that cleanseth from all sin those who walk in the light. But we must ask him to bring us; without him we can do nothing. If we approach without him, without his grace and guidance, without faith in him, we shall bring no blessing away with us, but only the judgment of those who discern not the Lord's body (1 Corinthians 11:29). The banqueting house of the King of Israel was signalized by the royal banner, the standard which had often led to the battle the warriors of Israel. That standard was the centre round which the king's followers were wont to flock, to guard him in the hour of peril, to honour him with their attendance in the time of peace. But what drew the bride thither was the love of the bridegroom; that was the banner which was beautiful in her eyes, which was over her. The banner of the cross goeth onwards before the followers of the Lord; it is the centre round which they press, which is ever drawing them nearer and nearer. The banner which draws Christians to the blessed sacrament is the love of Christ. The banner tells of battle and of victory. We are told that after the conflict between Israel and Amalek in Rephidim, when the victory was won through the sustained persevering prayer of Moses, "Moses built an altar, and called the name of it Jehovah-nissi: for he said, Because the Lord hath sworn that the Lord will have war with Amalek from generation to generation" (Exodus 17:15, Exodus 17:16). Moses said, "Jehovah is my Banner;" the bride says, "His banner over me is love." The Hebrew words, indeed, are different, but the thought is similar. Jehovah will have war against the enemies of his people. "When the enemy shall come in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord shall lift up a standard against him" (Isaiah 59:19). The Lord is his people's banner, their rallying point, the centre round which they range themselves in the hour of danger, when trials and temptations thicken, and the fiery darts of the wicked one are most frequent and most deadly. The banner is the Lord himself—his presence, his love. But as the standards round which our troops have fought are cherished and honoured, and reverently preserved in our cathedrals; so the royal banner which had led the soldiers of the cross to victory floats over the banqueting house of the King. It is the token of his presence. He is there with his faithful ones; he receives them to his board; his banner is love. His love, which was their strength in the day of conflict, is the joy of their souls in the blessed hour of holy communion with their Lord. But the words run, "His banner over me was love;" "The Lord is my Banner." We seem to see here a foreshadowing of those very precious words of Holy Scripture, "The Son of God loved me, and gave himself for me." The love of the Lord Jesus Christ is a personal, an individual love. "The Lord knoweth them that are his;" he knows them one and all. His banner is over each of them as he brings them into his banqueting house, as he draws them ever nearer to himself; and that banner is love. That unutterable love is their defence in times of danger, their joy and delight in seasons of spiritual enjoyment. Their earnest effort is so to lift up their hearts unto the Lord that they "may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge." The banqueting house to which he brings the faithful here is the ante-room of the true presence chamber of the King. "Here we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: here we know in part; but then shall we know even as also we are known." That banqueting house is the house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. There also his banner, which is love, will be over his elected saints. But it will no longer lead them to the battle, to hard and difficult struggles; it will tell of victory and glory, and of the unveiled presence of the King. Heart of man cannot tell what is the joy of those who in that banqueting house sit down at the marriage supper of the Lamb. Then the bride shall be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white, the fine linen which is the righteousness of saints (Revelation 19:8). Then each true soldier of the cross, who with that banner floating over him has fought the good fight of faith, shall see that banner in all its glorious beauty, and sit beneath it very near the King; for it is written, "To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne."
4. The bride's longing. She is sick of love. The joy of the bridegroom's love is too great and overwhelming; she is fainting in delight too sweet for her powers. She asks for restoratives, "cakes of raisins" (as the word seems to mean, not "flagons") and other fruits which were supposed to possess strengthening or reviving powers. When the Christian comes into the very presence of the King, he is oppressed with the deep sense of his own unworthiness, his own cold unloving heart, and the King's awful holiness and adorable, incomprehensible love; he needs the support of the fruit of the Spirit; he needs to be strengthened with all might by the Spirit in the inner man. When God reveals his great love to us, it makes us feel all the more the depth of our ingratitude, the coldness, the hardness, of this stony heart of ours.
"O Love Divine, how sweet thou art!
When shall I find my willing heart
All taken up by thee?
I thirst, I faint, I die to prove
The greatness of redeeming love,
The love of Christ to me."
The bride longs for yet tenderer tokens of affection. Perhaps the words of verse 6 would be better rendered as a wish or prayer, as in So 8:3, where they occur again: "Oh that his left hand were under my head, and his right hand should embrace me!" The Christian longs to be drawn ever closer into the Lord's embrace; he longs to lie in spirit, as the beloved apostle once actually lay, "on the breast of Jesus." Especially he hopes and prays to be supported in those tender, those protecting arms, when he must pass through the dark valley of the shadow of death; then it will be sweet to feel that "the eternal God is thy Refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms" (Deuteronomy 33:27). "Blessed are the dead that die in the Lord," in his presence, in his embrace. But if we would have the holy comfort of that dear embrace in our dying hour, we must try to live "in the Lord" now, to walk with him all our days, to cling to him with the embrace of faith. The Hebrew verb "embrace" is that from which the name of the Prophet Habakkuk, the prophet of faith, is derived. He longed for the Lord's coming; he ever watched to see what the Lord would say to him; he had learned to rejoice in the Lord in the midst of great distress; he taught us the holy lesson which St. Paul so earnestly presses upon us, "The just shall live by his faith." Such holy souls, being justified by faith, shall have peace with God through Jesus Christ our Lord.
5. The bride's charge to the chorus. There is an error in the old version of this thrice-repeated charge (So Habakkuk 2:7; Habakkuk 3:5; 8:4). The bride is not cautioning the chorus not to awake her love, the bridegroom; she is adjuring (the literal translation) them not to awaken love, that is, the emotion, the affection, of love till it please, till it rise spontaneously in the heart. Hence the adjuration by the gazelles and the hinds of the field. They are gentle, timid creatures. Such is love true and pure; it is retiring; it shrinks away from observation; it is a sacred thing, between the lover and the beloved. The bride longs for the bridegroom's love, but the daughters of Jerusalem must not try to excite it; it is more delicate, more maidenly, to wait till love pleases to stir itself, till it springs up spontaneously in the heart of the beloved. The relations of the soul with Christ are very sacred; they may be mentioned only to the like-minded, and even that with a certain awe and reserve. And there are communings of the heart with the heavenly Bridegroom which may be divulged to none, not even to the nearest and dearest. And we must wait in patience for the Bridegroom. If for a time we cannot see him, or discern the tokens of his love, we must wait for his good time. "The vision is yet for an appointed time," wrote the prophet of faith; "at the end … it will surely come, it will not tarry" (Habakkuk 2:3). God's people must not be impatient; they must trust; they must believe that "he who hath begun a good work in them will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ" (Philippians 1:6); that he will at last "fulfil all the good pleasure of his goodness, and the work of faith with power" (2 Thessalonians 1:11).
Song of Solomon 2:8-17
The visit of the beloved.
I. THE BRIDE'S NARRATIVE.
1. The description of his first coming. The bride seems to be relating to the chorus the circumstances of her first meeting with the bridegroom. The King of Israel sought her in her humble home among the mountains of Lebanon; there he wooed and won her to be his bride. So the heavenly Bridegroom, the true Solomon who built the spiritual temple of living stones, came from his glory throne to seek his bride, the Church; so he cometh now to seek and to save that which was lost. The bride hears the voice of the beloved; "my beloved," she says. In that little pronoun lies a great meaning. If we can only say in sincerity "my Saviour," "my Lord and my God," "my King," "my Beloved," then we can realize more or less the language of this holy Song of Songs, and see the spiritual meaning which underlies its touching parable of love; then we shall often look back with wondering gratitude and tender joy to the days of our first conversion, when we first heard the Saviour's voice calling us to himself; when we first felt that "he loved me, and gave himself for me;" when we first tried to give him that poor love of ours, which in his blessed condescension he sought in return for his own exceeding great love. The beloved is seen bounding over the mountains; he is like a gazelle or a young hart, fair to look upon and graceful, fleet of foot; he stands by the clay-built wall of the humble cottage; he looks in at the windows. So the Lord came to this poor earth of ours to seek the Church, his bride; he despised not the stable or the manger. So now he seeketh his chosen often in the lowliest homes; he looks for them shining (such is one possible interpretation of the word) through the lattice, bringing brightness into the poorest abode; the true Light "lighteth every man" (John 1:9).
2. The call. Those first words of love are treasured up in the memory of the bride; she remembers every tone of the bridegroom's voice, the place, the time, all the surroundings. The Hebrew word is that which the Lord used when he called the little daughter of Jairus from the sleep of death: "Talitha, cumi." So now he calls his chosen one by one: "Rise up." They that have ears to hear listen to the gracious voice, and, like Matthew the publican, rise and follow Christ. The soul must sleep no longer when that call is heard; it is high time to awake out of sleep, for now is our salvation near at hand. When he bids us rise, we must be up and doing; we must ask, "Lord, what wouldest thou have me to do?" we must follow whither he is leading, and give him the love which in his love he desireth. His call is sweet, exceedingly full of gracious love: "My love, my fair one." "My love," perhaps better, "my friend" (see So Matthew 1:9). The Lord would have his Church "a glorious Church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing." The Church, alas! is not without spot; it is stained with many sins; it numbers many evil men within its fold. But the Lord said of the twelve, the first germ of the Church, "Ye are the light of the world," "Ye are the salt of the earth," though there was a Judas among them; and so now his great love for the Church makes the Church with all her faults fair in the Bridegroom's eyes. Whatever beauty of holiness she possesses comes only from his beauty, who in his love has chosen her, and brought her near to himself, making her shine with the reflection of his light, who is the true Light. But the call comes, not only to the Church in the aggregate, but in God's good time to each elect soul. The Lord knows his own; he calls them by their name. "Jesus said unto her, Mary." And they who answer, "Rabboni, my Master," are fair in the Bridegroom's sight. Each awakened soul, as it rises and comes to Christ, and sees something of his heavenly beauty, and of its own deformity and unworthiness, is filled with thankful wonder. There are, alas! so many stains of sin, and yet he says, "My fair one;" so much weakness and unbelief and selfishness, and yet, "My fair one;" so much ingratitude and hardness of heart, and yet, "My fair one." It is the Saviour's great love which makes our sinful souls fair in his sight. If there is any answering love in our hearts; if we rise when he bids us and come to him; if we can say in any sincerity, though, alas! It must be with trembling and a deep sense of sin, "Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee;"—then the soul that gives its love to Christ, though feebly and imperfectly, is fair in the sight of the Bridegroom. For it is our love that he seeketh. Love covereth a multitude of sins: "Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much." The soul that hears the Bridegroom's call must rise and come away; it must give the whole heart to Christ, and come away from other masters, saying, "Rabboni, my Master," and giving itself wholly to the one Master's love; it must come away daily from every little thing which tends to impede its communion with the Lord, or to deaden its sense of his love and presence; it must part with lower ambitions, lower desires, if it is to win the pearl of great price, the hidden treasure. So we are told in Psalms 45:1-17; which is so like the Song of Songs, "Hearken, O daughter, and consider: incline thine ear; forget also thine own people, and thy father's house; so shall the King have pleasure in thy beauty." The soul comes; for the Lord's call is very sacred, and touches the heart with thrilling power. The soul comes; for the joys to which he invites us are beyond all comparison more blessed and holy than all besides. The winter is past when the Lord's voice is heard—the winter of coldness and indifference and unbelief; the spring of hope and holy joy begins; the heart singeth unto the Lord, making in itself a melody which is the foretaste of the new song which only the redeemed of the Lord can learn; the voice of the holy Dove is heard in the heart, which then becomes "our land"—the kingdom of God.
"And his that gentle voice we hear,
Soft as the breath of even,
That checks each fault, that calms each fear,
And speaks of heaven."
When the Holy Spirit dwelleth in the heart, the fig tree is no longer barren, the Lord's vineyard no longer bringeth forth wild grapes; there is promise of the fruits of the Spirit in ever fuller abundance. Again the Bridegroom calls in the earnestness of his blessed love, "Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away." It may be that in that second call we may discern an anticipation of the midnight cry, "Behold, the Bridegroom cometh; go ye forth to meet him." Then he will call his chosen into that blessed Paradise, the true garden of the Lord, into which he led one forgiving soul on the day of his own most precious death. Then the winter will be past indeed; the eternal spring will begin to shine; angel voices will welcome the redeemed into that blessed rest which remaineth for the people of God. They that are ready shall enter in; and they will be ready who have listened to the first call of the heavenly Bridegroom, who have arisen in answer to his bidding and come to him, giving him their heart's best affections, and forsaking for his dear love's sake earthly desires and earthly ambitions.
