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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Song of Solomon 8". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ tpc/ song-of-solomon-8.html. 1897.
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Song of Solomon 8". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
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Song of Solomon 8:1-3
Oh that thou wert as my brother, that sucked the breasts of my mother! When I should find thee without, I would kiss thee; and none would despise me. I would lead thee, and bring thee into my mother's house, who would instruct me; I would cause thee to drink of spiced wine, of the juice of my pomegranate. His left hand should be under my head, and his right hand should embrace me. The meaning seems to be this—Let our relation to one another be the highest and the purest and the most permanent possible. The sisterly relation is not merely one of affection, but one of blood. The bond between husband and wife may be broken by the caprice and weakness of human feeling, but nothing can destroy the bond of blood. "A friend loveth at all times, and a brother is born for adversity" (Proverbs 17:17); "There is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother" (Proverbs 18:24). The brotherly bond represents the strength of the blood relationship. When to that is added personal affection, then the tie is perfect. Shulamith means that she would have their love freed from all the uncertainties of human fickleness. As symbolically interpreted, therefore, we take this whole passage to signify that the Church, when it is desiring the closest fellowship with the Saviour, would be lifted above all the temptations of earthly life, which so often lower the standard of Christian feeling and service. The words are specially impressive in the lips of the bride of Solomon. It is a testimony to the inspiration of the whole book that the voluptuous monarch, whose life fell so far below the ideal of a godly king, should yet, indirectly though still powerfully, condemn and rebuke his own departure from God, setting clearly before us the surpassing excellence of pure love and the sanctity of married life. In the Mug's address to his bride he called her "sister" and "sister-bride;" she now virtually returns his own sentiment and calls him "brother."' She shows that she has risen in her love far above the mere fleshly desires—"the lust of the fiesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life." She would blend her whole existence with that of her Lord. I would kiss thee; yea, and none would despise me. Nothing can more exquisitely and delicately express the fulness of affection. It is not merely a return for that which is given; it is free and spontaneous. So should our spiritual feelings be. They should be the natural outpouring of the soul towards the Saviour; not a worked up, artificial, spasmodic impulse, not a cold, dead formalism, not an unsympathetic service of conscience; but "doing the will of God from the heart." "Love is the fulfilling of the Law;" "Faith worketh by love." The second verse is differently rendered by some. Jerome, Venetian, and Luther take it as referring to the bride's dependence on her husband's superior wisdom—"Thou wouldest instruct me;" which, of course, is a very suitable sentiment as addressed to the wise King Solomon. The Targum expounds it thus: "I would conduct thee, O King Messiah, and bring thee into the house of my sanctuary; and thou wouldest teach me to fear God and to walk in his ways." Hitzig and our Revisers take the verb as in the third person feminine, and applied to the mother. "She would teach me as a mother teaches a young bride, from her own early experience." The old view that the bride is the personification of wisdom seems quite refuted by this speech of Shulamith's. She desires and waits for instruction. Solomon is wisdom. She is the soul of man, or the Church of God, delighting to sit at his feet and learn of him. Whichever rendering we choose, whether the mother or Solomon be regarded as teacher, the meaning is the same. It is, as Delitzsch has observed, a deep revelation of Shulamith's heart. "She knew how much she yet came short of being to the king all that a wife should be. But in Jerusalem the bustle of court life and the burden of his regal duties did not permit him to devote himself to her; in her mother's house, if he were once there, he would in. struct her, and she would requite him with her spiced wine and with the juice of the pomegranates." The "spiced wine," vinum conditura, aromatic wine, probably grape wine "mixed with fragrant and pungent essences," as in the East. The juice, or pressed juice, of the pomegranate is a delicious drink. There is no allusion to any love symbol. The grains of the pomegranates were said by the Arabians to be from Paradise (cf. the ῥοΐ́της, or "vinum de punicis quod roidem vocant" in Dioscorides and Pliny). Perhaps this reference to exchange of gifts may be taken as symbolizing the happy state of the Church when she pours out her treasures in response to the spiritual blessings which she is freely receiving. The meaning is something beautiful and precious. And that is the highest state of religious life when the service we render and the gifts we place on the altar are felt to be the grateful sacrifices of our hearts under a sense of Divine love. When the Church of Christ depends for its support on such fellowship between itself and the Saviour there will be no limits to its attainments, no achievements beyond its powers. "All that see" such a state of the Church "shall acknowledge" the glory of it, "that they are the seed which the Lord hath blessed" (see the whole of the sixty-first chapter of Isaiah, which breathes the very spirit of Solomon's Song). The rejoicing bride then gives herself up to the thought of her husband's affection. In that beautiful simplicity and purity of her childhood's life she would realize the bliss of her new relation. Delitzsch describes her state of mind thus: "Resigning herself dreamily to the idea that Solomon is her brother, whom she may freely and openly kiss, and her teacher besides, with whom she may sit in confidential intercourse under her mother's eye, she feels herself as if closely embraced by him, and calls from a distance to the daughters of Jerusalem not to disturb this her happy enjoyment." Perhaps the sense of weakness and dependence is meant to be expressed. The bride is conscious that her lord is everything to her. In that identification which the highest love brings vividly into the soul, there is the joy of exultation. "All things are ours; and we are Christ's, and Christ is God's."
Song of Solomon 8:4
I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem, that ye stir not up, nor awaken love, until it please. This, of course, as the refrain of the song, must be taken as a general sentiment. Love is its own lord. Let it have free course. Let it perfect itself in its own best way. The form of the adjuration is abbreviated in this case. The omission of the words, "By the roes and by the hinds of the field," is not without its significance. Is it not intended to intimate that the natural love, to which reference was made by the introduction of the beautiful wild creatures of the field, is now no more in the thoughts of the bride, because it has been sublimated into the higher sisterly love of which she has been speaking? She is not merely the lovely woman on whom the king dotes because of her personal beauty; she is his companion and dearest friend. He opens his heart to her. He teaches her. He lifts her up to his own level. She participates in his royal dignity and majesty. The ἔρως of her first estate of love is now exalted into the ἀγάπη, which is the grace never to be without its sphere, abiding forever. We must not press too closely the poetic form of the song. Something must be allowed for the framework in which the main ideas are set before us. It may not be possible to answer the question—Who are intended to be symbolized by the daughters of Jerusalem? There is no necessity to seek further into the meaning of the whole poem than its widest and most general application. But the daughters of Jerusalem are in a lower position, a less favoured relation to the bridegroom, than the bride herself. We may, therefore, without hesitation, accept the view that by the adjuration is intended the appeal of the higher spiritual life against all that is below it; the ideal love calling upon all that is around it and all that is related to it to rise with it to perfection. The individual soul is thus represented claiming the full realization of its spiritual possibilities. The Church of God thus remonstrates against all that hinders her advancement, restrains her life, and interrupts her blessedness. Jerusalem has many daughters. They are not all in perfect sympathy with the bride. When they listen to the adjurations of the most spiritual, the most devoted, the most heavenly and Christ-like of those who are named by the Name of the Lord, they will themselves be lifted up into the bridal joy of "the marriage supper of the Lamb."
Song of Solomon 8:5-14
Part V. CONCLUSION. THE BRIDEGROOM AND THE BRIDE IN THE SCENE OF THEIR FIRST LOVE.
Song of Solomon 8:5
Who is this that cometh up from the wilderness, leaning upon her beloved? We must compare this question with the corresponding one in So Song of Solomon 3:6. In that case the inhabitants of Jerusalem are supposed to be looking forth, and behold the bridal procession approaching the capital. In this case the scene is transferred to the country, to the neighbourhood of the bride's home, where she has desired to be with her lord. The country people, or the group of her relatives, are supposed to be gazing at the pair of lovers, not coming in royal state, but in the sweet simplicity of true affection, the bride leaning with loving confidence on the arm of her husband, as they were seen before in the time of their "first love." The restoration of "first love" is often the prayer of the disciple, feeling how far he falls short of the affection which such a Master should call forth. The first feelings of the heart when it is won to Christ are very delightful.
"Where is the blessedness I knew
When first I saw the Lord?
Where is the soul-refreshing view
Of Jesus and his Word?"