II. THE BRIDEGROOM AND THE BRIDE.
1. The voice of the bridegroom. He has climbed the steep rock by the ladder-like path, he has found the secluded cottage; he calls the bride his dove; he desires to see her and to hear her voice. The King of Israel climbed the rocks of Lebanon in search of the malden whom he loved. The heavenly Bridegroom climbed the steep ascent of the awful cross that he might draw to himself the love of the Church, his bride (John 12:32). The bridegroom had already compared the eyes of the bride to doves (So Song of Solomon 1:15); now he says, "O my dove." It tells us how dear the Christian soul is to the Lord; it tells us what that soul ought to be—"harmless as doves." The rock dove lives in clefts of the rocks. The soul which the Lord in his holy love condescends to call his dove, must dwell in the clefts of that true Rock which is Christ. The Rock of ages was cleft for us; the Christian soul must hide itself therein; there only are we safe. The dove is in the secret place, which can be reached only by climbing up the precipitous path. There is a steep ascent to be climbed before we can be hidden in the clefts of the Rock, before we can live that hidden life which is hid with Christ in God, before we can be safe, hidden in the wounded side of our dear Lord. That ascent is the path of self-denial, leading ever upward, ever closer to him who trod the way of the cross for our salvation. That life is hidden. "In the secret of his tabernacle shall he hide me; he shall set me up upon a rock" (Psalms 27:5). The saint-like character is like the dove, retiring, shrinking from observation; some of God's holiest saints live silent, humble lives, in lowly circumstances, unseen of men. But our Father which seeth in secret knows their prayers, their charity, their self-denials; he will reward them openly. The heavenly Bridegroom deigns to see a sweetness and a beauty in a lowly Christian life; such a life is comely in his eyes, for it hath the beauty of holiness—a beauty derived only from communion with him who is the eternal Beauty. The voice of hymn and psalm ascending from that lowly dwelling is sweet in the Saviour's ear. The loftiest melodies of choir and organ, if love and faith and reverence are absent, cannot reach to heaven; but the heart that is practising the new song in thankfulness and adoration maketh a melody which causeth joy in the presence of the angels of God.
2. The song of the bride. "Take us the foxes, the little foxes." Some scholars regard this as a fragment of a vintage song. The bride sings it in order to intimate to the bridegroom, as she does more plainly in verse 17, that the care of the vineyards (see So Song of Solomon 1:6) must prevent her from joining him till the shadows lengthen in the evening. The foxes waste the vineyards, and the vines are in blossom; therefore the little foxes must be caught. The little sins as they sometimes seem to us, the small neglects, the prayer carelessly said, the worldly thought, the idle word,—these things spoil the vineyard of the Lord, which is the Christian soul; they check its blossoming, and so prevent the fruit from being formed. The believer must watch, for these things are enemies of his soul; they may seem to be like little foxes, small and of no strength, but they mar the beauty of the Christian character, and tend to check the promise of the fruit of the Spirit. Therefore they must be caught and destroyed by diligent watchfulness, by earnest persevering prayer. The little foxes do not, indeed, root up and devour the vineyard like the wild beasts of Psalms 80:1-19; but they check its fruitfulness. And the small transgressions, if they do no worse, at least prevent the Christian from attaining that saintliness to which we are called. The little foxes hide and skulk about; the small sins are apt to escape detection. Therefore there is need of constant watchfulness and of very careful and diligent self-examination. For we are "called to be saints" (1 Corinthians 1:2; Romans 1:7); we are bidden to follow after holiness, to aim at perfection, to walk in the light. The little hindrances must be overcome, the little shadows must be driven away.
3. The happy union of love. "My beloved is mine, and I am his: he feedeth his flock among the lilies." The favoured maiden, it may be, could not at the moment join her royal lover; but her heart was wholly his, and she knew that his love was fixed upon her. She describes him as a shepherd, but her words are figurative; he feedeth his flock, not in common pastures, but among the lilies of his garden, the garden of spices mentioned again in So Psalms 6:2. She delights in dwelling on the union of their hearts; three times she repeats the happy words (verse 16; So Psalms 6:3; Psalms 7:10). The Church is the Lord's. He loved her, and gave himself for her, and presenteth her to himself as his bride (Ephesians 5:25, Ephesians 5:27); and he is hers, her Bridegroom, her King, her Lord. The Christian soul is the Lord's. "Whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord's" (Romans 14:8). He gave himself to each one of us individually when he called us to be his own; we give ourselves to him at the moment of our first spiritual awakening; we renew the gift continually in the hour of prayer, in the holy communion: "We offer and present unto thee, O Lord, ourselves, our souls and bodies, to he a reasonable, holy, and lively sacrifice unto thee." "My Beloved is mine, and I am his"—to know that with the knowledge of personal experience is the highest of spiritual blessings. He gives himself first to us, and by that gift he enables us, cold and selfish as we are, to give ourselves to him. None can tell the blessedness of that inner spiritual union with the Lord save those happy souls to whom it is given; and they to whom he has manifested himself must very jealously keep their souls from any unfaithful leaning to other masters, that they may be wholly his, that no unfaithfulness may mar the pure clear truth of their heart's love for him who loved them even unto death, and deigns now to irradiate their hearts with his most sacred presence. He is their Lord, and he is their good Shepherd; he knoweth his own, and his own know him. Once he gave his life for the sheep; now he feeds them, and leads them on their way, tilt they come to the lilies of Paradise, the garden of the Lord.
4. The adieus of the bride. She has expressed her confidence in her lover's affection and her own devotion to him; but now, apparently, she repeats the intimation of verse 15 in plainer words: her duties in the vineyard will occupy her time till the evening. She wishes her lover to continue his hunting excursion on the mountains of Bether, or, it may be, "of separation"—the mountains which for the time separate the lovers. She invites him to return when the day is cool, when the day breathes; that is, when the breeze comes in the evening, and the shadows lengthen and flee away (see Jeremiah 6:4). The Christian must not neglect the ordinary commonplace duties of life; he must not allow himself, like the Thessalonians, to be so distracted with spiritual excitement as to be unable to attend to the pursuits of his calling. The bride tends the vineyards which have been committed to her charge; the Christian must do with his might whatever his hand findeth to do. He must not neglect his duties even for the sake of giving all his time to religious exercises. Laborare est orare. If, whatever he does, he does all to the glory of God, Christ is his, and he is Christ's, as fully in the midst of daily work as in the hour of prayer. Daniel, who kneeled upon his knees, and prayed and gave thanks three times a day, was faithful in all things to the king his master; no error or fault could be found in the administration of his arduous office. The bride will welcome her lover back in the cool of the evening, when she has finished her work; the Christian will take delight in his evening prayers when the tasks of the day have been performed.
HOMILIES BY S. CONWAY
Song of Solomon 2:1
The rose and the lily.
We have suggested here the self-consciousness of the renewed soul as to its true character and condition. It is the maiden who speaks, not her beloved, who in the next verse lovingly responds to what she says of herself. She likens herself—
I. TO THE ROSE OF SHARON. That is, to a common field flower, not rare or distinguished, but of the lowliest if also of the loveliest kind.
1. It is the utterance of humility. (Cf. Paul's word of himself as "less than the least of all saints.") Lowly thoughts of themselves are ever the characteristics of saints. It is not so strong an expression as the "I am black" of So Song of Solomon 1:5, but it is of similar order (cf. on So Song of Solomon 1:5)
2. But not of false humility. For though a lowly it is yet a lovely flower. The rose of Sharon was that "excellency of Sharon" which Isaiah couples with "the glory of Lebanon." Here, too, the resemblance between this and the "but comely" of So Isaiah 1:5 is evident. And the saintly soul is lovely—in the sight of its Lord, in the sight of the Church, and in the sight of men. Of our Lord it is said that "the grace of God was upon him," and that he grew "in favour with God and man." And this is so with his people, for he makes them beautiful and precious in his sight. She who is here the type of such soul is called "the fairest among women."
3. And the rose is also fragrant. True, to it as to others the poet's lines apply—
"Full many a flower is born to blush unseen,
And waste its fragrance on the desert air."
but the saintly soul is what it is because it is its nature to be so, whether admired or not (cf. on So Isaiah 1:12). And such souls are:
4. The glory of the places where they are found. The Plain of Sharon is remembered in the minds of men for this its "excellency"—the roses that grow there. The world would not say that the glory of a place was its saints. It would point to its popular heroes, and those whom it calls its great men. But by the side of such flowers Solomon in all his glory fades by comparison. How plainly the Divine estimate of men is seen in God's choice of Israel—a small, insignificant people, contemptible in the eyes of the great empires of ancient and modern days! But because in them, as in none other, the saints of the Lord were found, therefore on them and on their land the eyes of the Lord rested night and day. According to our character, according as we are governed by the faith, the fear, and the love of God, are we a blessing and an honour to our land and age. And they:
5. Delight in the sunshine of his love. The rose is the child of the sun. Its bright rays must rest upon it or its radiant beauty will not be revealed. And we are to "walk in the light," and to be "children of the light."
II. THE LILY OF THE VALLEYS. This is another emblem of the saintly soul.
1. Of their character. Purity, sweetness, power of self-multiplication. What numbers of them there are! Bushnell speaks in his 'Christian Nurture' of "the out-propagating power of the Christian stock," by which he means the power given to Christian faith to reproduce itself beyond, the like power possessed by that which is unchristian. And it has been so. How soon was the whole Roman empire converted to Christianity! It is the truth taught in the parable of the mustard seed (Matthew 13:1-58). And it will be so yet more. "The earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the Lord."
2. Their home is in the "valleys."
(1) The lowly places. They "mind not high things." They "learn of" him who said, "I am meek and lowly in heart;" and, "When thou art bidden to a feast, take the lowest place." It is in such valleys that some of Christ's fairest flowers are found. Amongst the poor. The afflicted. The persecuted.
(2) Where, though exposed to much peril, they are yet preserved. How wonderful has been the preservation of the Church when we think of the perils it has had to encounter! As sheep amongst wolves Christ sent them. But yet the sheep outnumber the wolves, and have long done so. The lilies liable to be plucked by any passer by, trampled on or devoured by any beast, yet they live on, and each spring sees the valleys covered with them again.
3. They are found where the living streams abound. The well watered valleys are the lilies' natural home. And so with the saintly soul. It lives by that river the streams whereof make its home glad. So, then, here is another portraiture of such a soul. Do we behold our face in this glass?—S.C.
Song of Solomon 2:2
The Lord's response to the lily.
"As the lily among thorns."
I. HE DOES SET HIS LILIES AMID SUCH SURROUNDINGS, By the thorns we may understand:
1. The world of the ungodly. "Among them that are set on fire, eve, the sons of men, whose teeth are spears and arrows, and their tongue a sharp sword" (Psalms 57:4). "The saint must expect to find himself, while in this world, among uncongenial and hostile spirits."
2. Trials and temptations. (Cf. Paul's "thorn in the flesh.")
3. Hindrances to our growth and peril to our life. "The thorns sprang up and choked them" (Matthew 13:1-58.). 'Tis a wonder, when we think of it, how any of these lilies live at all
4. All others them they who are the Lord's. The speaker in text compares all other daughters with her, and classes them all with the thorns as compared with her. If whatsoever be not of faith be sin, then, whatsoever it be, it comes under this ill-sounding name of "thorns." Such are the surroundings of the saintly soul.
II. NEVERTHELESS, THEY GROW THERE. As a fact, they do and increase. And the reason is that given to Paul when he "besought the Lord thrice" concerning his thorn: "My grace is sufficient for thee:… my strength is made perfect in weakness." There is no other account to be given of the matter. It is all a marvel but for that.
III. AND IT IS IN HIS GRACE AND WISDOM THAT THEY ARE WHERE THEY ARE. How many wise and holy ends are secured by it!
1. God's grace is magnified in and by them. It is easy to grow amid favourable surroundings, where much helps and but little hinders. Growth there is not remarkable. To be Christ's servants where such service is general, and even popular, is no hardship. But if amid thorns, amid all that hinders, all that makes it difficult to serve Christ, if there we serve him, then is his grace magnified.
2. The world is kept from being hell. From being all thorns, dry, barren, hurtful, fit only for the fire. What would this world be if God's saints were taken out of it? Life would, indeed, then be not worth living. It would be better had men never been born.
3. The thorns may be led to become lilies. Of course, this is impossible in the natural world, but, thank God, not in the spiritual. And such transformation often occurs, and that it may, God places his lilies where they are. "As the Father hath sent me, so send I you," he said to his disciples. But the Father sent the Son to save the world. This, therefore, in their measure is the mission of his people, and hence they must be where they are.
IV. BUT IT WILL NOT BE SO ALWAYS. The lilies shall be transplanted that they may bloom forever in the Paradise of God. And the thorns!—what is fit for such will be done. Therefore if we be of the blessed number whom the lilies of the valleys represent, let us not murmur, but remember what our mission is, and seek to fulfil it. And let each one of us ask—Which am I, lily or thorn?—S.C.
Song of Solomon 2:3
St. Bernard takes this as telling of the Passion of Christ, and especially of the time when, as he hung on the cross, there was "darkness over all the land." Now, it does not mean this, but rather, as the whole context of the verso tells, of the cool shelter from the sun's fierce heat and glare which the speaker enjoyed beneath the o'erarching of the boughs of the tree under which she had seated herself. Hence it tells of "the shadow of the Almighty," of which Psalms 91:1-16 so fully speaks. Therefore let us take this—
I. ITS TRUE MEANING. "Man is born to trouble;" he needs shelter continually. The sun smites him by day; the fierce heat of life's cares and distresses often make him faint and weary. Now:
1. There are other shelters which men often choose. The world offers many.
(1) Its riches. Men think, if they can only get these, they will be protected from all harm, both they and theirs. Hence men struggle after them incessantly.
(2) Its friends. If we can gather round us a sufficient number of these, and of the right kind, we sit down under that shadow with great delight.
(3) Its pleasures also. Men plunge into them as into some leafy covert, where they can hide themselves from the darts of all kinds of pursuing pains. But are not all these what the prophet calls "walls daubed with untempered mortar;" or, as in another place another prophet speaks, "battlements" which are "not the Lord's"?
2. But what harm they do us! They are short-lived, and when our sorest need comes these Jonah gourds have all withered. And at the best they are but imperfect. They can for a while affect our circumstances, but the soul, the true seat of all trouble, they cannot better, but only make worse. For they do us this wrong also—they come between us and man's only true Shelter, "the shadow of the Almighty." They hinder our seeing and our seeking it, and then, sooner or later, do assuredly fail us themselves. Under the image of "cisterns, broken cisterns, which can bold no water," and for the sake of which men in their folly forsake the fountain of living waters, Jeremiah mourns the same infatuation.
3. But the Lord is alone man's true Defence. The failure of others, the unvaried protection that this affords, is proof incontestable. This blessed shadow, whilst Israel rested in it, sheltered them from all evil; and it does so still forevery one that "dwelteth in the secret place of the Most High"—every one, that is, who abides in the trust of him of whom the secret place told. That secret place was the inner chamber in the tabernacle which was known as the most holy place, and which was emphatically secret, for it was never entered but once a year, and then by the high priest alone. But it told of man's need of God's grace, and of that grace provided for him. To trust, then, in that God was, and is, to dwell "under the shadow of the Almighty." May that happy lot be ours!
II. THE MEANING IT HAS SUGGESTED. The shadow of the cross, the shadow into which our Lord entered during his Passion especially.
1. It was his shadow. See the agony in the garden; hear the cry from the cross, "My God, my God, why hast," etc.? Read Psalms 22:1-31; which tells of those dread hours. We read, once and again, in the Gospels of his being troubled, of his sighing, of his tears. Anticipating his death, he said, "Now is my soul troubled." Yes, what wonder that he feared as he entered that dark shadow!
2. But we may sit under it "with great delight," and its fruit is sweet to our taste.
(1) For that shadow has flown away. The cross is taken down. In its special form the Passion is past. Now, "on his head" is not the crown of thorns, but the "many crowns" of his people's love. With great delight do they think of this.
(2) And dark as that shadow was, it was the background on which shone out resplendently the love of the heart of God. Man had never really seen that love but for that shadow.
(3) And because of all that has come forth from that shadow. Who can reckon up in order or number the sweet fruits of that tree on which the Saviour hung? Have they not been, are they not, and will they not yet more be, blessed for man? What of redeeming force for all men was not set in motion by that act of redemption? Well, therefore, may even those who look not upon our Lord as we do, nevertheless sing, "In the cross of Christ I glory."
3. But his shadow may, will, must, be ours. For we also are to take up our cross and follow after him. We have to "know the fellowship of his sufferings, and to be made conformable to his death."
"All that into God's kingdom come
Must enter by this door."
In some this fellowship with his sufferings has been manifest to all in that which they have been called upon to endure. In others, outwardly, there may not have been much, if anything, to tell of such fellowship. But there is the spiritual cross, as real, as sharp, as heavy, as repellent to our nature, as the outward and visible one. And who may escape that? But:
4. We may sit under such shadow with great delight.
(1) Men have done so (cf. "I glory in tribulations also"). And St. Paul again, throughout the Epistle to the Philippians, whose keynote is joy. Yet he was in prison and in peril of his life all the while. And his experience has been that of "a great multitude which no man can number, out of," etc.
(2) Why is this? Because it has been his shadow. The reason of suffering is the measure of its power over us. Does the fond mother, watching night after night by the bed of her fever-stricken, darling child, think much or complain of her sufferings? Does she not glory in them if they can but help her child? And so if our shadow be his shadow, that which he has bidden us bear, then because it is his we shall "sit down under it with," etc. St. Paul sprang towards it, counted all things but loss that he might attain to the excellency of its knowledge; so he speaks of it with almost rapture, with certainly no complaint. He was one of those who "sat down under … to his taste." Then let it be our sole care to see that the shadows which draw over all lives, and which will darken ours sometimes, be his shadow, and then all will be well.—S.C.
Song of Solomon 2:5-7
Faint for love.
Keeping to the spiritual, not the historical, interpretation, these verses suggest what is common to all, but confessed here only by the saintly soul.
I. CHRIST SHARES IT. He said when on the cross, "I thirst," and that told not alone of his physics thirst, but of that sacred, insatiable, and still unsatisfied thirst for the love of human hearts. He could say, "I am faint for love." And yet he yearns for that love, though much he already possesses, and will more and more. The Passion was but as a picture thrown upon a sheet to make clear and conspicuous to all what else they had not seen. So the sufferings of Christ serve to show not what was once, but what eternally is, in the heart of Christ—this yearning for man's love. The Holy Spirit, the unseen and spiritual Christ, is yet on earth amongst men; and yet, as he pleads with them, is grieved and done despite to, as he was in the days of his flesh. His thirst is not yet satisfied; all the loving invitations of the gospel prove this. It is our joy to believe that the day will dawn when, though now, as ever in the past, faint for man's love, he will "see of the travail of his soul, and be satisfied." Be it ours to hasten that day!
II. THE WORLD ALSO, BUT KNOWS NOT WHAT IT NEEDS. The love of Christ is what the world wants, though it wanders wearily off, as it has done from the beginning, after what it foolishly deems will satisfy its need. All the unrest, the agitation, the seething discontent, the wild rush after this scheme and that, which promise its betterment,—all show how great its need, and how yet that need remains unmet. If the Church of Christ on earth were but what its name professes, soon would the weary world see where all its wants would find supply, and turn to him for whose love it is that it faints, and is so wretched and woebegone. It needs that love to be the animating principle of Christian people, in their conversation, conduct, habits, business, and ways; which assuredly it is far enough from being at present, else why is society as it is? why are there "submerged tenths" and "darkest Englands," as we know there are? Is this the outcome of a Christian civilization? No; only the natural product of a civilization which is everything but Christian. And yet more, the world needs Christ's love in themselves. For lack of that it is as it is.
III. BUT SPECIALLY THE CHRISTIAN SOUL. And the confession of faintness for his love may be true:
1. In a sad sense. If such soul be faint, as many are, incapable of real service, weakly, ineffectual, and impoverished, is not the true and sad cause revealed in this confession? As plants cannot grow without the light and warmth of the sun, so Christian souls cannot prosper that do not come into and "continue in" Christ's love. But the confession as made here is not in a sad sense, but:
2. In a very blessed one. It is the very presence of his love in the soul that leads to the longing for deeper enjoyment of it. "My soul breaketh for the longing that it hath after thy commandments at all times;" "My soul longeth, yea, even fainteth, for the courts of the Lord;" and Psalms 63:1, are all similar expressions. Great saints have all of them known this holy longing, this going out of the soul after God in great vehemency of desire; and blessed, blessed indeed, are they. My soul, be thou of their number! And such revelations of the Lord's grace often affect the body as well as the soul, causing faintness and overwhelming emotion (cf. Daniel 10:8-19; Judges 6:22; Revelation 1:12-18; 2 Corinthians 12:7, in illustration of this).
3. But in such faintness the soul craves support. This is suggested by the request made (Psalms 63:5), "Stay me with cordials, comfort me with citrons." These were the refreshments she had enjoyed when "under his shadow," and when she ate of the "fruit sweet to her taste" (Psalms 63:3). Translated into their spiritual meaning, they tell of those precious truths and teachings which come from and cluster round the cross of Christ. The soul would drink again of such "cup of salvation," and eat of the fruit of such "tree of life." It was the power of those truths, brought home by the Holy Spirit, that heretofore had quickened and sustained the soul, and hence they are desired again. And they seem to have been partaken of (cf. Psalms 138:3; Proverbs 31:6), and the soul to have been thereby brought again to the rich enjoyment of the Divine love. And:
4. It finds what it has so earnestly desired. (Psalms 63:6.)
"As in the embraces of my God,
Or on my Saviour's breast."
This sacred enfolding of the soul in the love of God is the meaning of the verse, or, at least, the designed teaching. Think what must have been the joy of the penitent prodigal when, after his weary journey, he found thrown around him, in loving welcome, the arms of his father, against whom he had so sinned; and on his brow the father's kiss. That rapture of the soul when it is filled with the sense of the Divine love,—these are the embraces of God and the fulfilment of the well known words, "He fell on his neck, and kissed him." That part of the parable which tells of the prodigal's yearning for home, the weary journey, and then the welcome, may be taken as the gospel commentary on these verses. And the soul shall be enfolded in this Divine love; it shall not be taint for it, and ever continue so. For the next verse tells:
5. How the soul is anxious not to be disturbed in its blessed condition until the Lord will. The maiden of the song is represented as addressing a passionate adjuration to her companions, "by the roes and hinds"—that is, by all beautiful, loving, timid, and easily startled things, as these were—that they should not awaken her beloved from his repose until he will. And so the soul that rests in the realization of God's love would linger therein.
"My willing soul would stay
In such a frame as this."
And this side of heaven there is no such joy to be realized as this. Alas! how rare it is, or rather, how rarely we find it, though we might if we would! Still, the soul knows that its life is not to be all enjoyment. Service has to be rendered. The disciples would have liked to stay on the Mount of Transfiguration; they said, "It is good to be here;" but the poor lunatic lad down below needed healing, and therefore neither their Lord nor they might linger where they were. Hence, though the soul would rest always in the joy of his realized love, yet it may, probably will, as with Paul, be sent forth to stern duty and patient toil. Therefore it is added, "until he please."
"O Love Divine, how sweet thou art!
When shall I find my willing heart
All taken up by thee?"
Song of Solomon 2:8-17
The soul wooed and won.
In this lovely pastoral the literal meaning is, we think, as stated in introduction to homily on Song of Solomon 2:15. But it may be taken as setting forth how Christ woes and wins the souls he loves. The various stages are shown.
I. THE SOUL HEARS HIS VOICE. "The voice of my Beloved" (Song of Solomon 2:8). It is as said in John 10:1-42; "My sheep hear my voice." They hear it in the loving exhortations of those who would win them for Christ; in his Word; in the silent pleadings of his Spirit; in his providence. And it is gladly heard. The tone of this John 10:8 shows that she who hears is pleased to hear. There is the response of her heart; cf. "My sheep hear … and follow me;" "Speak, Lord; for thy servant heareth."
II. THEN THE SOUL SEES HIM COMING. "Behold, he cometh leaping upon," etc. Christ says to his Church, "Behold, I come quickly." There, as here, his coming is:
1. Swiftly. Conversions to Christ very rarely are sudden, but they often seem so (cf. those of penitent thief, Paul, Philippian gaoler). The conviction that Christ alone can save us, and that he will, is borne in upon our souls all in a moment, as it were; the truth rushes in upon us.
2. No distance can keep him back. The soul has been distant enough from him; "over the hills, and far away." How we have kept aloof from him! What space we have put between him and ourselves! Gone, maybe, into some "far country."
3. Difficulties do not daunt him. Mountains and hills—he leapeth upon them. What impossibilities have sometimes seemed to stand in the way of a soul's salvation! Take the instances above named. What human probability was there that they should be won for Christ? But he makes nothing of them; they cannot hinder him. "Who art thou, O great mountain? before Zerubbabel," etc. (Zechariah 4:7).
4. Very near. "He standeth behind our wall." Just outside (cf. "Behold, I stand at the door, and knock"). Often the soul when sought by the Saviour is conscious of his nearness, and that he is seeking her. Sometimes when we are alone and in serious thought; sometimes in sacred services, when his Word has been preached with power.
III. KNOWS THAT HE IS SEARCHING FOR HER. "He looketh in at the windows" (John 10:9). He will find her if she is to be found, and so his eyes search for her. This, too, the soul often knows. "Thou God seest me" (cf. Psalms 139:1-12, "O Lord, thou hast searched me," etc.). Our hearts' inmost secrets, unknown to our nearest and dearest earthly friend, are known to him; for all our hearts have windows through which his eyes often keenly glance. Conscience shows us those "eyes of the Lord which are in every place." (For illustration of this loving search, cf. parables in Luke 15:1-32.)
IV. IS AFFECTIONATELY ENTREATED BY HIM. He:
1. Addresses her as his much-loved one. "My fair one." Such name of endearment tells the truth as to what our souls are to him. So also "my dove" (John 10:16). We should not call them fair—no, indeed! But love invests all it loves with beauty. What mother does not think her child lovelier than everybody else's? Other people do not see it; she does. And so Christ sees in our souls what we certainly cannot see.
2. Bids her "rise up and come away." (Cf. "He arose and came to his father.") How many would be saved willingly if only they could stay where they are—in self-indulgence, in gainful trade, in worldly conformity, in allowed sin! But it may not be. The soul must "rise up," etc. We must leave our sins behind us when we come to Christ.
3. He encourages her by telling of the pleasure he desires for her. He would have her go forth with him in delightful walk amid the flowers and fragrance, the sunshine and song, of a lovely spring morning. No more exquisite description of such a morning was ever penned. And so the Divine wisdom moves us, saying, "Her ways are ways of pleasantness," etc. And we are taught that the course of the soul should be as a going forth amid the loveliness of such a morning in spring. It is not through a vale of tears, but amid what is here told of. Joy should be a chief element in the soul's life in Christ.
4. He bids her cast away her fear. (Cf. as to her fearfulness, on John 10:15.) Young souls are often fearful—of themselves, of the world, of the cress. Christ would dispel such fears.
5. He asks for response. He would hear her voice. The voice of the soul in prayer, in praise, in self-surrender,—that is the voice Christ loves to hear.
V. IS FINALLY AND FULLY WON. (Cf. John 10:16.) See how gladly:
1. She confesses him, openly avowing that he is the Beloved of her heart, and that she is altogether his (cf. "She fell down before him, and told him all the truth"). Confession is the law of love.
2. She declares that he dwells in her heart. Those pure graces, the lilies of his creating, are those amongst which he takes delight. Christ dwells in our hearts through faith.
3. She desires that whilst her life lasts he may come to her as he has done. (John 10:17.) So long as the night of life lasts, and until the eternal dawn breaks, will she welcome his presence and rejoice in his coming.
CONCLUSION. Christ does so woo our souls, especially those who, as the one told of here, are young. May he win them as he won this!—S.C.