It is a blessedness when we come up from the wilderness. It is a joy to ourselves and a matter of praise to our fellow believers when we are manifestly filled with a sense of the Saviour's presence and fellowship. The word midhbaur, translated "wilderness," does not, however, necessarily mean a desolate and barren desert, but rather the open country, as the Valley of Jezreel The LXX. had either a different reading in the Hebrew or has mistaken it. They have rendered the last clause "clothed in white," which perhaps Jerome has followed with his deliciis affluens. The word is, however, from the root rauvaq, which in the hiph. is "to support one's self." The meaning, therefore, is, "leaning for support." It might, however, be intended to represent the loving confidence of married life, and therefore would be equivalent in meaning to the Greek and Latin renderings, that is, "Who is this? Evidently a young newly married wife with her husband." Perhaps this is the best explanation of the words as preparing for what follows, as the bridegroom begins at once to speak of the first love. Some think that the road in which the loving pair are seen to be walking brings their footsteps near to the apple tree over against Shulamith's house where they had first met. But there is no necessity for that supposition. It is sufficient if we imagine the apple tree to be in sight.
Song of Solomon 8:5
Under the apple tree I awakened thee; there thy mother was in travail with thee; there was she in travail that brought thee forth. I awakened thee; i.e. I stirred thee up to return the affection which I showed thee (cf. So Song of Solomon 2:7). The Masoretic reading prints the verb עוֹרַרתִּיךָ, as with the masculine suffix, but this renders the meaning exceedingly perplexed. The bride would not speak of awakening Solomon, but it was he who had awakened her. The change is very slight, the ךָ becoming ךְ, and is supported by the Old Syriac Version. It must be remembered that the bridegroom immediately addresses the bride, speaking of her mother. The apple tree would certainly be most naturally supposed to be situated somewhere near the house where the bride was bore perhaps overshadowing it or branching over the windows, or trained upon the trellis surrounding the house. The bridegroom points to it. "See, there it is, the familiar apple tree beside the house where thy dear self wast born. There, yonder, is where thy mother dwelt, and where thou heartiest my first words of affection as we sat side by side just outside the house under the shade of the apple tree." The language is exquisitely simple and chaste, and yet so full of the tender affection of the true lover. The spot where the first breathings of love came forth will ever be dear in the remembrance of those whose affection remains faithful and fond. The typical view certainly finds itself supported in these words. Nothing is more delightful and more helpful to the believer than to go over in thought, again and again, and especially when faith grows feeble, when the heart is cold and fickle under the influence of worldly temptations and difficulties of the Christian course, the history of the first beginning of the spiritual life. We recall how dear the Lord was to us then, how wonderful his love seemed to us, how condescending and how merciful. We reproach ourselves that we faint and fail; we cry out for the fulness of grace, and it is given us.
Song of Solomon 8:6, Song of Solomon 8:7
Set me as a seal upon thine heart, as a seal upon thine arm: for love is strong as death; jealousy is cruel as the grave: the flashes thereof are flashes of fire, a very flame of the Lord. Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it; if a man would give all the substance of his house for love, he would be utterly contemned. Is this to be regarded as the reply of the bride to the tender allusion of her husband to their first love; or is it, as some think, only the first words which belong to the bride, while the rest of the two verses are a kind of chorus echoing her loving appeal, and bringing the general action of the poem to a conclusion? It is difficult to decide this, and the meaning is not affected either way. Perhaps, however, it is best to take it as spoken by the bride, who continues her address to the end of the eighth verse. She is full of joy in the return of perfect confidence; she prays that the full tide of affection may never cease to flow, that there be no ebbing of that happy feeling in which she now delights; and then sings the praise of love itself, as though a prelude of praise to a long and eternal peace. The seal is the signet ring, chotham, from a root "to impress" It was sometimes carried by a string on the breast, and would, therefore, be near the heart (see Genesis 38:18). It was sometimes worn on the hand (see Jeremiah 22:24; and cf. Genesis 41:42; Esther 3:12). It was not worn on the arm like a bracelet (2 Samuel 1:10). Probably it was not the signet ring which is referred to in the second clause: "Set me as a seal on thine heart, and as a bracelet on thine arm." The same simile is not infrequent in the prophets. The desire of Shulamith was to escape all possibility of those declensions of which she had spoken before. "Let me never be out of thy thoughts; let me never go back from my fulness of joy in thy love." The true believer understands well such language. He knows that the maintenance of devout affection is not a matter of mere desire and will. The Lord himself must help us with his blessed gifts, the influence of his gracious Spirit to overcome the feebleness and fickleness of a fallen heart. We want to be close to the heart of the Saviour; we want to be constantly in his eye, and so diligently employed in his service, so closely associated with the work of his mighty arm, that we shall be ever receiving from him the signs and evidences of his approval and affection. The purity and perfection of true love are the theme of every sincere believer. The priceless value of such love is described in the Book of Proverbs (Proverbs 6:30), in Numbers 22:18, and 1 Corinthians 13:3. It is an unquenchable flame—nothing can resist it. We cannot but recall the rapturous language of one who himself was an example of the highest devotedness to the Saviour, who rejoiced over death and the grave in the consciousness of victory through him from whose love nothing can separate us (Romans 8:38; 1 Corinthians 15:54). Certainly the history of the sufferings and trials of the true Church form a most striking commentary upon these words. Floods of persecution have swept over it, but they have not quenched love. The flame has burst forth again and again when it seemed to be extinguished, and it has become a very "flame of the Lord." The bush has been burning, but has not been consumed. By jealousy is intended love in its intensity not bearing arival. The "flame of the Lord" may be compared with "the voice of the Lord," which is described in Hebrew poetry as connected with the fury of the storm. The flame, therefore, would be lightning and the voice thunder. The whole of this passage, which forms a kind of keynote of the poem, is more like a distinct strain introduced to give climax to the succession of songs than the natural expression of the bride's feelings. It has been always regarded as one of the sublimest apostrophes to love to be found anywhere. The enemies of God and of humanity are represented as falling before it, death and the grave. Its vehemence and force of manifestation are brought vividly before us by the comparison of the flash of lightning. It is remarkable that this exaltation of love should be included in the Old Testament, thus proving that the Mosaic Law, with its formal prescriptions, by no means fulfils the whole purpose of God in his revelation to the world. As the New Testament would not have been complete without the message of the beloved disciple, so this Old Testament must have its song of love. Nor is it only the ideal and the heavenly love which is celebrated, but human affection itself is placed very high, because it is associated with that which is Divine. It is a more precious thing than mere wealth or worldly honour, and he that trifles with it deserves the utmost scorn and contempt of his fellows. It is well to remark how consistently the poetic framework is maintained. There is no attempt to leave the lines of human relations even at this point, whets evidently the sentiment rises above them. The love which is apostrophized is not removed from earth in order to be seen apart from all earthly imperfections and impurities. We are invited rather to look through the human to the Divine which embraces it and glorifies it. That. is the method of the Divine revelation throughout. "The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us." We do not need to take Solomon's Song as an allegory. It is a song of human love, but as such it is a symbol of that which is Divine.
Song of Solomon 8:8
We have a little sister, and she hath no breasts: what shall we do for our sister in the day when she shall be spoken for? The term "little" refers, of course, to her tender age, as in 2 Kings 5:2, the "little maid;" and in Genesis 44:20, "a child of his old age, a little one," referring to Benjamin. "She hath no breasts" is equivalent to saying she is not yet mature, of marriageable age (see Ezekiel 16:7). The question which the bride asks of King Solomon refers to the promise which he is supposed to have made, and which he is virtually pledging himself to fulfil by this visit to the country home of his queen. "What shall be done for the advantage of my little sister? Let us consult together" (cf. Genesis 27:37; 1 Samuel 10:2; Isaiah 5:4). "The day when she shall be spoken for" is the day when she shall attract the attention of a suitor. It must necessarily be difficult to find satisfactory interpretations forevery detail in such a poem of human love as this. It might be sufficient to see in this reference to the younger sister the general idea of love's expansion. Those who are themselves the objects of it, being full of exquisite happiness, desire to call others into the same joy. This is true both of the individual and of the Church. What shall be done for others? That is the question which is awakened in every heart where true love is at work. There is no need to explain the language further. But the allegorists have been very ingenious in attempting to find meanings forevery allusion of the poem. Who is the little sister? What is her virginity? What is the day in which she shall be spoken for? Some have said that the little sister represents the firstfruits of the Jews and Gentiles received into the Christian Church immediately after the time of our Lord's ascension, as Beza and others. Some, again, take it to mean the whole body of Jews and Gentiles yet to be converted. Others would see in it those that are weak in faith, the beginners in Christian life. And, again, it has been regarded as pointing to the "daughter of Zion" at the time of the first beginnings of her conversion to the heavenly Solomon, which is the view of Hengstenberg and others. There is no end to such fancies. The broad general meaning is all that we can rest upon. The bride naturally thinks of her sister. It is a lovely incident in a perfectly idyllic poem. The visit to the home is quite in harmony with the fresh, pure, and simple life which reveals itself in all the utterances of the bride, and is honoured by the devoted attention of the splendid monarch. It is a real touch of nature when the young bride, in her family life once more, asks what shall become of her sister. It is an exquisite type of that sisterly solicitude with which all true Christians will care for the souls around them. Delitzsch thinks that the question which is asked by the bride is answered by her brothers, as they were the actual guardians of the little sister (see Gen 21:1-34 :50, 55; Genesis 34:6-8). But there is no necessity to introduce any new interlocutors at this point. The words are certainly addressed to Solomon. It is quite natural that he should reply to them in a royal style, with the pluralis majestatis which suits the corresponding position of the bride as a suppliant for her sister.