Song of Solomon 2:11, Song of Solomon 2:12
According to St. Paul, God's natural world was intended to be—might, would, and should have been, but for man's sin—the Bible for the great part of mankind. "Nevertheless," said he to the men of Lycaonia, "God left not himself without witness, in that he did good, and gave us rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness." And again (Romans 1:1-32), he declares that "the invisible things of God from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead." Not the Bible alone, then, but nature also, was intended to reveal God, and men ought, as we are assured, to have seen God in the things that he made. But instead of being a revelation of God, it has been perverted into an impenetrable screen to hide and to conceal him; or, still worse, to distort, misrepresent, and dishonour him. So that, left to nature only, men have sunk lower and lower, as all experience proves. This is true of mankind generally. But it is not universally true. Long ere the written Scriptures were given, and in parts of the world where they never came, there have been those who by Divine illumination have learnt much of God through the works of God. Doubtless many of those of whom St. Paul speaks as having by nature done the things of the Law, though they never had the Law, these learnt from the great Bible of nature—that page having been, even as the written page must ever be, opened up to them by the teaching of the Spirit of God. Hence was it that their consciences became so enlightened as to approve or condemn according as they did good or evil. But if it was expected of them who had not, as we have, the written Word, but only nature to teach them, that they should understand God and his ways, how much more will be expected, and justly expected, of us! There are many who rejoice in the natural world as a revelation of God. What a proof we have of this in that glorious Psalms 104:1-35! There the devout writer goes over the whole of God's creation, animate and inanimate; that which has, and that which has not, the gift of reason. And he ends his devout meditation saying, "Bless thou the Lord, O my soul. Praise ye the Lord." Here, then, is a worthy model for us to follow in contemplating the works of God. Let us try to imitate so good an example. Our text is a short but beautiful description of an Eastern spring. In that land of the sun it is true, as it is not always here, that in the spring time "the winter is past, the rain is over and gone …heard in the land." But let us listen to some few out of the many holy and helpful lessons which this season of the year is ready to teach us, if only our hearts be open to receive them. These teachings of the spring, then, what are they? Well, one of them is surely this—
I. "REST IN THE LORD, AND WAIT PATIENTLY FOR HIM." Try to imagine, if you can, what your thoughts would have been during the dark winter time, supposing you had no idea of spring. It is difficult for us even to conceive that we could ever have not known that winter gives way to spring, and that the seasons follow in their orderly round. But suppose one waking up to consciousness for the first time at the beginning of winter. He would have seen the days getting shorter and shorter, the cold becoming more intense, every leaf stripped from well nigh all trees, and their unclothed, skeleton-like branches quivering and moaning in the wintry wind. He would see the bare, brown fields stiffen and become rigid under the icy blast and the imprisoning frost; and from time to time the whole land would put on its white shroud of snow as if it were indeed dead. He would see all this and the many other familiar features of winter; and had he never known or heard of spring, would he ever think that such a season would come—that all the present dreariness would give way to brightness, the sad silence to the joyful song of birds, and the gloomy grey tints of winter to the brightness of the foliage, the blossoms, and the flowers of spring? I do not think he would. For this is how many of us feel and speak, notwithstanding perpetual reminders to the contrary, when winter reigns in the heart. Hearken to Jacob, "All these things are against me," etc.; Moses, praying God to kill him out of hand because he could not bear the people nor endure his wretchedness; Elijah, too, making the same request; and Job, and many more. Are they not all instances of that mournful tendency in our minds, to think that when like sad wintry times are upon us so they will always be? Surely, then, the teaching of the spring is that we should "rest in the Lord," etc.; for spring declares of him that he is the gladness-giving God; that though there be winter, yet it has to give way to the bright and joyful spring. In the natural world the "oil of joy is given for mourning, and the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness." God does turn Nature's mourning into dancing; he puts off her sackcloth and girds her with gladness. "The winter is over and past," etc. Therefore may we not be well assured that so it will be with the winter of our hearts, the sadness and the silence there, if only we will "rest in the Lord," etc.? Let our prayer, then, be—
"Lord, let thy love,
Fresh from above,
Soft as the south wind blow,
Call forth its bloom.
"Now when thy voice
Makes earth rejoice,
And the hills laugh and sing,
Lord, teach this heart
To bear its part,
And join the praise of spring."
II. THE INFINITE TENDERNESS or GOD. We go forth into the country, and we note all around us the first springings of that plant life which when matured is to be of such vast value to us all. But how fragile everything looks! How little it would take to destroy the whole of it! A too-severe storm, an over-rough wind, a frost, any out of a thousand casualties, would destroy all. But yet God takes care of it. He will not suffer the too-violent storms to come, but only gentle showers; not the rough wind, but the milder gales. Thus with infinite tenderness he rears up the young plants.
1. Now, how all this rebukes the hard thoughts of God which many have held and taught and maintained, in books as innumerable as dreary. We wonder at the heathen, in view of the loveliness of nature, fashioning their gods so cruel and relentless as they did. But that we, with nature and the gospel, should so conceive of God is sad indeed. We little know the mischief such hard representations do, the alienation and the bitterness towards God which they foster. It is the source of the Madonna and saint worship of Rome, and of worse things still. For men become as the gods they worship.
2. It shows us how to deal wisely with all young life, especially the beginnings of the Divine life in the soul: how to train our children.
3. And it bids us trust God. Will God be so gracious to birds and blossoms and not tenderly care for us? Impossible.
III. "WITH HIM IS PLENTEOUS REDEMPTION." Spring teaches that our God is the redeeming God. For spring is the redemption of outward nature, its regeneration and resurrection. She was dead, but is alive again; was lost, but is found. Darkness has given place to light, barrenness to fruitfulness, and the "hills rejoice on every side." The vision of Ezekiel is put before us as oft as the spring comes round. "Can these dry bones live?" said he. "Can all this seeming deadness live?" say we. And the spring is our answer. And we are told further of our dependence upon God for such redemption. Who can bring about the renewed life of spring but God? and who that yet higher life of the soul? And how visible the life is! See all around the proofs of the presence of the spring, Not less visible are the fruits of the spring tide of the soul. And as the spring is promised, so is the better gift of redemption. Each blade, blossom, and bud seems to say to us, "Shall God redeem me, and will he not redeem thee?" And the mystery of the cross is shown. For what is spring but life out of and through death? Redemption must imply a Redeemer, and the life of spring coming, forth out of the death of winter patterns forth how the Christ must needs suffer and be raised again. And for ourselves it tells of him who said for us, "I am the Resurrection and the Life," and bids us say, "I know that my Redeemer liveth."
IV. "PUT YE ON THE NEW MAN." All Nature does this at spring tide. We in our dwellings and in our dress try to imitate her and do the like. They who can, get new garments; they who cannot, try to make the old look new. Let us learn the lesson in things higher still. Is there not much room for it? In too many even Christian people the remains of what Paul calls "the old man" are too plentifully visible—in homes, in habits, in speech, in thought, in temper. How much we need yet to be created anew in Christ Jesus, to "put on the new man"! And he who maketh "all things new" is ready to help us herein if we will have his help.
V. BE DILIGENT. Spring is a time of great activity. The husbandman dare not waste those precious hours if he would rejoice when harvest comes. So with this life of ours, all which is given us for preparation for the great harvest time. Then let the activities of the spring remind us that we, too, must be diligent if we would be found at the last faithful before the Lord.—S.C.
Song of Solomon 2:15
The little foxes.
This verse is part of the description which Shulamith, the betrothed, gives of her beloved. In the verses preceding she relates (Song of Solomon 2:8, etc.) how he was wont to come to her home after her, bounding and leaping over the hills in his loving haste, like a young hart. And how, when he had reached the house, he would "look in at the windows," and beg her to come forth to him. And to entice her he would sing the beautiful song of the spring, "The winter is past, the rain is over and gone; the flowers appear on the earth, and the time of the singing of birds is come." And then, because she was still slow to come forth, she tells how he would call her again, and by the tender name of his timid "dove," that hides itself, because of its fear, in the clefts of the rocks, and amid the inaccessible crags and. crevices of lofty cliffs; and then how he would ask her to sing to him her song of the foxes, "Take us the foxes, the little foxes … grapes." Such seems to be the circumstantial setting of this verse; but, like the whole poem of which it forms part, had it no more meaning than lies on the surface it would not, we believe, have found place amongst the sacred Scriptures, the Bible of the people of God. If, then, the words suggest to devout minds, as they have done in all the centuries since they were written, truths which belong to the region of the soul, to our relationships with God more than to any relationship of earth, surely we may believe that they were designed so to do; and earthly as the story may be on which such truths are grafted, like the parables of our Lord, it has a heavenly meaning, and is designed to help us on our heavenward way. Now, of some of these suggested truths let us speak. One word as to the imagery of this verse. "Foxes, jackals, little foxes, are very common in Palestine, and are particularly fond of grapes. They often burrow in holes in hedges round the gardens, and, unless strictly watched, would destroy whole vineyards. Their flesh was sometimes eaten in autumn, when they were grown fat with feeding on grapes. Thus Theocritus says-
"'I hate the foxes with their bushy tails,
Which numerous spoil the grapes of Mecon's vines
When fall the evening shades.'
And Aristophanes compares soldiers to foxes, because they consume the grapes of the countries through which they pass" (Burrows). But now as to the spiritual teachings which are contained in these words. We have brought before us here—
I. A SAD POSSIBILITY. Vines that promised well, spoiled. Translated into the language of the Spirit, they speak of blessed beginnings of the Divine life in the soul not realized. Few things are more beautiful than the beginnings of the Divine life. The promise and hope they give rise to of matured and rich and Christ-like character fill the devout-minded observer—especially if he himself has prayed and watched and toiled for such beginnings—with a deep and sacred joy. What does he not anticipate from them? What of influence on others, in the Church, the home, the business, the world generally? What of service for Christ and truth and all goodness? Hence when he sees that tenderness of conscience, that prayerfulness, that gentleness and humility, that alacrity in service, that delight in worship, all which mark these beginnings, how can he but be glad? or how can any one who has a Christ-like heart in him? But few things are more sad than to see all this hopefulness and promise spoiled. And such things do happen. "Ye did run well; who did hinder you?" so said St. Paul to the foolish Galatians who had so bitterly disappointed him. And how often in our Lord's ministry had he to bear this disappointment! Again and again there would come to him those about whom bright hope might have been cherished—amiable, well disposed, warm-hearted, intelligent, pure-minded, generous, much esteemed, kindly, lovable, and. beloved. Such people were irresistibly drawn to him, and for a while they would follow him; but then after a while we find something offending them, and they go away. Christ drew their portrait in his parable of the sower, where he likens such to the seed sown on the stony ground. Quick to spring up and present the appearance of vigorous life, but as quick to wither away when the sun's scorching heat smote them as it smote all else. And surely, in the spoiled vines told of in our text, we have another of these Bible portraitures of the same, or a similar class. And where there is not the actual destruction and perishing of what is good, there is yet the spoiling. The vines are not cut down, they are not hindered from bringing forth any fruit; the foe told of "spoils," which is less than to destroy. And how often we have to mourn this "spoiling of the vine"! Neither we nor others come up to that elevation of Christian character which might fairly have been expected. Many people are, in the main, worthy; there is very much that is excellent in them, but their characters are sadly marred. They are ineffectual; they do not tell for any real or large amount of good in any one, anywhere. Their type of life is low; they have the name and the form of godliness, but all too little of the power. They are respectable, decorous, outwardly religious, and live, as we say, consistently with their profession. But if you come to know them, how little of their real life is touched by their religion; what a mere veneer it is on their ordinary existence! How little it does for them in making them really holy or happy, or powerful for good! They began well, but they have sunk and settled down to this. He who looks that these people should bring forth their fruit in due season—plentiful fruit, much fruit, the best fruit—will assuredly be disappointed. "And what hinders them? Now, mark you, it is not said here, as in that mournful psalm, 'The wild boar out of the wood doth root it up, and the wild beasts of the field devour it.' it is not said here, 'It is burnt with fire and cut down, and they shall perish at the rebuke of thy countenance." It is not said here, 'Why hast thou then broken down her hedges, so that all they that go by pluck off her grapes?' No; it is the foxes, the little foxes, that spoil the tender grapes." Therefore let us now look at this—
II. ITS TOO MUCH NEGLECTED CAUSE. It is the little sins, the small faults, the slight self-indulgences, what we count as trifles and think nothing, or almost nothing, of—these are the little foxes which spoil the tender grapes. All sins waste and destroy the soul. Not merely the Wage but the work of sin is death. Some there are so notorious that they are as St. Paul says, "open beforehand, going before to judgment." They are as the wild boar out of the wood and the beasts of the field, told of in the psalm we quoted just now. High-handed, bold, Heaven-defying sins, bringing down on the doers of them, sooner or later, the dread judgments of God. But there are other masters of the soul, spoilers of the grapes of God,—those sins which here are pictured to us as "the little foxes." "Little," so we call them, and others call them so too; and. hence, though we be all wrong together in so calling them, we have come to think them little as well as call them so. And fox-like, which we often forget, for they skulk and lurk and hide; they have, as our Lord said, "their holes," and there they burrow and bury themselves out of sight. And many of them have other characteristics of the fox—deceit, cruelty, foulness; true vermin of the soul are they. And they all of them often feign death as the fox does. And we think them dead, and lo! they spring to life again, and are as active as ever. Hence we do indeed need to be on our guard against them. But it is the littleness of these sins to which our thoughts are chiefly turned by the vivid image of the little foxes. Their littleness, like charity, covers a multitude of them, and so conceals them from our own censure and that of others. And if the great adversary of our souls can persuade us not to mind these little sins, he has almost all he cares for. For then he knows that we shall never be what he most of all hates, that is, great saints.
1. For such have ever shunned them with holy care. It has often been pointed out how Daniel might have prayed to God notwithstanding the king's decree, and yet never have incurred the awful peril of the lions' den, if he would only have shut his window when he prayed. But he must needs open it, and so, of course, he was seen. But he would not compromise with what he deemed his duty to God even in so slight degree as this. And the martyrs, too. The Roman judges used. perpetually to remind them how trifling was the concession asked for—just sprinkling a grain or two of incense on an altar, that was all. "Now, if men have been able to perceive so much of sin in little transgressions, that they would bear inconceivable tortures rather than commit them, must there not be something dreadful after all in these little sins?" If we would have fellowship with the great saints of God, the eminent and true disciples of our Lord, we must give no quarter to these so called trifling sins. They did not, or they would not have been what they were.
2. And the little foxes grow into great ones. Has not the indulgence in one glass of intoxicating liquor often led on to the liking for two, and that to the taking of three, and that has been followed by the man's becoming a drunkard and a sot? "Tremblez, tyrans; nous grandirons!" was the shout of the young French lads who, drilled and dressed as soldiers, marched, in the days of the Revolution, through many a town and village in France. They bade the tyrants that oppressed their nation tremble, because they, though but little lids now, would one day be grown up into men. And might not our souls be well made to tremble as they contemplate one of these little sins? for it, too, will grow up, and then will be no longer little, but great and strong. Scarcely more surely does the boy grow into the man than does a little sin tolerated grow into a great one. It is one of the ways of burglars, in effecting an entrance into a house, to attack a small window not nearly large enough to admit a man. But they bring a boy with them, and him they thrust through, and he then undoes larger windows or doors, and so the men enter too. Yes, my brother, if you are allowing yourself in what you are pleased to call a little sin, it may be but the boy getting in at the window who will let in the greater thieves as soon as he is safely in himself. Let us remember that.
3. And how these little sins multiply themselves! Great sins are rare. Tremendous transgressions we are guilty of but now and then—but once in our lifetime, it may be; or God's grace may always keep us "innocent from the great transgression;" we trust it will. But these little ones—they are like the myriad insects in our gardens. How they swarm! The more minute they are the more they multiply, until they devour everything if they be let alone. They never come singly, but in troops. And so is it with these little sins that are like them. A man will think it but a trifle if he utter a profane expression, he counts it a very small matter; but it soon comes to pass that he can hardly open his mouth anywhere or anywhen without some miserable profanity dropping from it. A little temper may come to mean an explosion half a dozen times a day, until it is said of the man that he is always in a temper. That great Zuyder Zee, on which Amsterdam is built, was once a fair fertile land covered with farms, villages, and hamlets; a strong embankment shut it off from the Northern Sea. But that embankment had, no doubt, somehow began to yield in very slight degree, when one stormy winter night the whole gave way, and now the once fruitful land is turned into barrenness, and has been so for centuries past. Oh, take heed of these small beginnings of sin. Yes, they "are like the letting out of water: first there is an ooze, then a drip, then a slender stream, then a vein of water, and then at last a flood, and a rampart is swept before it and the whole land is devoured." God help us, therefore, to be on our guard. And, indeed, if we will think of it, they are not little. There may be but a handful of men cross the frontier of a state, but that is as much an act of war as if an army had come. There are people who never cease to ridicule the idea that "death and all our woe" were the result of man's once eating the forbidden fruit. But there the fact is, all the same. It was the violation of the Divine Law, and it did not matter how it was done. And so with all those sins which we are pleased to call little. They are as much outrages on the Law of God as if they were acts so flagrant and enormous that all men should denounce them. Broken law is broken law, no matter whether the breach be great or small.—Moreover, these sins which we call little are often greater than those which we call great. "If you have a friend and he does you a displeasure for the sake of ten thousand pounds, you say, 'Well, he had a very great temptation. It is true he has committed a great fault, but still he has wronged me to some purpose.' But should your friend vex and grieve your mind for the sake of a farthing, what would you think of that? 'This is wanton,' you would say. 'This man has done it out of sheer malevolence towards me.'" And must not the same verdict be passed when, for the sake of one of these trifles, as we term them, we grieve the Spirit of God and outrage his holy Law? And, remember, if you be a Christian, these sins will ruin your peace with God. You cannot be happy in him whilst you walk contrary to his will. And if you be not a Christian, these same sins will lessen the likelihood of your ever becoming one. They may be but as small stones, but they will build up a strong and high wall of separation between you and God, which will more and more effectually shut you off from him. Every way they are deplorable things. Therefore consider—
III. THE SURE REMEDY. These "little foxes" must be taken and destroyed. You must search them out by prayerful and diligent self-examination. You must drag them forth into the light of conscience and the judgment of God by full and penitent confession of them; and by vigorous acts of a will inspired by the Spirit of God you must slay them before him. "These mine enemies which would not that I should rule over them, bring them hither and slay them before me." These are our Lord's words, and he who spoke them will, if you do really desire it, give you grace to obey them. May he help you so to do!—S.C.
Song of Solomon 2:16
He mine; I his.
This verse is the oft-repeated and rapturous utterance of her who is the type of the redeemed soul concerning her beloved. Of course, we regard it as telling of the soul's joy in Christ.
I. HE MINE. Let us ask three questions.
(1) By his free gift of himself. "He loved me, and gave himself for me."
(2) By believing appropriation. Faith has this marvellous power.
(3) By joyful realization of his love to me.
His love has been shed shed abroad in my heart by the Holy Spirit. "I know whom I have believed." How unspeakably blessed such realization is! But it is not universal nor even common. A little child will cry even in its mother's arms. But the arms are there all the same. And so is Christ's love.
2. What for? "He is mine to look upon, to lean upon, to dwell with; mine to bear all my burdens, discharge all my debts; mine to answer all my accusers, mine to conquer all my foes; mine to deliver me from hell, mine to prepare a place for me in heaven; mine in absence, mine in presence, mine in life, mine in death, mine in the grave, mine in the judgment, and mine at the marriage of the Lamb" (Moody Stuart).
3. What then?
(1) All that is his is mine. His righteousness, acceptableness, worthiness; his incarnation, atonement, resurrection, and intercession.
(2) I ought to know it if I do not. It is all-important to me if he be mine.
(3) I ought not to be so anxious about other things.
(4) Let me take care not to lose him. It is possible (cf. Song of Solomon 5:6).
II. I HIS. We ask the same three questions.
(1) By creation. "It is he that hath made us" (Psalms 100:1-5).
(2) By the purchase of his blood.
(3) By the conquest of his Spirit.
(4) By my own free choice.
(5) By open avowal.
2. What for? To work and to witness, to suffer and to live, and if needs be to die, for him. To care for those for whom he cares, and to minister as he ministered.
3. What then?
(1) All that is mine, a sad inheritance indeed, is his. My sin, my guilt, my sorrow, my shame. And he has taken them on himself and away from me forever.
(2) Others should know it. I may not be a secret disciple.
(3) He will be sure to take care of me, teach me, perfect me, and bring me to himself.
(4) I will be his even when I cannot realize that he is mine.
(5) I will try to win others to him.—S.C.
HOMILIES BY J.D. DAVIES
Song of Solomon 2:2
Eminent piety seen in contrast.
Some similarities must exist, or the contrast could not be seen. The godly and the ungodly are both men, or we could not put their characters in contrast. Thorns are rooted in the same soil as the lily. They are nourished by the same sun, watered by the same rain, enjoy the same course of the seasons. But the inner life of the lily deals differently with the natural elements than does the inner life of thorns. So the ungodly live in the same land as the godly; they have the same access to God's truth; they dwell amid the same forth-puttings of the Spirit's power; yet, for want of self-appropriation, they are barren of good results. They are as noxious thorns compared with the lily. This eminent goodness of the lily implies—
I. LOWLINESS. In the previous verse, the king's bride had designated herself as a mere "lily of the valley." And now the king responds and says, "It is so; but others are as thorns compared with thee." Humility is the distinctive mark of all the godly. Native pride is crucified on the cross. The Christian longs to have a just estimate of himself. He will not "think of himself more highly than he ought to think." If he discovers any goodness in himself, he attributes it to the active grace of his Benefactor. He is content to take the lowest place in the kingdom. If only he may belong to the chosen race, he is ready to be a "hewer of wood and a drawer of water." Hence he sings -
"The more thy glories strike my eyes
The humbler I shall lie."
II. PURENESS. The white color of the lily is a pure white. It has approved itself universally as the best emblem of innocence. All over the world it is a silent messenger from God. As every plant reaches out toward perfection, so the noblest yearning of the human soul is for purity. I may be learned and rich and renowned, but if I am lacking in purity, I despise myself; my heart refuses joy. I have fallen from my high estate. Other virtues in me are only leaves and blossoms; purity is the proper ripe fruit, which the owner longs to see. Yet, so full of grace is our Immanuel, that he sees, not only what is now actually in us, but what is coming—the perfect holiness which is slowly developing. As the whiteness of the lily is produced by its reflecting back again all the rays of light that fall upon it, and is whitest under the full blaze of the summer sun, so the Christian gains his purity by reflecting all the love and grace from the Sun of Righteousness.
III. FRAGRANCE. The lily of the valley is noted for its delicious odour. The subtle essence of the flower flows out in a perpetual stream of blessing. Its very life is expended in doing good. It cannot do much; it cannot bear clusters of juicy fruit; but what is possible for it to do, that it freely does. Is not this a portrait of a genuine disciple? Does he not count it his meat and his drink to spread blessing on every side? And can he prevent the sweet savour of his Master's grace flowing out day and night? However obscure and insignificant he may be, his piety will diffuse a heavenly fragrance, and men will feet his influence.
"As some rare essence in a vase of clay
Pervades it with a sweetness not its own;
So when thou dwellest in the human soul,
All heaven's own fragrance seems around it thrown."
IV. BEAUTY. The lily charms the eye no less than it pleases the nostril. The eye has a native instinct for beauty, and through the eye the soul is enchanted. "A thing of beauty is a joy forever." And nothing in human character is half so beautiful as genuine piety. Heroism is beautiful, philanthropy is beautiful, parental love is beautiful; but the quality of godly love transcends them all. It has a sublimity which cannot be described. It has a potent influence which ennobles the whole man. It is immortal in its duration, and has a splendid sphere for growth. Well may we think of it as the amaranthine flower that blossoms in the Paradise of God. "Blessed are the pure in heart."
V. THIS EMINENCE IS REACHED THROUGH DIFFICULTY. This lily has grown up "among the thorns." They robbed it of the nutriment that dwelt in the soil. They hindered the free circulation of the balmy air. They shut out some of the quickening sunshine. Yet, in spite of hindrances, the lily grew and flourished. So it happens with the pious love of the Christian. It has to contend with hostile influences. Formidable opposition bars its growth. We have to resist the chilling influence of an ungodly world. Yet these very difficulties have their uses. Difficulties rouse our latent energy; difficulties put us on our mettle; difficulties give scope to heroic effort. No one of us is seen at our best until we are coping with gigantic opposition. As storms root the oak more firmly, so the opposition of the world blows up the fires of our piety into a white heat of sacred fervor. Thank God for the opposition of the world. Out of antagonism springs the noblest life.—D.
Song of Solomon 2:3
The pre-eminence of Immanuel.
In Eastern lands, far more than in Western, men are dependent on ripe fruit to allay their hunger. A man may walk all day among the oaks of Bashan or among the cedars of Lebanon, and find no food. To discover an apple tree or a citron tree among the trees of the forest would come as a surprise—as a meal direct from Heaven. Equally true is it that men wander from teacher to teacher, from one religious system to another, in quest of saving knowledge, and find it nowhere, until they find Jesus, the Christ. In search of soul-rest and soul-purity, men try practical morality, asceticism, bodily mortification, Church sacraments; but they are doomed to disappointment. For Jesus, the Son of God, is the only Saviour, and, apart from him, the soul is starved, diseased, undone. "As the citron tree among the trees of the wood, so is my Beloved among the sons."
I. THE SUPERLATIVE EXCELLENCE OF JESUS CHRIST.
1. Here is the idea of rareness. The event was rare to find a citron tree among forest trees. So Jesus stands alone. As Adam stood alone, the head of a new order of life, the Head of the human race; so Jesus is without a parallel, the covenant Head of the new family. He is "the only begotten Son." By nature and by right, as well as by transcendent goodness, he is unapproachable. In him alone "dwells the fulness of the Godhead bodily." He is the God-Man: "God manifest in the flesh." "Let all the angels of God worship him."
2. Here is implied delicious fragrance. The blossom of the citron is not only beautiful to the eye; it is sweet and refreshing to the nostril. And it is a constant perfume. While ripe fruit is found on some branches, fresh blossoms are adorning others. Impressive emblem this of the rich fragrance of Immanuel's love. With the sweetness of his disposition nothing can compare. It spreads today from the frozen plains of Greenland to the sultry cities of Burmah. From the equator to the poles, the fragrance of the Saviour's love is diffused. It refreshes the fainting; it revives again those "who are ready to perish." Some kinds of apples are named "nonpareils." Jesus is the real "Nonpareil;" he has no equal.