Song of Solomon 8:9
If she be a wall, we will build upon her a turret of silver: and if she be a door, we will enclose her with boards of cedar. The interpretation which Delitzsch suggests of these words is that the "wall" represents firmness of character, and the "door" weakness and insecurity. If she firmly and successfully withstands all immoral approaches, then we will bestow high honour upon her, as a tribute to her maidenly virtue and constancy. The turret or castle of silver would mean rewarding her with increase. Silver is the emblem of holiness, gold of nobility. The meaning may, however, merely be, "We will endow her with plenty." The boards of cedar are supposed to be special protections, as cedar is noted for its hardness and durability. But is not the meaning much simpler and more natural? It would be rather a far fetched use of the figure of a door that it should suggest seduction, and would be rather unsuitable in the lips of the bridegroom when speaking of the little sister of his own bride. May not the meaning be no more than this?—She may become one of the most substantial parts of the building, like a wall; in that ease all that she can be she shall be; we will put the highest honour upon her. She may be a door, that is, though not so great and substantial as the wall, still in the very front of the building and before the eyes of all. In that case we will beautify her with costly and fragrant adornment. The gate shall be enclosed in cedar wood. "The wall and the door," says Zockler, "are mostly understood of the steadfast and faithful keeping of the Word of God and of its zealous proclamation to the Gentiles (1 Corinthians 16:9, etc.); but some also explain them of the valiant in faith and the weak in faith, or of the learned and simple, or of faithful Christians and such as are recreant and easily accessible to the arts of seduction. And then, according to these various interpretations, the 'silver bulwarks' are now the miracles of the first witnesses of Jesus, now the distinguished teachers of the Church, now pious Christian rulers, now the testimonies of Holy Scripture by which faith is strengthened. And, again, by the 'cedar boards' are sometimes understood the ten commandments or the Law, sometimes Christian teachers, sometimes the examples of the saints, sometimes the salutary discipline of the cross and sufferings for Christ's sake," etc. All such attempts at detailed interpretation fail to give satisfaction. Their effect is to repel many from the study of the book altogether, just as the follies and. extravagances of the interpreters of prophecy have greatly hindered the study of the prophetic Scriptures. The wall and the door need not be taken as opposed to one another, as they are not in our conceptions of a city. They fulfil different functions. The wall is for defence; the door is for admission. In the one case we think of strength, and in the other case of beauty. The application of the symbols is very easy if the general meaning alone is regarded. There is a variety of capacity and function in the Church of Christ. There are differences in the forms of Christianity among different nations. But the Lord will receive and bless all. Some are not fitted to be built upon as strong wails, but they may still be beautiful examples of Christian graces in the eyes of the world, through whom many gladly enter into the truth and into the fellowship of Christ.
Song of Solomon 8:10-12
I am a wall, and my breasts like the towers thereof: then was I in his eyes as one that found peace. Solomon had a vineyard at Baal-hamon; he let out the vineyard unto keepers; every one for the fruit thereof was to brings a thousand pieces of silver. My vineyard, which is mine, is before me: thou, O Solomon, shalt have a thousand, and those that keep the fruit thereof two hundred. The meaning seems to be affectionate approval of the method just described. Solomon says, "If the young sister be, worthy of love, she shall receive more and more of defence and honour; she shall be all that I can make her." The bride takes up this thought. "So it is with me, and, in the spirit of thankful acknowledgments and praise, I will respond to all the favour of the king. King Solomon has loved me, and now I am rising higher and becoming more and more glorious because of his love." The typical reference can scarcely be missed. The Church, the bride of the Lamb, shines only in the light of him whose favour is life, and whose loving kindness is better than life. The comparison to a city with the walls and towers, while it would seem a little far fetched in a love song, is quite in place if the typical intention was in the mind of the writer. He was thinking of the city of God, "beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth." "One that findeth peace" is the same as "one that findeth favour," that is, one who is the object of his affection. There are several references which confirm this, such as Esther 2:17; Deuteronomy 24:1; Jeremiah 31:2; Psalms 41:10. The word "peace" (shalom) is in all probability purposely chosen in this case as a kind of play on the name Solomon, which appears immediately afterwards. "The king of peace delights in me because I am peace in his eyes." The Church is after the image of the King. His likeness in her makes her beautiful. Men take knowledge of Christians that they have been with Jesus (see 1 Chronicles 22:9). It is scarcely necessary to point out that this language of the bride is entirely against the shepherd theory. She could not have talked of finding peace in his eyes if she was torn from her true lover. The bride then goes on to express her devotedness to the king and her desire to bring forth abundance for him. She uses as an example, which perhaps was typical in her time and country, some remarkably fruitful vineyard of the king's. She will, in like manner, realize all his highest wishes. All that she has shall be his. The name Baal-hamon (בַּעַלחָמוֹן) in the LXX. Βεελαμών (cf. Judith 8:3), designates probably a place near to Sunem, somewhere to the north, on the further side of the Plain of Jezreeh The produce of the vineyard must have been very large, as every keeper was to bring in for himself a thousand shekels of silver. It is not stated how many keepers there were, but the word which is employed is not "servants," but "watchers, or overseers." A vineyard was divided into portions, with a certain definite prescribed number of vines in each portion. In Isaiah 7:23 we read, "And it shall come to pass in that day that every place where there were a thousand vines at a thousand silverlings shall even be for briers and thorns." Now, a thousand silverlings was one shekel, so that if this passage can be taken as throwing light on what the bride says, it would imply that, instead of one shekel forevery thousand vines, every keeper brought a thousand shekels. That would seem impossible, so that the parallel can scarcely be strict. Perhaps the largeness of the vineyard is referred to, and each of the keepers would have many thousands of vines under his inspection. The general meaning, however, is not obscure. The vineyard was a celebrated one, and was taken as a typical instance of fertility and abundance. When the bride speaks of her vineyard which is before her, there may be an allusion to her previous manner of life as a rustic maiden employed in the vineyards, and to her own position as a keeper or as one of the family. But this is not intended to be prominently expressed. The whole spirit of the poem justifies the view that she is speaking of her person. She invited Solomon to rejoice in the beauty and fragrance of her garden, to pluck the fruits, to revel in the delights. Everything that is pleasant and lovely is before him (see So 4:12; Isaiah 5:1). Before me; that is, in my power is all this delight, and my desire is to my husband; all that I have is his. Like the far-famed keepers of Baal-hamon, I will give the king a thousand shekels, that is, the utmost that the vineyard can produce, and "those that keep the fruit thereof" shall have two hundred—perhaps meaning a hundred each, that is a tenth, which was the ancient tithe due to the priests. It may be, however, that a double tithe is intended. The king shall be satisfied, and all those who labour for the king shall be more than ever rewarded. If we take such words as typical, they point to a state of things in the history of the kingdom of God when the spiritual and the temporal shall be perfectly adjusted. The keepers of the vineyard have often made sad havoc of the vineyard itself because of their greedy discontent. The fruits which have been yielded by the Church have fallen very far short. The husbandmen have ill treated the Lord's servants. But all the judgments which have been poured out both upon ancient Jews and upon the corrupt Christendom of later times have been directed to one end, to make the vineyard of the Lord more fruitful, to remove the things which are offensive in his sight, to satisfy him whose soul travailed for his people; for herein is the Father glorified in the Son, when them who bear the name of the Beloved "bear much fruit." Then the keepers of the vineyard will themselves rejoice, not that they reap a larger harvest of this world's good, not "for filthy lucre's sake," but because their hearts are one with his whose vineyard they keep, and to see the fruit abound is to fill them with joy. Surely we shall recognize in such language an anticipation of the many allusions which are found both in the prophets and psalms and in the discourses of our Lord himself. "The vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah his pleasant plant" (Isaiah 5:7)
Song of Solomon 8:13
Thou that dwellest in the gardens, the companions hearken for thy voice; cause me to hear it. There cannot be much doubt that these are the words of the bridegroom. They are addressed to the bride. She is the dweller in the gardens; that is, one who is at home in the gardens, whose beauty blends with the rural loveliness around her. The king wishes his bride to understand that she is only acceptable in his sight, and that all that she asks shall be granted. It is delightful to him to hear her voice, as it is delightful to those who have been accustomed to that voice from her childhood. "Dear country girl, sing to me, and let me revel in the sweetness of thy music. 'Thy companions hearken for it'—thy former associates, the playmates of thy youth. And while they gather round us, and you and I rejoice in one another, let the sound of thy voice mingle with the peaceful beauty of this earthly paradise." There is an exquisite tenderness in this conclusion of the poem. The curtain falls, as it were, upon a scene of mutual confidence and affection, the simplicity of the bride's early home being lifted up into the royal splendour of the king's presence, the companions beholding and praising, while, in the midst of all that sunny bliss and peaceful content, the voice of the Bride is heard singing one of the old, familiar strains of love with which she poured out her heart in the days when her beloved came to find her in her home. It is impossible to conceive a more perfect conclusion. It leads up our thoughts to the laud of light and song, where "the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall be the Shepherd" of those who shall "hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun strike upon them, nor any heat;" "and he shall guide them unto fountains of waters of life: and God shall wipe away every tear from their eyes" (Revelation 7:16, Revelation 7:17). It is sad to think that Solomon himself fell from such an ideal of human affection, and was unfaithful to such a bride. But there is no need to trouble the clear, transparent beauty of this typical poem by any reference to the incidents of the writer's own history. He placed it on the altar of God, no doubt, at a time when it represented sincere feelings in his heart, and because he was inspired to see that it would be profitable to the people of God as a mirror in which they could behold the reflection of the highest truth. But though he himself fell away from his high place as a prophet of God, the words which he left behind him were still a precious gift to the Church. It is otherwise with him who is typified by the earthly monarch. He who is the heavenly Bridegroom has himself to lift up the weakness and fickleness of his bride by fellowship with her, until she is above the reach of temptation, and partaker of his own glory. And he does so, as this exquisite poem reminds us, by the power of his love. It is the personal influence of the Lord Jesus Christ which must glorify the Church and restore it to its original simplicity and spirituality. The scene into which we are led in this story of bridal affection typifies a state of the Church when the artificiality of court life shall be abandoned, the magnificence of mere external pomp and ritual shall be left behind, and the bride shall simply delight herself in the Bridegroom among the pure and peaceful surroundings of a country home. The Church will realize the greatness of her power when she is delivered from that which hides her Saviour, when she is simply human and yet entirely spiritual; then the Lord of her life, the second Adam, the perfect Man, who is from heaven and in heaven, but still on earth, changing earth to heaven by his love, will fulfil his promise. "He not merely concludes the marriage covenant with mankind, but likewise preserves, confirms, refines, and conducts it step by step to its ideal consummation, which is at the same time the palingenesia and perfection of humanity."
Song of Solomon 8:14
Make haste, my beloved, and be thou like to a roe or to a young hart upon the mountains of spices. This is a snatch of the old love songs which the bride used to sing when love was fresh and young. She sings it now at the request of her bridegroom himself, and in the delighted ears of her companions. She goes forth from among, them leaning on her beloved, to rejoice in the beautiful scenery and rural pleasures with him whose presence heightens every joy, the life of her life, the soul of her soul, "all her salvation, all her desire." The bridegroom and the bride are seen disappearing together over the flowery hills; and the music of the Song of Songs dies away in the sweet fragrance of that closing scene; the vision of love has, gazelle-like, leapt from point to point, and vanishes away at last among the mountains of spices. It is well to notice that what were before "mountains of Berber," that is, of "separation," are now "mountains of Besamin"—balsam mountains. There is no more word of separation. Henceforth the only note is one of peaceful enjoyment. "My beloved is mine, and I am his." Our home and haunt is the same. The concluding words, we cannot doubt, are intended to open a perfect future to the eye. Yet the poet, with consummate art, connects that future with the past and the present by the voice of the bride heard singing the love song with which she first expressed her love, now lifted up into anticipation of the everlasting hills of fragrant and joyful life.
Song of Solomon 8:1-4
Wishes of the bride.
1. That she had known the bridegroom always. The bride continues the address of Song of Solomon 7:1-13. She is still speaking to the king, telling him of her love. He had again and again called her his sister—his sister-bride. She now wishes that he were to her as a brother; that they could have been children of the same mother; that they could have known one another from infancy. So in the close union of love between husband and wife there comes sometimes such a longing, a desire that each could have known the other from the beginning; that instead of the years in which they were strangers, and never heard one another's voice, or touched one another's hand, they had always lived together, and known one another through and through in all the varied experiences of child life, of girlhood or of boyhood; sometimes there comes a sort of innocent envy of the brothers or sisters who then knew one or other of the wedded pair when they were unknown to one another. The bride wishes that she had always thus known the bridegroom; that she could have loved him always with a sisterly affection; that their mutual endearments might have been, like those of brothers and sisters, without shame, attracting no observation. How often the converted soul longs with an intense longing that it had always from the beginning known and loved the heavenly Bridegroom! How utterly wasted and lost those years now seem which were spent without that knowledge of Christ which is eternal life! How ardently we wish that they could be blotted out of our remembrance, with all their ignorance and all their sins, as we humbly hope that through the atonement of the precious blood they are blotted out from the handwriting "that was against us, that was contrary to us" (Colossians 2:14)! Blessed be God we have his holy promise, "I have blotted out, as a thick cloud, thy transgressions, and, as a cloud, thy sins: return unto me; for I have redeemed thee" (Isaiah 44:22). We know that in his gracious mercy he so putteth away the sins of them that truly repent that he remembereth them no more (Jeremiah 31:34; Hebrews 8:12; Hebrews 10:17). But though we believe in the forgiveness of sins, and thank God heartily for that blessed revelation of his love, yet we cannot but long—and that the more earnestly the nearer we draw to him—that we had always known him with the knowledge of faith and love, that we had always remembered him, that we had kept our heart pure from other loves, and loved him always. There is a difference between the love of the forgiven penitent and the love of saints like Enoch or Samuel, who, as far as human imperfection allows, have always in the main bent and purpose of their lives striven to walk with God. The love of the penitent is more demonstrative, more passionate—if the word may be used, more enthusiastic; the love of men like Samuel is calmer, quieter, fuller, dominating the entire life in all its pursuits and amusements; and just because it is not intermittent, but uniform, it is not so much observed of men. The still waters run deepest; the interpenetration of the heart by the long-continued influences of the Holy Spirit, without any marked and sudden change visible to the eyes of men, produces a very high type of Christian character. Enoch seems to have walked with God all his life. "He was not, for God took him;" "He had this testimony, that he pleased God" (Hebrews 11:5). It is a poor offering to give the dregs of our life to God, when the evil days when the temptations of youth have lost their power over us; "when the evil days come, and the years draw nigh when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them" (Ecclesiastes 12:1). A life dedicated to God from early childhood must be a thing well pleasing in his sight, as Holy Scripture tells us it was in the case of Enoch. Such a life is very rare, and we may well be full of thankfulness to Almighty God for his gracious promises to the penitent sinner. He "will not despise the broken and the contrite heart." "If the wicked will turn from all his sins that he hath committed, and keep all my statutes, and do that which is lawful and right, he shall surely live, he shall not die. All his transgressions that he hath committed, they shall not be mentioned unto him: in his righteousness that he hath done he shall live." We thank God for these gracious words. If we have been called at the sixth or at the eleventh hour, it is enough to fill us with adoring gratitude; we wonder, as we look back upon the past, that God bore with us so long in our sin and unbelief; we thank him with all our heart for his long suffering mercy. But when we remember that sin and that unbelief, we cannot but long that we had given to God those lost and wasted years; that we had remembered our Creator in the days of our youth, and not grieved the Holy Spirit of God by so many transgressions, so much coldness and hardness of heart.