3. The figure suggests fruitfulness. This is a theme that will loosen into eloquence every Christian tongue. Every part of Christ's nature is fruitful. The woman, afflicted with old disease in Canaan, found fruitful blessing even in the hem of his garment. He is fruitful as a Teacher, for his words dispel all the perplexities and fears of the human family; he is fruitful as a Healer, for his gracious virtue cures every disease of body and of soul; he is fruitful as our Priest, for his one sacrifice atones forevery sin; he is fruitful as Intercessor, for his righteous pleadings always prevail; he is fruitful as a King, for his reign brings order, content melt, righteousness, peace; he is fruitful as a Friend, for all that he has he shares with his saints. For fruitfulness he is the Vine.
II. THE SUPERLATIVE USEFULNESS OF JESUS CHRIST. "I sat down under his shadow with great delight, and his fruit was sweet to my taste." Jesus is not simply excellence in his Person; his virtues are suited to the needs of men.
1. There is shady rest. The dwellers in the temperate zone can little appreciate what shade is to dwellers in the tropics. The fierce heat of noon means exhaustion, pain, fever. Rest in cool shade is like life from the dead. And the rest which Jesus gives is more precious yet. It is rest from the gloomy fear of hell; it is rest from the drudgery of sin; it is rest from slavish toil to work out a personal righteousness; it is rest from anxious, worldly care.
2. This fruitfulness of Christ is life giving. All other trees in the wood are impotent to sustain life. This is the tree of health—the tree of life. This is the grand prerogative of our Immanuel: "I am the Resurrection and the Life;" "I am come that ye may have life, and have it more abundantly;" "I give unto my sheep eternal life, and they shall never perish;" "Because I live, ye shall live also." And Jesus has always acted up to his word. A myriad human souls in heaven today join in the testimony, "Once we were dead; now, by Christ's grace, we live." "Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable Gift."
3. Jesus Christ, as the citron tree, imparts joy. "I sat down under his shadow with great delight." It is an unusual joy, an overflowing blessedness. The joy which Christ gives is real, pure, ennobling, abiding. He gives to men "his own joy." Do men rejoice when pain yields to medicine, and new health flows in? Do men rejoice in the brightness of spring, or amid the plenty of autumn? Do men rejoice on their marriage morn, or when fortune crowns their toil with large success? In Christ's smile all joys are rolled into one. He who has Christ has a pledge of heaven. This joy is a "joy unspeakable."
4. Jesus Christ is eminently adapted to our needs. As the ripe fruit of the citron tree was exquisitely suited to travellers in those hot climes, so Jesus is precisely suited to our necessities. You cannot mention a want of yours which Jesus is not competent to satisfy. He is Light for our darkness, Strength for our weakness, Food for our hunger, Rest for our weariness, Freedom for our bondage, Pardon for our guilt, Purity for our uncleanness, Hope for our despondency. As a well made key fits a lock, so Jesus fits all my needs. I want no other Saviour. He "is all my salvation, and all my desire" Fitness is God's sign manual.—D.
Song of Solomon 2:4
The testimony of personal experience is specially valuable. We may argue from a priori data what generous love must reside in God, in order to harmonize with his perfection; and such a line of reasoning has its value. Or we may argue from analogy, that since fervent love stirs in the human breast, purer love and mightier glows—an uncreated flame—in the heart of God; and this form of argument leaves a comforting impression on the mind. But personal testimony has a tender force all its own. If God has dealt generously and graciously to one member of the human family, no more deserving than I am, it is evident that he will deal with equal generosity of love toward me. For he is impervious to change. If it brought him joy and renown to show practical love to fallen men centuries ago, it will contribute to his renown and to his joy of heart now. If it added to his glory to save a lost soul in Palestine, it will add to his glory to save me. One deed of the heavenly King is a sample of all his deeds. Ex uno, omnia disce.
I. THE ROYAL GRACE OF CHRIST PROVIDES A BANQUET OF GOOD. It is everywhere a mark of friendship if a king invites a man to a banquet; and, through every part of Scripture, God represents himself as providing for penitent men a "feast of fat things." Resentment and vindictiveness towards his frail creatures are things not to be thought of; they are sentiments familiar in hell, but unknown in heaven.
1. Here is the idea that hunger is satisfied. At a banquet the primal want of the body is met. And there is no hunger of the soul so widespread, so deep, as the craving for reconciliation with God—the craving for pardon. What bread is to the bodily appetite, God's mercy is to the convicted soul; it is "the one thing needful." Well, God has provided this gift in no stinted fashion. It does not come to us as a bare measure, just enough to meet the case. It is a banquet; it is supplied in sumptuous abundance. Nor is it pardon alone that the heavenly King supplies. It is a banquet of all kinds of substantial good; luxuries gathered from far and near. Wisdom, mercy, righteousness, sonship, hope, victory, eternal life, are some of the viands spread. The Son of God "has given himself for us." And ever and anon we hear the voice of the King himself, "He that cometh to me shall never hunger; he that believeth on me shall never thirst."
2. Here is also the idea of renewed friendship. To eat together is an act of friendship. It is a seal impressed in public that a covenant of friendship exists. To have our several bodies nourished from the same meal, from the same loaf, is a beautiful bond of attachment. It was an aggravation of Iscariot's sin, that "he who had eaten bread with Jesus had lifted up the heel against him." If the king invites us to a banquet, it means that he finds a pleasure in our society; he wishes to draw closer the ties of sacred intimacy. Thus Jesus acts. He wants to come into closer fellowship with us. He calls us, not servants, but friends. He undertakes to be our Surety, our Advocate with the Father. He will keep nothing from us, not even his throne. Other friendships may languish; the friendship of Jesus shall eternally abide. From his love nothing shall separate us.
3. Here is the idea of exuberant joy. A banquet is not spread, and lavishly embellished with beauty, simply to allay bodily hunger. It is a royal device for promoting joy. And he, who has given to us a great capacity for joy, intends to fill that capacity to the very brim. If there are occasions on earth when joy flows in upon us like a rising tide, these are only prophetic moments of the ineffable and eternal joy of heaven. Desire gratified—this is joy; effort successful—this is joy; hope realized—this is joy; development complete—this is joy. To be with God, to be like God,—this is noontide gladness; this is the "fulness of joy."
II. THE ROYAL GRACE OF CHRIST USES GENTLE CONSTRAINTS. "He brought me into his banquet house." A man's worst enemy is usually himself. He cannot persuade himself that such generous love is intended for him. Others may perhaps be invited, but not he. Nor does he see that this unbelief is a fresh act of sin. If I discredit a person's word, I may do him a great injustice. If I doubt the promise of a friend, it is an insult. And if I question the faithfulness of my King, I give him pain.
1. He sometimes uses the rough messenger of affliction to bring us to his banquet hall. Many a pardoned man will say with David, "Before I was afflicted I went astray." Saul's blindness made him sensible of Christ's nearness. The peril of Jonah taught him to say, "Salvation is of the Lord." When Manasseh was in affliction he sought unto Jehovah. In times of earthly prosperity men are often self-sufficient; they have all that heart can wish; they have no sense of soul hunger. But when argosies are wrecked, or harvests fail, or death sweeps, with black pinions, through the house, then they discover their impotence, and long for the heavenly supply. Often has a pitiless storm driven despairing men to the Refuge on Calvary; often has affliction, in some form, been the messenger employed to bring men to the gospel feast.
2. Sometimes Christ uses his gospel heralds to bring men in. Our heavenly Friend has seen fit to employ renewed men, though imperfect, to persuade the prodigals to return. He does not so employ the angel bands. Pardoned men know what are the burdens of sin, and what are the seductions of the tempter. Pardoned men have tender sympathies for their fallen fellows. And pardoned men know by experience the joy of acceptance; the blessedness of God's friendship contrasted with his frown. Cleansed and consecrated men are specially fitted to bring sinners to Christ's banquet. Thus Jesus has brought many.
3. His own Spirit, the Comforter, is the great Agent in filling the banquet hall. Said Jesus, prior to his crucifixion, "He shall testify of me;" "He shall take of mine, and show it unto you." To him belongs the prerogative of enlightening the mind, arousing the torpid conscience, convicting of sin, and quickening into life dead souls. He "strives" with the opposition of a rebellious will. By his Divine anointing, men are empowered to use the arts of heavenly Persuasiveness. Jesus, the soul's Bridegroom, has furnished the sumptuous banquet; now it is the mission of the Holy Spirit to persuade the perishing to come. Have we not heard his "still small voice within us, imploring us to accept the generous offers of a Saviour's grace? Have we not put off his pleadings again and again with the promise that we would before long come? And has not our promise been as often violated? Thrice happy is the man who can say, "He has conquered." "He brought me into his banquet house."
III. THE ROYAL GRACE OF CHRIST VOUCHSAFES NEW TOKENS OF AFFECTION. "The device on his banner is love." The beginning and middle and end of the banquet is love. This is the solution of every problem. Whence originated the feast? In love. Why are the guests rebellious and fallen men? Love! What methods are employed to induce them to come? Love? What end is contemplated in the feast? Love? On every banneret the symbol is love.
1. This banner implies triumph. It was the banner which, our great Champion carried in the war. If we are at the banquet table, we have been captivated by Immanuel's love. This love pursued us in our wanderings, convinced us of our folly, bore with us patiently, sweetly induced us to lay down our arms and to submit. We were softened and subdued by love. Now "we love him, because he first loved us."
2. This banner means devotement. We adopt it as our own. We have sworn to serve our Master under this peaceful banner. At the banquet we enlist ourselves on the side of the righteous King. Constrained by love, we freely devote to him all we have, all we are. We must be trained and disciplined for this noble warfare in the school of love. The love that has conquered us shall, through us, conquer others. Love is the heavenly steel from which we fashion all our weapons. Love moulds and inspires our life. "The banner over us is love."
3. This banner means security. If I am the object of Immanuel's love, I am safe; no harm can befall me. The brood under the wing of the parent hen cannot be pierced by foeman's arrow, unless that arrow pierce the parent's wing; so the blow which falls on me must strike my Protector first. Whatever apparent evil fall upon me, it is by the permission of infinite love; therefore is only apparent. It is simply disguised blessing; a sweet kernel in a rough shell. If over me floats the banner of Immanuel's love, I have charmed life. Every foe, visible and invisible, is disarmed.
"And so, beside the silent sea,
I wait the muffled oar;
Assured no harm can come to me,
On ocean or on shore."
Song of Solomon 2:8-13
Christ's coming makes a new epoch in our history.
Nature is a mirror in which God is seen, and all the processes of nature are samples of God's works in us. Such analogies we ought to expect, because all the forces in nature are the projections of God's thoughts and purposes. The same God who works so mightily in the material world works with mighty grace in us. If, in the visible creation, he gives life to dead matter, so does he likewise give life to dead souls. The sun which rides in royal majesty across the heavens is a picture of the great Sun of Righteousness, who arises on the soul "with healing in his beams." As the coming of spring makes a new epoch in the material world, so the coming of Immanuel is the opening of a new era to the soul. It is nothing short of a spiritual evolution. We pass out of winter into spring; out of death into life.
I. THIS LANGUAGE IS A PICTURE OF CHRIST'S INCARNATION. "The voice of my Beloved! behold, he cometh leaping upon the mountains," etc.
1. He overleaps all difficulty. Principles of eternal righteousness stood in the way of man's redemption. The interests of Divine government stood in the way. The peace and welfare of the heavenly hosts seemed to be obstacles. Man's enmity was a tremendous barrier. But the Son of God was deterred by no obstacle. Although the temporary renunciation of his glory and dignity was required, he did not hold back. Immeasurable condescension was demanded; yet to this he cordially submitted. In view of the splendid result, he triumphed over every hindrance.
2. His coming was a joyful act. "Leaping upon the mountains, skipping upon the hills." With the affectionate purpose to save men strong in his breast, he felt a joy in self-humiliation; a delicious pleasure in self-sacrifice. "His delights were already with the sons of men." "Lo!" said he—"lo! I come to do thy will, O God; yea, thy Law is within my heart." When our globe was fashioned, there was new gladness in heaven; "the sons of God shouted for joy." And when the Son of God appeared on earth as its Redeemer, a multitude of the heavenly host broke upon the midnight silence of Bethlehem with the song, "Glory to God in the highest!" Although to execute his task he was "the Man of sorrows," nevertheless in his heart there glowed the fire of sacred rapture. "For the joy that was set before him, he endured the cross, and despised the shame." As a noble Bridegroom "he rejoices over his bride." In his completed work "he shall be satisfied."
3. His coming was discerned only by his chosen. The bulk of men knew nothing about his coming; eared nothing about it. To Herod it was a perplexity and a terror. "He came unto his own, and his own received him not." Yet a few chosen ones "waited for the hope and consolation of Israel." Andrew and Simon Peter and Nathanael had been pondering the old prophecies, and were looking hither and thither for signs of fulfilment. Old Simeon's heart overflowed with gratitude when, embracing the holy Child, he said, "Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace." Not to the eye of man was he revealed. Outwardly, "there was no beauty in him that men should desire him." To many he was known through his voice of wisdom—through his voice of tender invitation and generous love. "The voice of my Beloved." "Faith cometh by hearing." To the heart Jesus Christ still speaks. The sweet tones of his love win us to obedience. 'Tis not only a voice, but "the voice of my Beloved."
II. THIS LANGUAGE IS A PICTURE OF CHRIST'S COMING AT OUR CONVERSION. In the day of our personal regeneration, Immanuel came into our heart to dwell. Then all the mountains of opposition were levelled, and all the abysses of degradation were filled up. We straightway passed out of darkness into light, out of bondage into liberty, out of banishment into sonship. If it were not a time of harvest, when men gather up the ripe sheaves of plenty, it was a spring time, when young life appears, and gives fair promise of growth and fruitfulness. So we could sing, "For, lo, the winter is past, the rain is ever and gone."