2. That she had brought him into her mother's house. Those lost years involved the loss of many opportunities of doing good to others. The bride, had she known the bridegroom in early youth, would have brought him, she says, into her mother's house. There (she adds in what seems to be the best reading) "thou shouldest instruct me." How much good we might have done in our families, among our friends, if we had given our earliest years to God, if we had lived then as in his presence, and had carried the consciousness of that presence, with all the feelings of awe and reverence and love which attend it, always with us in our family life, in our dealings with relations and friends; if we had given him of our best, and willingly offered up for his service all that we most prized and valued, how much calmer, holier, happier, our life would have been! For he would have instructed us. He bids us learn of him. He is the great Teacher, the Master. "All thy children," he says, "shall be taught of the Lord: and great shall be the peace of thy children" (Isaiah 54:13).
3. The bride repeats the aspirations of So Song of Solomon 2:7. If we had listened to that instruction from the time when we were first made his disciples, if we had given him from the beginning that for which he thirsted—our affections, our heart's love—then he would now be wholly ours; "his left hand should be under my head, and his right hand should embrace me." That blessed union with the Saviour, growing ever nearer and closer, is the object of the deepest longings of the Christian soul. We think sometimes that if only we had always loved him and walked with him, our walk now might be very close with God; we might have attained to that calm and serene trustfulness which is the privilege of his saints; we might have found rest for our souls in the embrace of his holy love. But though we have greatly sinned, and have lost much through past neglect and unbelief, yet even now that blessed rest is not beyond our grasp. It was to Mary Magdalene, out of whom the Lord had cast seven devils, that those words were said which seemed at first severe and forbidding, but really involved the promise of a holier union, "Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended unto my Father." She was about to embrace his feet, to cling to the human form of him who had done such great things for her. The Lord implies a promise of a better, spiritual communion. When he had ascended into heaven, when he had sent down the blessed Spirit that he might abide forever with his Church, then the believing soul might touch him with the touch of faith; might cling to him with a holler, a more blessed embrace.; then he would be with us all the days, guiding, strengthening, comforting. his left hand under our head to support us when we seem to be ready to fall, his right hand embracing us to shield us from all evil, to assure us of his love.
4. The thrice-repeated charge to the daughters of Jerusalem. The bride's longings for the tokens of the bridegroom's love again arouse her feelings of maidenly reserve: as in So Song of Solomon 2:7 and Song of Solomon 3:5, she bids her virgin friends not to stir up or awaken love until it please to manifest itself. The Christian's aspirations after the abiding presence of God arouse in him feelings of reverential awe. He will remember the Lord's caution, "Touch me not;" he will avoid expressions of love which savour too much of merely human tenderness; he will shrink instinctively from any approach to familiarity; he will remember that the Lord Jesus is the Word of God, the King, the Judge of all; he will be reverent in all his approaches to the Saviour; he will endeavour to instil reverence into those around him by example, by tone, by manner, by word. We must wait on the Lord until he pleases to manifest himself; we must not be impatient; we must learn to Say with the psalmist, "Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted within me? Hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance and my God" (Psalms 42:11).
Song of Solomon 8:5-14
Entire union of wedded love.
I. COMMUNION OF THE BRIDEGROOM AND THE BRIDE.
1. Approach of the bride. "Who is this?" The question is asked for the third time (see So Song of Solomon 3:6; Song of Solomon 6:10). In So Song of Solomon 3:6 the chorus of youths asks the question as the bride is borne in royal state to meet the king in the city of his kingdom; it occurs again in So Song of Solomon 6:10, when the maidens of the chorus are struck with admiration of her queenlike, majestic beauty. Now, apparently, we have a narrative of a visit to the scenes of the bride's early life, according to her invitation in So Song of Solomon 7:11; and the question, "Who is this?" is repeated once more. Here the circumstances are changed; there is no magnificence as in Song of Solomon 3:1-11.; the bride is alone with the king; she is seen coming up from the wilderness, leaning on her beloved. So the Church, the bride of Christ, cometh up from the wilderness, leaning on the heavenly Bridegroom. So the Church of the Old Testament went up from Babylon when the wilderness was glad for them, when the ransomed of the Lord returned and went up with singing to Zion. So the Church of the New Testament came up from the wilderness of persecution, leaning on the strength of Christ; so the same Church shall come up at the call of the same holy Saviour to the heavenly Zion when that blessed promise is fulfilled, "Upon this rock will I build my Church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it." Hades, the abode of the dead, shall not be able to retain within its grasp the bride of Christ. For he saith, "I will ransom them from the power of the grave [Sheol, or Hades]; I will redeem them from death: O death, where are thy plagues? O grave, where is thy destruction? Repentance shall be hid from mine eyes" (Hosea 13:14). And so now each Christian soul cometh up, one after another, out of the wilderness, leaning upon her Beloved. When he calls us and bids us come to him, we feel that the world is indeed a wilderness; that it hath nothing to satisfy our cravings, our needs. And the soul cometh, drawn by the Saviour's love. "I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me." The soul cometh up; it is a continual ascent. As the Lord was lifted up from the earth, so the soul cometh up, away from the world, nearer to the cross. Christ is calling us upwards. The holiness to which he bids us aspire is very high; it seems above our reach; it can be reached only by persevering effort; by climbing, little by little, ever higher; by making all the little matters of daily life opportunities of self-denial, means of disciplining our human wills into submission to the holy will of God. The effort must be continuous, conscious, real; there must be no looking back to the wilderness; no hankering after the flesh pots of Egypt; no longing for the other masters, the world, the flesh, and the devil, which we renounced when we gave our heart to Christ. The soul cometh up from the wilderness. It is a solemn thing; a sight which causes joy in heaven, for the angels know the meaning of that ascent; they know the perils of the wilderness, the utter vanity of its seeming pleasures; they know the toil, the difficulty of that ascent; they know the great glory and gladness reserved for those that have achieved it; they know, too, how very precious every Christian soul is in the sight of the Lord, who bought it with his blood. At rest in heaven themselves, they watch with a deep interest the heavenward progress of each true disciple of the Lord. The long procession upwards of the ransomed saints must be a spectacle of varied and intense interest in the presence of the angels of God. And they see what was once seen by the King of Babylon, "Behold, I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they have no hurt; and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God" (Daniel 3:25). The angels see that each soul that cometh up is leaning on her Beloved. The journey is long and wearisome; the ascent is steep and rugged; but the soul that has found Christ, and clung to him with the embrace of faith—the soul that can say, "My Beloved is mine, and I am his," is not left alone in its weakness. There is a strong arm, unseen by the outward eye, but felt and realized by faith; there is a hand stretched forth to help—the hand that once caught the sinking Peter, and lifted him up out of the depths. Each faithful soul leaneth on her Beloved. We need that support always, at every point of the long, wearisome path; at every step of the toilsome, upward climbing. Without Christ we can do nothing; we sink backwards; we become listless and slothful. But while we feel his presence while by faith we lean upon him, resting our weakness on his strength, then our progress is assured. We need that presence always, in all the little trials of our daily lives, in the greater sorrows and perplexities that emerge from time to time. That presence transfigures our life, turning troubles into blessings; making sorrows so many steps upwards, ever nearer to God. To realize that presence, the Lord Jesus must be "my Beloved;" I must give him my whole heart; I must know him with that holy knowledge with which the true sheep know the good Shepherd; and to gain the excellency of that blessed knowledge I must be content, like St. Paul, to count all things else as dross, as very dung, that I may win Christ, and be found in him.
"I need thy presence every passing hour:
What but thy grace can foil the tempter's power?
Who like thyself my guide and stay can be?
Through cloud and sunshine, Lord, abide with me.
"I fear no foe, with thee at hand to bless;
Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness;
Where is death's sting? where, grave, thy victory?
I triumph still, if thou abide with me."
2. The voice of the bridegroom. According to the present pointing of the Hebrew, the second clause of Song of Solomon 3:5 is an utterance of the bride. Many of the Fathers and other Christian writers assign it to the bridegroom. This last arrangement seems by far the most natural. The king points out the birthplace of the bride; he recalls to her remembrance an incident of their early attachment—he shows her the tree under which they first met. So man and wife now, when united in a happy marriage, love to visit the early haunts of one another, and especially the places endeared to both by the memory of their first vows and promises. So to the Christian those places must be always full of sacred interest where the heavenly Bridegroom first won the love of his bride, the Church—Bethlehem, Gethsemane, Calvary. So to each Christian soul those spots are hallowed ground which are connected with events in our own religious life our baptism, our confirmation, our first communion; or associated with any great and abiding impressions or influences for good which Almighty God has been pleased to grant to us from time to time.
3. The response of the bride. The bride is leaning on the bridegroom's arm; perhaps she was reclining her head upon his breast. She would ever remain in that dear embrace, near to him as the seal which was attached to the arm or neck. The seal of the king had great weight and value; it gave his authority to the document which bore it (Daniel 7:17); it was precious and sacred, and would, of course, be jealously guarded. The king himself would wear it; it would be fastened on his arm, or it would be suspended from his neck and rest upon his heart. There the bride would ever be, encircled with her husband's arms, pressed close to his heart; it is her rightful place, for she is bound to him by the indissoluble ties of holy wedlock. So the Church, the bride of Christ, clings to her Lord. Without him she can do nothing; but, borne up in the everlasting arms, she hath a strength not her own. She would be near to him as a seal. She hath the seal of God, for she is "sealed with that holy Spirit of promise, which is the earnest of our inheritance" (Ephesians 1:13, Ephesians 1:14). She is God's foundation upon the holy hills (Psalms 87:1), built upon the Rock of ages; and "the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his. And, Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity" (2 Timothy 2:19). So each Christian longs to be borne up in the arms of Christ—those arms that were opened wide upon the cross, as if to fold his chosen in the embrace of his love; so each Christian longs to rest, as once St. John rested, upon the Saviour's breast; to be dear to him, cherished as a seal that lies in its owner's bosom; so each Christian hopes to bear the impress of that sacred seal stamped more and more deeply into his inner life, that being now sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, he may one day stand among the blessed, sealed with the seal of the living God upon his forehead (Revelation 7:3).
4. Her praise of love. Why does she desire to be so close to the bridegroom, to be as a seal upon his heart? Because, she says, "love is strong as death." She has given him her love, and that love entirely fills and dominates her soul; she has taken him to be her husband till death; she loves him with a love like that of Ruth: "The Lord do so to me, and more also, if aught but death part thee and me" (Ruth 1:17). That love, strong as death, the love of those wedded souls who in true affection have plighted their troth, either to other, "till death us do part," is a figure of the holy love that is betwixt Christ and his Church. Indeed, the love of the heavenly Bridegroom was stronger than death; stronger than a death of lingering torture, a death of ignominy and horror. "We love him, because he first loved us." His Church, drawn by the constraining power of his most holy love, has striven to return it. Many of his saints have loved him with a love strong as death; they have proved by the martyr's death the strength of their love. How should we have acted if we had lived in those days of fiery trial? It is a question which we should often and earnestly press upon ourselves, for the Lord has taught us that "he that loveth his life shall lose it, and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal" (John 12:25). St. Stephen, and the long line of saints who followed him, the noble army of martyrs, loved not their lives unto the death. How would it be with the many half-hearted, careless Christians who come to church, and call themselves disciples of the crucified Saviour, but have not learned to take up the cross and deny themselves for his sake—how would it be with them if they were suddenly summoned to choose between Christ and death? Which of us would be faithful unto death? Which of us would deny his Lord? It is an awful question—a question full of the deepest interest; for it is only such a love, a love strong as death, which can give us strength to overcome temptation, and to fight the good fight of faith. He who for the love of Christ endures hardness now, who puts aside his own wishes, and does habitually for Christ's sake things which but for the love of Christ he would not have done; he who habitually for Christ's sake leaves undone things which but for the love of Christ he would have gladly done,—he is learning to love Christ with a love strong as death, a love which is giving him strength to kill out of his heart worldly thoughts and earthly ambitions, so that, dying unto the world, he may live unto Christ. We must all pray and strive for that love strong as death; it should be the object of our highest ambition, our most fervent longing. We need it now as much as the Mints and martyrs of the Lord needed it in the old times. For if they had to lay down their lives for Christ, we have now to give him our hearts, our lives; and to do that always, in times of anxiety, or sickness, or lassitude, requires a great love; a love strong as death; a love which we can only learn of the Master who loved us with a love stronger than death, who himself set us the high example of self-sacrificing love, and now helps and teaches us by the gracious influences of the Holy Ghost, the other Comforter, whom he sendeth to abide forever with his people. Love is strong as death, and jealousy is hard as the grave (Sheol, or Hades). Death is strong; he is the last enemy, the king of terrors. Hades is hard and stern; it is rapacious; it hath never enough; it holds its prisoners firm. But love is strong as death and Hades. Christ, who is Love, hath overcome death, and opened unto us the gate of everlasting life; the gates of Hades shall not prevail against his Church. Neither death nor life can separate from his love those who love him with a true love, a love strong as death; they, too, are more than conquerors through him who loved them. And when love is strong as death, the jealousy (in the good sense of the word), which is one of its developments, is hard, tenacious, as Hades. God is love, the infinite love, and he is a jealous God. "Thou shalt worship no other God: for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God" (Exodus 34:14). He asks for our whole heart; he is jealous of a divided service; he will not accept a service to be shared with another master. Such a service is stigmatized in Holy Scripture with the stern name of adultery. "Ye adulteresses," says St. James, in language of awful severity, "know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God?… Do ye think that the Scripture saith in vain, The Spirit which he hath made to dwell within us, jealously yearneth after us?" or, as the words may also be rendered, "he jealously yearneth for the spirit which he made to dwell within us" (James 4:4, James 4:5). God once breathed into man's nostrils the breath of life. He gave to man as his distinguishing possession s spirit. "I pray God," says St. Paul to the Thessalonians, "that your whole spirit and soul and body may be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Thessalonians 5:23). That spirit, his special gift, should be wholly his. It is that part of our complex nature which is receptive of the Holy Spirit of God, which, when illumined by his presence, can attain unto such knowledge of God as is now granted to us ("Now we see through a glass, darkly … now I know in part," 1 Corinthians 13:12), and dwell in communion with God. God jealously desires the possession of that spirit. Therefore the Christian's love for God must be a jealous love; he must be very jealous of the intrusion of other loves, other ambitions, into the heart, which should be given wholly to God; he must keep his heart for God with a godly jealousy (see 2 Corinthians 11:2)—jealousy stern as that with which Hades retains its prisoners. And this holy jealousy is ardent, too—ardent as flames of fire; "a very flame of the Lord" (verse 6, Revised Version). For its ardour comes from him; it is he who gives that ardent zeal—that zeal for the Lord which has urged his holiest servants to do and dare such great things for his love's sake. The great love of the Lord Jesus for our souls calls for something more than the lukewarmness of Laodicea. "Be zealous," it says to us; "be zealous and repent" (Revelation 3:19). The name of God occurs only in this one place in the song; we read it here in the shortened form (Jah) of the adorable name, as if to teach us the sacred lesson of the disciple whom Jesus loved, that "God is love: and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him" (1 John 4:16). Holy love comes only from him. "Love is of God, and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God" (1 John 4:7). Such love cannot be quenched. It is so even with pure human love. "Many waters cannot quench it, neither can the floods drown it." The many waters of trouble, suffering, old age, cannot stifle love; it lives on still. It cannot be bought. "If a man would give all the substance of his house for love, he would utterly be contemned." Love cannot be bought or forced; it is essentially free and spontaneous; it springs up spontaneously in the heart ("when it pleases," verse 4; also So James 2:7; James 3:5), in response to love, at the presence of an object capable of calling it forth. So it is with the holy love of God. God's love for us cannot be quenched. The many waters of our unbelief, ingratitude, and sin have not—blessed be his holy Name—quenched his gracious love. It cannot be bought; we cannot buy it with earthly gifts, with gold or silver, or external good works; it is given freely, graciously, and it abides in those who live in the faith of the Son of God. Our love for God is a faint reflection of his blessed love for us. It is called forth by that holy love. "We love him, because he first loved us." The waters of trouble and sorrow and temptation cannot drown it if it is true and real. These verses are the Old Testament psalm of love (see Psalms 45:1-17, title), corresponding to 1 Corinthians 13:1-13 or the First Epistle of St. John, in the New Testament. They have a singular power and beauty; they are treasured in the memories of God's people; they have brought peace and comfort to many a death bed.
II. INTERCESSIONS OF THE BRIDE.
1. For her sister. The bride has a sister not yet of marriageable years. What shall be done for her? If she be a wall, firm and steadfast, she shall be richly dowered; but if she be a door, too easily opened, too accessible, she must be carefully guarded. The bride herself is a wall, strong and steadfast in her virtue; therefore it was that she found peace in the bridegroom's eyes. There may possibly be an allusion here to the name Solomon, which follows in the next verse: the bride found peace in the eyes of the peaceful one. The bride is the Church, the little sister perhaps the Gentiles. Those Gentile Churches that will be steadfast in the faith, like Smyrna or Philadelphia, shall be built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief Cornerstone (Ephesians 2:20). Those that are like Thyatira, Sardis, or Laodicea, still open to those other masters, the world, the flesh, and the devil, must be treated with wholesome severity; they must be carefully guarded and fenced in, and closed against the enemies of the Lord. The bride intercedes for her little sister. She herself has set a good example. Christian people must make intercession for the heathen, that they may be converted; for missionary work, that it may be prospered; and while they pray, they must be very careful to set a good example themselves, that the great work may not be hindered by any fault of theirs, but may go on and prosper till the earth be filled with the knowledge of God as the waters cover the sea.