1. A surprising change. If ever a miracle has been wrought On earth, our regeneration is a miracle. It is a new departure in life. We, who once loved sin, now hate the abominable thing. We had "sold ourselves for nought;" now we are redeemed with priceless blood. We were righteously condemned; now we are righteously accepted. We are brought into covenant relationship with God. In that day hell was exchanged for heaven. It was a day of jubilee. Through all the ranks in heaven a thrill of gladness ran. The barrenness and death of winter were gone, and spring, fresh with life and hope, filled the soul. The heavenly Bridegroom had arrived.
2. Varied beauty is here represented. "The flowers appear on the earth." Bright and fragrant flowers are fit emblems of Christian virtues. The early flowers of meekness and penitence send forth a goodly smell, and the spicy beds of obedience produce a rich aroma. Some Christians are like violets, unconscious of their sweetness; some are like snowdrops, lacking character; some are full of sacred enthusiasm, rare roses, like Augustines and Ambroses and Luthers. The brightest and noblest specimens of men are found in the Church.
3. And fruitfulness is also foreseen. "The fig tree putteth forth her green figs." True religion is not mere sentiment; it is practical; it is beneficial to mankind. Whence sprang our hospitals, our asylums, our penitentiaries, our almshouses? They have all sprung from Christ, as the Root. When the Spirit of the Lord anointed Jesus, he preached good tidings to the poor; he announced "liberty to the captive, and the opening of the prison to those who were hound." No life has been so fruitful in good results as the life of Jesus Christ, and every true disciple aspires to be fruitful too. In the first age of Christianity, Paul saw many excellent fruits—"love, joy, peace, long suffering, meekness," etc. And the catalogue has been growing from that day to this.
4. Gladness is another feature in the coming of the Bridegroom. "The time of the singing of birds is come." If any event on earth can awaken joy, surely this must in a superlative degree. If, on the return of spring, lark and linnet and thrush trill their notes afresh, and fill the woods with music, can we restrain our joy when the spring is within us—a new incoming of heavenly life? This joy is joy of the richest quality. It is the cream of all joy. It is joy akin to that which floods the heart of God. We did not know what joy was until Christ visited the heart. Said Rutherford, "Hold, Lord! it is enough. The vessel cannot contain more." "It is meet that we should make merry and be glad." Let nature share in the gladness! It is the birthday and bridal of the soul in one!
5. This new love is held precious by Christ. "Sweet is thy voice, and thy countenance is lovely." We cannot understand why our attachment and our loyalty should be so highly esteemed by Jesus; yet so it is. He "rests in our love." He "rejoices over us with singing." He calls us "his jewels—his treasures." He has his "inheritance in the saints." Where the disciples meet, he delights to come. "Whoso offereth praise glorifieth" him. And such complacent joy does he find in his consecrated servants, that he says, "I am glorified in them." In the visions of heaven vouchsafed to St. John, the redeemed of earth occupied a place nearer to the throne than the unfallen angels. They are styled "messengers," "servants;" but consecrated men are designated "brethren."
III. THIS LANGUAGE IS DESCRIPTIVE OF REVIVAL AFTER TEMPORARY DEADNESS. The coming of Christ to the soul is like a restoration to life after fainting, or like new life after sleep.
1. The novelty of spiritual life, arising from contrast, does not abide. The joy that springs from pardon does not remain, just as the freshness of spring does not continue all the year. When the new experience becomes a settled thing, the gladness that could not at first but break into a song subsides into a calmer delight. At conversion the change was so great, the contrast with the former state so striking, the deliverance so welcome, we could not restrain our joy. But the festivities of marriage do not remain perpetual. The rosy hues of dawn do not continue all the day. So the rapture of the new birth does not remain all through the pilgrimage.
2. The Christian, too, has seasons of dark desertion. There are seasons when dark clouds gather round him, and the face of his best friend is hidden. Doubts, like malignant spirits, haunt his mind, and rob him of his peace. Satan entangles him in his enchantments, and lures him into the thickets around Doubting Castle. They "cannot read their titles clear to mansions in the skies." They miss the warm sunshine of Immanuel's face. And they are perplexed. If they are the Lord's, why this painful discipline? Why this loss of conscious favour? And in sad despondency they ask, "Will God cast off forever? Will he be favourable no more?"
3. Then the return of the Bridegroom brings new life and joy. "He restoreth my soul." Possibly there was some fault in us that required chastisement, or some rival to our best Beloved may have appeared in the heart not to be tolerated. Whatever was the cause of this temporary eclipse, certain it is that the reappearance of the sun will be a festive day—a jubilee, a resurrection morn. While under that dark cloud, there may have been some needed preparation of the soul for higher service, as with the fields of earth under wintry skies. Larger fruitfulness may result. The friendship of Jesus will be more prized. "Absence makes the heart grow fonder." Where silence and sadness just now reigned, mirth and music have stirred the echoes. Despondency has given place to hope. The dark shadows of night have fled before a new dawn; and again we can sing, "For, lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone."—D.
Song of Solomon 2:16
Marriage is a mutual identification of personal interests, therefore it fully represents the mystic union between Jesus and the believer. We may not have always the conscious sense of our Friend's nearness to us, still we can always say, "My Beloved is mine." For this is an established fact—a fact revealed—and this fact is ascertained by faith, and treasured in the memory, whether we experience it at the moment or not. If dark clouds hide the face of our Sun of Righteousness, we know still that he is affording us light and heat and life, and still we say, "My Beloved is mine."
I. THE HEART'S CHOICE. The door has been opened to Christ, and he has been admitted to the innermost shrine. He has become the soul's Husband and King by sacred covenant.
1. This choice is an effect, not a cause. "We love him, because he first loved us." Said Jesus to his first disciples, "Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you." His light has shined into our minds. His spirit has given sensibility to our conscience. He has made us sensible of our need. He has restrained us from further rebellion. He caused us to walk in the King's highway. "By the grace of God I am what I am."
2. This choice of Christ is our supremest wisdom. To have made Jesus our soul's Portion is an act of pure wisdom. It is the only right thing to do. He has a right to the chief place, and it would be sacrilege to give our best love to another. Yet, alas! many do. There are men who make money, or social rank, or fame, or pleasure, the best beloved of their heart. The world is their beloved, or their children occupy the place which should be Christ's. We may sincerely congratulate ourselves if we can say, "Jesus is my Portion."
3. Christ has been chosen because of his excellence. Who, in heaven or on earth, can be compared for worth with Jesus? A person is always more precious than a thing. A man is "more precious than the gold of Ophir." And among all persons Jesus is superlatively precious. Who can compare with him for wisdom? Who has dominion over nature and over the lower world like the Son of God? Who can impart strength like him? Can any one convey life but Immanuel? Or who has such influence for us in heaven as our gracious Intercessor?
"Infinite excellence is thine,
Almighty King of grace."
4. Christ has been chosen by virtue of his love. Even if he did not possess so many excellences, we should have chosen him for his love. His condescension is wonderful His sweet compassion has captivated our souls. As soon as we realized his tender, strong affection for us, we felt that we must have his friendship. As the echo responds to the speaker's voice, our love responded to his love. Or as the flowers respond to the summer sun, so our hearts gave out the fragrance of their love, under the quickening influence of his grace. For his love is not a vapid sentiment. His love is an ever lasting force, ever active, beneficent in ten thousand ways. His practical love persevered with us, touched us in a hundred points, and finally melted our ingratitude. Love has made us subjects, servants, slaves. Such love, when known, is irresistible.
II. THIS CHOICE INCLUDES PROPRIETORSHIP. "My Beloved is mine." As I say, "This coat is mine," or "This land is mine," so I can say, "Christ is mine." No one can dispossess me. It is an inalienable possession.
1. Mark the nature of this possession. I do not possess it simply with my hands. It is not something outside me, from which I alone can derive advantage. It is a possession within me. It becomes part and parcel of my being. It enters into my very life. I am a totally different being, by virtue of this possession. Jesus is identified with me, and I with him. He is my Life, my Hope. "Christ liveth in me." We possess him, as the branch possesseth the root.
2. The extent of the possession. As the bride becomes by marriage participator of all the lands and estates and honours of the bridegroom, so is it with every believer. The righteousness of Christ is mine. All the excellences of Christ are mine. The wealth of Christ is mine. "I am joint heir" with him. He has chosen to share with me all that he has. His friends are my friends. His servants are my servants. His world is my world. His throne is my throne. "All things are ours, for we are Christ's."
3. The utility of this possession. Does it not bring me great and present advantages? Does it not make me rich indeed? "He is mine to bear all my burdens; mine to discharge all my debts; mine to answer all my accusers; mine to conquer all my foes." He is "mine in absence, mine in presence; mine through life, mine in death; mine in the judgment; mine at the marriage supper of the Lamb." I am secure and honoured and happy, because "Christ is mine." "With him I'm rich, though stripped of all beside; Without him poor, though all the world were mine."
III. THIS CHOICE INCLUDES DEVOTEMENT. "I am his." As Jesus has given himself entirely and unreservedly to me, I have given myself wholly and without reserve to him. It is a real surrender.
1. The dignity of self-devotement. The man who devotes his whole self to his king or to his country does not degrade himself thereby. He rises in the scale of being; he rises in honour. Much more does the devoted servant of Jesus Christ rise to the dignity of true living. Better be prime minister of England than king in Dahomey. And nobler far is it to be a servant in Immanuel's kingdom than to boast of vain independence, and be in reality a vassal of Satan. To serve is noble, royal, Divine. Jesus is a King because he stooped to be a servant, and the only road to kingliness is hearty service. The heraldic motto of our Prince of Wales is, "I serve." Devotement to Jesus Christ is eternal honour.
2. The extent of self-devotement. It embraces our whole nature, our entire life. The claim of Christ is complete. There is no organ of our body, no faculty of mind, no moment of time, no particle of our wealth, which does not of right belong to him; therefore we can keep back nothing. We are "not our own." On the grounds of creation, sustenance, redemption, Jesus has a triple claim. And above all, he has our personal consent. By a sacred covenant, we have freely surrendered all we have to his kingly service. The consecration must be complete.
3. This devotement brings supreme satisfaction. There is no joy for the human soul like the joy of entire consecration. This is our proper place, and we cannot find our rest elsewhere. On our death bed, will the review of our life bring us satisfaction, unless that life has been spent, and wholly spent, in the service of our Redeemer? Can we dare to appropriate to ourselves all that belongs to Christ, if at the same time we do not give up all to him? As you cannot put pure water into a vessel that is already full of other things, so you cannot put Christ's treasures into a soul until it is emptied of self. To do my Master's will I must surrender all to him. To become like Christ I must be wholly consecrated to his kingdom. Then shall his joy be my joy. Then shall I discover the truth, and shall sing -
"I'm in the noblest sense my own
When most entirely thine."
HOMILIES BY J.R. THOMSON
Song of Solomon 2:1, Song of Solomon 2:2
The scene which suggests this imagery is one abounding in rural delights. In a remote country retreat, the lovers are seated on a couch of verdant turf, decked with lovely flowers. It seems as though nature has prepared for them a pleasant house whose rafters and galleries are formed by the lofty cedars and firs above them. The dialogue is coloured by the suggestions of the rustic spot. To the praises of the lover the bride responds with simplicity and humility: "I am as the wild flower of the vale"—the crocus or the rose. He accepts the comparison. "Yes; as a lily among thorns, so is my love among the daughters." Thus love glorifies and hallows the place of meeting, and transforms it into all that is beautiful. If this world is to the poet a gift of the Eternal Father, a revelation of his character, a means and aid to piety—yea, an earnest of heaven itself—then we may well see in the rose of Sharon, in the lily of the valley, an emblem of true virtue and excellence, especially as apparent in the Church, which is the garden of God's delight. Such spiritual excellence is characterized by—
I. BEAUTY. The mind is fashioned so that it must recognize and admire that which is beautiful, both in the natural and in the spiritual realm. There is a beauty, a charm in goodness more to be admired than the crimson petals of the rose or the lily's snow-white chalice. It is given to the spiritual to apprehend the ideal loveliness of virtue and Christian purity. As the flowers of the field and of the forest tell of the Creator's delight in shapeliest forms and fairest hues, so the graces that adorn the Christian character are witnesses to that Spirit, whose workmanship and design and whose vital creation they surely are.
"Thus beauty here is like to that above,
And loveliness leads up to perfect love."
II. PURITY. The wild flowers speak to the poet's mind of stainless goodness; the lily is especially the emblem of maiden pureness. Well may such blossoms, blooming far from the city's defilements, serve to symbolize that moral excellence which is uncontaminated by sin and by a sinful world. Where the holy Christ is himself spiritually present, his presence creates a purity akin to, because derived from, his own.
III. FRAGRANCE. The Song of Songs contains many references to the delicate and delightful odours which abound in the plains and gardens of the East. To the sense of smell there is an ethereal side, an aspect of sentiment; and to this the royal poet delights to appeal. The exquisite aroma which breathes from the scented blossoms tells of their nearness and suggests their beauty. There is a perfume in the pure and unselfish character which diffuses itself near and far, witnessing to the Divine grace and power that ever live and work in the spiritual garden of the Lord. This fragrance betrayeth itself, and cannot be hid.
IV. PRE-EMINECE HEIGHTENED BY CONTRAST. The lily is pictured as "among the thorns," by whose neighbourhood its fairness and sweetness are enhanced. The thorns are a foil to the flower. The plants which our heavenly Father hath planted in this world are hard by the useless and noxious growths of sin. Who has not seen a pure and gentle member of a coarse, worldly, and selfish circle—a family or a community—showing, all unconsciously, as a lily among thorns, more beautiful and charming for the uncongenial surroundings?