2. For her brothers. She had spoken of their harshness (So John 1:6). "They made me," she said, "keeper of the vineyards; but mine own vineyard [literally, as here, 'my vineyard, which is mine'] have I not kept." Now she intercedes with the king for them. She would have them to be keepers of her vineyard, and to receive a suitable recompense. She compares King Solomon's vineyard with her own. The king, she says, had one of great extent and value; every one of the keepers was to bring him a thousand shekels. Then she adds, "My vineyard, which is mine, is before me." Her vineyard was small; it lay before her eyes. It now passes into the hand of Solomon; it is his. He must have a thousand shekels from it. She wishes the keepers (her brothers, apparently) to have two hundred. The greater than Solomon, the heavenly Bridegroom, has a vineyard. It is the world (comp. Matthew 42:38, "The field is the world"). Solomon's vineyard was at Baal-hamon, which means "the Lord of the multitude." We may perhaps see in the word an allusion to him who is called in Holy Scripture "the prince of this world" (John 14:30). The Lord has a vineyard in the world, which Satan strives to rule. And men have still, as in Elijah's time, to choose whom they will serve. "If the Lord be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him" (1 Kings 18:21). But though Satan is called the prince of this world, and in one place (2 Corinthians 4:4) "the god of this world," he is a usurper; the vineyard is the Lord's. And the Lord has done all that could be done for his vineyard: "he has hedged it round about, and digged a winepress in it, and built a tower, and let it out to husbandmen" (Matthew 21:33). The husbandmen were to bring him in due time of the fruits of his vineyard. They were to do so, but, alas! they did not; they served Baal, many of them, rather than the Lord. The Church's vineyard is before her; it lies within a comparatively narrow space; it does not cover a third of the population of the world. It belongs now to the heavenly Bridegroom, for the Church is his. He loved the Church, and gave himself for her; and that unspeakable gift, that stupendous ransom, has made her and all that she has wholly his. The fruits which that vineyard brings forth must be paid duly to the Lord of the vineyard. Those fruits are souls converted, sanctified, saved. The keepers too, if they are found faithful, have their reward. The souls saved through their means, their warnings, their example, their preaching, their labours, are their best and most precious reward in this world (1 Corinthians 3:14), and in the world to come, "when the chief Shepherd shall appear, they shall receive a crown of glory which fadeth not away" (1 Peter 5:4). Each Christian soul is the Lord's vineyard; it must be cultivated for him, not for Baal. It may be a vineyard in Baal-hamon, set among a multitude who follow the prince of this world; but it is the Lord's, bought with his most precious blood. It must not bring forth wild grapes, fit only for the world, the flesh, and the devil; it must bring forth good fruit—fruit meet to be rendered to the Lord, to be treasured in his granary; the fruit of the Spirit love, joy, peace, long suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance. And the soul itself which keepeth the fruit; the soul that treasures up the graces of the good Spirit of God, that listens with reverent attention to his gracious warnings, and follows his guidance; the soul that worketh out its own salvation with fear and trembling through the grace of God, who worketh within both to will and to do,—that soul shall receive of the fruit; for "blessed are they that do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled." Love, trustfulness, obedience rendered to Christ, bring their own great reward in the irradiating presence of the Saviour. "If any man love me, he will keep my word; and my Father will love him, and we will come to him, and make our abode with him."
III. FINAL WORDS OF LOVE.
1. The voice of the bridegroom. He addresses the bride as "Thou that dwellest in the gardens" meaning, apparently, the vineyard which she had just mentioned. She has dune her best for it. He accepts her past service. Now the king and his companions were listening for her voice; it was sweet to hear. "Cause me to hear it," the king says, meaning, it seems, that the voice of the bride was very sweet to him; he loved to hear it; and perhaps also implying that he was ready to grant any request that she might make, as well as that which she had already made. When the Church does her duty, dwelling in the gardens of the Lord, tending his vineyard, then there is joy in heaven, joy in the presence of the angels of God; they hearken to the prayers and praises of the Church. The Lord himself, the heavenly Bridegroom, delights to hear the voice of the bride; her prayers and adorations are as the holy incense, acceptable to him (Revelation 8:3, Revelation 8:4). The Lord would have all Christian men to pray, and that constantly, His will is that men should pray always, and not faint. He graciously listens to the voice of his people when they speak to themselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, when they make melody in their hearts unto the Lord (Ephesians 5:19). And he grants their requests. "If ye ask anything in my Name," he says, "I will do it;" "Ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full;" "Whatsoever ye ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive," We must claim his blessed promise; we must make him hear our voice while we are "dwelling in the gardens," while we are labouring in the Lord's vineyard. True prayer leads to faithful work; faithful work stimulates prayer, and gives it energy and devotion. He will hear our prayers for ourselves, our intercessions for others, if only they are offered up in faith, in the Name of Jesus Christ our Lord.
2. The response of the bride. The king sought to hear the voice of the bride. She in response repeats the last clause of her song in So John 2:17; but she makes one important change—the mountains are no longer "mountains of Bether," which means "separation," but "mountains of Besamin" ("spices"). Perhaps there is a reference to "the mountain of myrrh and the hill of frankincense" in the royal gardens (So John 4:6). The bride no longer thinks of the possibility of separation. Formerly her beloved was separated from her for a while in his hunting excursions; now he is to be as bright and exultant as of old, but with her in their common haunts. The Church prays, "Thy kingdom come" Her prayer is that God of his gracious goodness would be pleased shortly to accomplish the number of his elect, and to hasten his kingdom. The Christian prays and longs for the coming of the Lord, beseeching him in ever-deepening earnestness to come, first in the kingdom of grace, into his people's hearts, then in the kingdom of glory, when the kingdoms of this world shall become the kingdoms of God and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever, King of kings, and Lord of lords.
HOMILIES BY S. CONWAY
Song of Solomon 8:1-4
Oh that men would understand!
Such seems to be the sentiment of these verses. She who speaks grieves that those about her did not see how natural and right was her love for her beloved. She could almost wish he were her brother instead of her betrothed, for then those who saw her love for him would not, as now they did, despise her for it. She could not have been already a bride, as is so constantly assumed, for in that case her love could not have awakened scorn. But they despised her for clinging to one who, compared with Solomon, was in their esteem despicable. We may take the section as in part parallel to the sentiments in Romans 9:1-3; Romans 10:1. She who speaks could not wish to be not betrothed, and only as a sister. Some, therefore (Newton), have regarded these verses as an address to the unconverted and unsaved. Others have held that the "brother" means only an infant brother. But we take it that as Paul could wish himself unsaved for Israel's sake, so here, she who speaks could even wish that she did not hold so dear a relationship to the beloved, but only that of a sister, so that those about her, etc. (cf. supra). The words in Romans and here are to be regarded as hyperbolical expressions, telling of strong desire for others' good, but not to be regarded au pied de la lettre. We note that—
I. MEN WILL ACCEPT THAT WHICH THEY REGARD AS NATURAL. The expression of affection between brother and sister all understand, allow, and approve. And some expressions of religious feeling they will also admit, provided they are marked by what, they deem sobriety and conformity to general usage. All beyond that they despise.
II. BUT THE VEHEMENT AFFECTION OF THE SOUL FOR CHRIST THEY DESPISE. Several marks of such affection are suggested here.
1. Open avowal of love to him. "The religion of every sensible man," said one, "is that which every sensible man keeps to himself." Therefore such confession as is suggested by verse 1, "When I should find … I would kiss thee," is of course extravagant and to be despised.
2. Proselytizing in the family. (Verse 2.) "I would bring thee into my mother's house." Sincere religion is often deprecated as bringing strife into households, and it is difficult to see how our Lord's word, "I came not to send peace on earth, but a sword," can be escaped under such circumstances. And even if there be not absolute proselytizing, the mere presence of an earnest disciple in a house troubles those therein who have no or but little love for Christ.
3. The habitual heed to his teaching. (Verse 2.) "That thou mightest instruct me". She would, like Mary, sit at her Lord's feet and listen to him. And even good people like Martha think such conduct not "a good part," and that opportunity for it ought to "be taken away from her."
4. The giving to him of her best. This the meaning of "the wine prepared from the pomegranate" (verse 2). Such a sincerely loving soul will not be content with mere ordinary and routine service, but the best of all she has to give she will offer to him.
5. But all this wins scorn and dislike. She who speaks here was evidently "despised" for her devotion to her beloved, and so it is still when the like is seen towards Christ.
III. OUR AIM SHOULD, THEREFORE, BE TO SHOW MEN THAT WHAT THEY DESPISE IS ALTOGETHER REASONABLE AND RIGHT. That men might see this is what is so desired here. But men are as a child playing on a railway line in front of an advancing train. Some kind bystander rushes forward and clutches the child and puts it out of danger before the train is upon it. The child probably only stares displeasedly at him who has roughly interrupted its play; no spark of gratitude is there. So men now do not see what Christ has done for them and is willing to do, and so their hearts are cold to him. The truth, therefore, that "God so loved the world" must be held up, insisted on, and shown by lives consecrated to him under the sense of that love.—S.C.
Song of Solomon 8:5
The home coming.
"Who is this that cometh up," etc.? The end of this pastoral song is approaching. The speaker in the former versos has finished her recital with words telling of her yearning love for her beloved, and an adjuration to those listening to her that they should not attempt to alter her mind towards him (Song of Solomon 8:3, Song of Solomon 8:4). They are the same as in So Song of Solomon 2:7; Song of Solomon 3:5. And now the scene changes. She has been rescued from or permitted to leave her gilded but none the less hated captivity in Solomon's palace, and with her beloved is returning to her old home. A band of friends exclaim, "Who is this," etc.? Applying the words spiritually, we may take them of the soul's home coming. And they tell—
I. WHITHER SUCH SOUL COMES. It is ever an upward coming. For all the characteristics of the soul's true home are far above the soul's natural condition. For here, assuredly, we have not peace. "Man is born," not to peace, but "to trouble." Who knows not that? For sin is the great troubler. Therefore, for the soul to have what it so desires, it must come up and away from the wilderness. Purity, likewise. How here can we keep ourselves undefiled? Who amongst men unregenerate and unsaved ever does so? But as the soul in coming home enters into the peace of God, so also shall it partake of his purity. Rest. The trials, crosses, and disappointments of life, its manifold adversities, all ceaselessly proclaim to the soul, "This is not your rest." But "there remaineth a rest for the people of God." And the soul, uprising in faith and love towards God, does even here know much of the truth of Christ's promise, "I will give you rest." And then there is the course and consummation of all these in the presence of God eternally in heaven. Here we have pledges and foretastes, but there only are we made perfect.
II. WHENCE. "From the wilderness." How fit that word for the soul's condition here ere it is redeemed by Christ! Are not the distress of conscience, the sense of guilt, the tyranny and cruelty of sin, the trials of life, and at length the grave,—are not all these wilderness like things? But when the soul comes home, it comes away from all these. It is not a coming in them, as every soul has to make acquaintance with them when it is born into the world; nor is it a coming through them—that is what we are occupied in now whilst we linger here; but it is coming from them, leaving them all behind. Oh, blessed home coming of the soul!
III. How. "Leaning upon her beloved." This tells of the soul's relation to Christ. He is "her Beloved." Of its union with him. As it were linked lovingly together as the soul leans upon him. Of its dependence upon Christ. It is a long, rough, lonely, and difficult way that the soul has to traverse. It needs, therefore, that the Lord should be her "arm" every day (Isaiah 33:2). Of its communion with Christ. Note the affectionate converse of the next verse. The maiden is represented as coming to a particular tree where once she had awaked him from a noonday slumber, and where, too, he had been bern. "In Oriente non raro accidit at mulieres in aperto pariant" (cf. Genesis 35:16). And they talk of these reminiscences. It was natural, and tells of the familiar intercourse, the happy communion, which the soul enjoys with Christ. Yes, it is thus that we make our way homeward, heavenward. In union, in dependence, in communion, with Christ. Thus we come up from the wilderness leaning on our beloved Lord.—S.C.
Song of Solomon 8:6
"Set me as a seal," etc.
1. That she may be precious in Christ's esteem. As a seal, a signet ring, of great value.
2. That she may dwell in his love. "On thine heart." Also:
3. That she may enjoy the benefit of his intercession. There is allusion, apparently, to the jewels engraved as a signet, and which were on the breast of the high priest of Israel (Exodus 28:15-30).
4. That she may be defended by his might. "On thine arm."
5. That she may express and satisfy his will. As a seal does this for any writing on which it is impressed. Let not our "Amen" be lacking to such a prayer.—S.C.
Song of Solomon 8:6, Song of Solomon 8:7
These verses may be regarded as the theme of the entire song. All its chief incidents are illustrative of the vigour, vehemence, and victory of true love. The literal story tells of the triumph of such love as seen in the maiden and her beloved, and as has often been seen in like human love. But as a parable or allegory, it tells of the love of the soul to Christ, and of his to us.
I. ITS STRENGTH. "Strong as death." Death reigns. Who can resist his will? "Pallida mors," etc. (cf. Psalms 90:1-17). So love is all-powerful. It is a universal passion. It bears away all men in its might. It is an irrepressible force. This is true of human love. And in the love of the redeemed soul for Christ it has proved itself again and again "strong as death." Every one of the noble army of martyrs has faced death and vanquished it. "They loved not their lives unto the death;" "For thy sake we are killed all the day long." And yet more in Christ's love for us. Physical death, even the death of the cross, could not daunt him. Spiritual death, even that in which we all were—dead in trespasses and sins—has not been and shall not be too strong for him, though sometimes it seems to be so. His love is surely as strong as that death. "Where sin did abound, grace," etc.
II. ITS TENACITY. "Jealousy," or, rather, ardent, intense love—this is what is meant, not the mean passion which is known as jealousy. The same love is spoken of all through. And it is "cruel," or rather firm, tenacious, unyielding, "as the grave," as Sheol. Does hell ever give up its dead? Can we call back any from the grave? Can they who are there come back thence? So love holds fast that which it loves. The story of this song, as many a beautiful human story, proves the tenacity of true love. And the story of the Christian Church, in her love for her Lord, shows the same. What has not been done to compel redeemed souls to give up their love for Christ? And his love for us above all. "My sheep shall never perish, neither shall any pluck them out of my hand" (John 10:1-42.).
III. ITS VEHEMENCE. "The coals thereof are coals of fire," etc. Think of what such fire is and does. How it melts, fuses, and subdues that which comes under its power! How, as in volcanoes, it struggles for the mastery until it finds vent in victory! How it burns, consumes, tortures! Apply all this to intense human love—to the soul's love for Christ, and his for us. Are not many sinful souls conscious of Divine love's torturing power? See Peter when his Lord's look of love drove him forth in agony from the scene of his denial. Listen to Christ's word to Saul, "It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks." The baptism of the Holy Spirit is a baptism of fire (cf. Luke 12:49, Luke 12:50).
IV. ITS UNQUENCHABLENESS. "Many waters," etc. There were such "many waters" which tried, in the beautiful human story of this song, but they could not quench the maiden's love for her beloved. And so has it been again and again in human experience. And think of the waters that sought to quench, and the floods to drown, the love of Christ in saintly souls. And they have failed, and will fail. And think of the like that could not extinguish, though so many more and fiercer far, the love which Christ bore towards us. Think of them, and see if Christ's love does not pass knowledge.
V. ITS INCORRUPTIBILITY. "If a man would give," etc. It is not for sale; it cannot be bought or bribed. Again, apply this test to the three forms of love we have spoken of—human, Christian, Christ's. And apply all these tests to our own love, and see if it will endure them. If it will, be thankful indeed, and make it evident to all that it is so. If it will not—and this is the sadder and more probable truth—behold, gaze on, contemplate earnestly, Christ's love to us; and then for us, too, it may come to pass, "whilst I was musing, the fire burned."—S.C.
Song of Solomon 8:8, Song of Solomon 8:9
The little sister.
This verse seems to be an inquiry on the part of those who are heard speaking in Song of Solomon 8:5. They probably knew the story of her who was now returning with her beloved, and their question shows their surprise. Then they listen to her entreaty addressed to him whom she so loved (Song of Solomon 8:6), and to her recital of the characteristics of such love as hers. They now interpose with the question in Song of Solomon 8:8 concerning a younger sister, who