V. ATTRACTIVENESS. The rose and the lily draw to them the innocent child, the maiden gathering flowers with which to decorate the lowly home, the poet whose heart is open to the sacred sweetness of nature's symbols. Where there are spirits susceptible to beauty, the flowers will not be unheeded or unsought. A like attractiveness is exercised by the pure, the devout, the benevolent, and sympathizing. No wonder that Christ himself has been named the Rose of Sharon. Those who share his spirit and witness to his love are the ornaments of his garden, joining to render it the congenial resort, the chosen home, of all who are sensitive to the appeal of Divine love, and responsive to the summons of Divine holiness and authority.—T.
Song of Solomon 2:3
Shadow and fruit.
Pleasant was it at noon to quit the close tent pitched upon the open plain, and to seek the shelter of the spreading tree; pleasant, beneath this refuge from the scorching heat, to partake of the cool and juicy fruit plucked from its boughs. No wonder that the Church has delighted to find in the apple or citron tree, chief in value among the trees of the grove, an emblem of that "Plant of Renown," the Lord and Saviour himself, who has sheltered multitudes beneath his guardian presence, and supplied multitudes from his abundant sufficiency.
I. CHRIST'S SUPREMACY ASSERTED. As the noble citron in the orchard towers above the lesser trees, so is the Saviour exalted above all human teachers and leaders of men, and even above all inspired seers and prophets. This supremacy
(1) results from his very nature;
(2) is affirmed upon Divine authority;
(3) has proved itself in the history of the Church; and
(4) is made evident in the experience of every individual friend and disciple of the Lord.
II. CHRIST'S PROTECTION EXPERIENCED. The bride not only looked up to her royal bridegroom with reverence and with pride; she placed herself beneath his guardian care. He was her husband, in whose palace she abode, and in whose keeping she felt secure. He was to her as the spreading tree which protects from noonday heat. So the spiritual spouse of the Divine Bridegroom rests secure beneath the guardianship of her rightful Lord.
"Oppressed with noontide's scorching heat,
To yonder cross I flee;
Beneath its shelter take my seat—
No shade like this for me."
III. CHRIST'S SWEETNESS ENJOYED. The tree that yields the shelter supplies also the fruit, which is "sweet to the taste." And the soul partakes of Christ, feeding upon him by faith. As the fruit enters into the body, is assimilated, and refreshes the system, in like manner our Divine Lord condescends to become the life and nourishment of his people. His sacramental love brings health and nourishment, vigour and revival, satisfaction and joy, to the spiritual nature of such as participate by faith in his sacrifice and in his spirit. Such are happy, for they "taste and see that the Lord is good."—T.
Song of Solomon 2:4
The banquet of love.
Both in the Old Testament and in the New the blessings of the gospel are set forth, by anticipation or in reality, under the image of a feast. The composite nature of man gives point and effectiveness to this metaphorical language. The soul is led by the Saviour into his banqueting house, where hunger is satisfied, and where the provisions of bounty and of love are partaken and enjoyed.
I. IT IS CHRIST WHO BRINGS THE SOUL TO HIMSELF. He does not wait for the needy and poverty-stricken spirit to find him and to come to him. He came in pity to seek and to save. And as when he was upon earth Jesus sought out many a sinner, many a sufferer, so does he still and ever, in the exercise of his Divine compassion, lay his hand upon needy outcasts, and lead them into his banqueting house.
II. IT IS CHRIST WHO PROVIDES FOR THE SOUL A BOUNTIFUL ENTERTAINMENT. It is not merely bread for the hungry that the gospel offers; it is, in the language of Scripture, a "feast of fat things." Salvation means something more than deliverance from destitution. God comes to us in Christ, saying, "All things are yours." The beggar may be relieved at the gate; but the guest is welcomed to the banquet hall, and has his place assigned him at the board of the Divine and blessed Host himself, he whom Christ leads to his own fellowship shall not want any good thing; wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption, all are assured to him.
III. IT IS CHRIST WHO REVEALS TO THE SOUL THE MYSTERY OF DIVINE LOVE. The banner or standard is the sign of the presence of the king or the commander. Even over the "house of wine" there floated the symbol of the royal bridegroom. Thus for the soul that Christ finds and leads, that Christ supplies from the stores of his spiritual bounty, is there an assurance that the King himself keeps guard over its safety. There is the pledge, not only of the king's faithfulness, but of the bridegroom's love. The soul may feast in security and peace, may enjoy the companionship of Christ's friends; for high over the banqueting house floats the banner, which is the emblem of a Divine presence, and the earnest of an unchanging, an eternal love.—T.
Song of Solomon 2:8-10
The approach of the beloved.
How poetically does this language picture the rural maiden m her mountain home—the lover climbing the hill like a young hart for strength and swiftness, looking in through the lattice window, calling to his beloved, and inviting her to join him amidst the beauty, the fragrance, and the freshness of the spring! So comes Christ unto the soul.
I. THE VOICE OF THE BELOVED. Jesus speaks in his Word and gospel, and his utterance is
(4) encouraging; and
There is no voice like his; he "spake as never man spake."
II. THE GLANCE AND GAZE OF THE BELOVED.
1. Our Saviour's regard is one of interest. Never is his Church forgotten or neglected by him; never does he withdraw his attention or treat with indifference and neglect those for whom he died.
2. He makes himself acquainted with our state and our wants.
3. He looks with affectionate kindness upon those who are dependent upon his favour and bounty.
4. Christ's gracious regard awakens in the minds of his people a desire to know him more intimately. To see him once is to wish to see him again; to see him now and here is to hope for the nearer and perfect vision hereafter.
III. THE INVITATION OF THE BELOVED. We may notice in the tenth verse:
1. The address—remarkably kind, familiar, and affectionate.
2. The appeal: "Rise up!" Is there slothfulness and inactivity? The summons of the Lord is enough to rouse to earnestness and animation.
3. The entreaty: "Come away!" Thus Christ calls his people to himself, and bids them seek his society, accept that spiritual companionship, desire that affectionate intercourse, which are the prerogative of those whom he loves. Even if to act upon this invitation be to leave all that earth can offer, still there is more than compensation for such loss in the joy and privilege of the peerless friendship of the Son of God.—T.
Song of Solomon 2:11-13
In this poetical language there is an anticipation of that delight in rural scenery which we are accustomed to regard as distinctive of modern feeling and modern literature. But there is no doubt of the power of ardent love to colour all nature to the eye of him who yields himself to the strong emotion—the power of ardent love to make all this world melodious, fragrant, and fair. Emotion gives keenness to the sense and vigour to the imagination. And he whose mind is open, not only to the power of nature to elicit sentiment, but to its power to suggest spiritual truth, the masons of the year and the shifting panorama of earth speak of a Divine presence and of a thousand sacred realities.
I. WHAT SPRING TIME BANISHES. "The winter is past, the rain is over and gone." There is a spiritual winter—the winter of darkness and gloom, of ignorance and error, of sterility and death, of vice and crime and sin. It was beneath the rigour and the depression of this winter that the world lay, in seeming hopelessness, until the Sun of Righteousness arose upon the world with healing in his wings. It is well, whilst in the enjoyment of the blessings of the spiritual dispensation, to look back upon the winter of humanity, from whose dreariness we have been delivered.
II. WHAT SPRING TIME BRINGS. "The flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land." There is a blessed spiritual spring, bringing beauty and fragrance as of flowers, and sweetness as of the music of the grove. Life is the distinctive note of the new and spiritual economy; and with spiritual life all good things come to us. The beauties and all the treasures of the spring are emblems of peace and joy, of purity and glad service, of obedience and praise. The Easter of humanity is the season for thanksgiving and triumph, for radiant hope and for inspiring song.
III. WHAT SPRING TIME HERALDS. "The fig tree ripeneth her green figs; and the vines are in blossom, they give forth their fragrance." The blossoms of the spring tell us of the coming fruit in abundance and lusciousness. Far off as the world's spiritual summer may seem, the mission of the Son of God and the mission of the Comforter assure the faithful mind that there is a harvest yet to come. He who could call life out of death, could banish the winter of humanity, can and will, in his own time, bring his work to perfection. The blossom shall mature into fruit, the green of spring shall mellow into autumn's gold. Fruits of the Spirit shall abound, and the heavenly Vine-dresser and Husbandman shall be satisfied and glorified.—T.
Song of Solomon 2:15
The little foxes.
The maiden sings a vintage song, or repeats the admonition of her brothers, who have left her in charge of the vineyard. It is her duty to protect the precious plants and fruits from the incursions of enemies, even of those which seem the most unworthy of notice. It has been usual to regard these "little foxes" as emblematic of evil powers which perhaps insidiously threaten the welfare of the spiritual vineyard.
I. THE CHURCH OF CHRIST IS THE SPIRITUAL VINEYARD WHICH GOD HAS PLANTED IN THE BARREN SOIL OF THE WORLD. As in the Old Testament Israel is often compared to a vine (Psalms 80:1-19.) or to a vineyard (Isaiah 5:1-30.), so in the New Testament the spiritual society which the Son of God has founded is exhibited under the same similitude.
II. THE CHURCH OF CHRIST EXISTS FOR THE SAKE OF SPIRITUAL FRUIT. The vineyard may be beautiful to behold; it may be a charming addition to the landscape; its gracefulness and verdure may afford pleasure to the passer by: yet it exists for the sake of fruit. So with the Church, which is indeed an element of interest in history, an important factor in the state, an admirable illustration of the higher capacities of man's being; but which yet exists for the sake of that holy life, those deeds of justice, mercy, and devotion, which are the true fruits of the Spirit, the very vintage of God.
III. THE CHURCH OF CHRIST IS OFTEN ASSAILED BY MISCHIEVOUS INFLUENCES. Like the enemies of the vineyard, evil powers enter in, and damage the spiritual blossom and threaten to destroy the spiritual vintage. False doctrines, heresies, and schisms, delusions, human ambitions, selfish habits, gross corruptions, sins of worldliness and unspirituality,—such are some of these influences which portend disaster to the work which has been undertaken for God upon earth.
IV. THOUGH APPARENTLY TRIFLING, THESE MISCHIEVOUS INFLUENCES MAY DO GREAT HARM. Like the "little foxes," the power of harmful influences must not be measured by appearances, by magnitude. Deflections from truth or from virtue may appear at first slight and insignificant; but the entrance of evil into Christ's Church is like the letting in of water; what is at first a leak becomes a flood. To change the figure, the disease may in its first approach appear unimportant, yet it may grow until it threatens not only health, but life itself. The vineyard, if left open to the incursions of vermin, will soon give evidence of ravages most serious, if not disastrous. Let no one concerned for the safety and welfare of Christ's Church be indifferent to the insidious commencement of harm. No one can say whereunto the thing may grow.
V. THESE EVIL INFLUENCES SHOULD, THEREFORE, BE VIGOROUSLY ATTACKED AND SPEEDILY EXTIRPATED. "Take us the little foxes;" wage war against even apparently insignificant foes. Not by way of force or of fraud, but by the presentation of truth, by admonition and exhortation, openly, feelingly, and prayerfully. It is a duty which at some time or other, and in some way or other, every Christian is called upon to fulfil. The ministers of Christ's Church are especially bound to be upon their guard against the introduction of false doctrine, and of lax and sinful practice; they are set "for the defence and confirmation of the gospel," and it is their office to withstand every foe that threatens the security and the vitality of the Divine society on earth.—T.
Song of Solomon 2:16
One-sided affection is incomplete, unsatisfying, and unhappy; it may be disastrous. Real friendship and true marriage imply mutual love, reciprocal kindnesses. So is it in those personal relations between Christ and the Christian soul, which are the foundations of the spiritual life of mankind. It is only well when the friend of the Saviour can truly say, "My Beloved is mine, and I am his."
I. THE CLAIM MADE BY THE CHRISTIAN TO A SPIRITUAL PROPERTY IN CHRIST
1. Our Lord and Saviour is ours, to exercise in our favour his mediatorial offices, as our Prophet, Priest, and King.
2. He is ours, to reveal his intimate affection to our heart.
"The opening heavens around me shine
With beams of heavenly bliss,
While Jesus says that he is mine,
And whispers I am his!"
3. He is ours, to impart a value and a charm to all our other possessions. These, whether material or spiritual, are altogether different from what they would otherwise be; they are irradiated and dignified by the glory which shines upon them from our Divine Friend. "All things are ours."
II. THE CLAIM MADE BY CHRIST TO A SPIRITUAL PROPERTY IN THE CHRISTIAN.
1. The Saviour regards his people with an especial favour and affection. In a sense, all men are Christ's; he assumed the human nature which is common to us all, and he died for all. But in a peculiar manner they are his who acknowledge his mission, receive his gospel, confide in his mediation, obey his commandments. Towards such his regard is one of complacency and personal affection.
2. The Saviour regards his people as his to care for, to protect, and to save. Having loved his own, he loves them unto the end. There are no circumstances in which he will not remember them, interpose upon their behalf and for their deliverance.
3. The Saviour possesses his people in order to exercise over them a peculiar authority. As the husband is the head of the wife, and as his affection does not destroy his authority, but makes it benign and welcome; so our Divine Lord, who loves his spouse, the Church, which he purchased with his precious blood, directs and governs the object of his tender interest with kindness which is yet authoritative. It is the prerogative and joy of Christ's people to take their Lord's will as the binding law of their individual and social life.
APPLICATION. It is forevery Christian to remember that in this relation the Lord Jesus is the superior. "We love him, because he first loved us." This fact should infuse gratitude into our affection, and should urge us to responsive consecration and obedience.—T.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Song of Solomon 2". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany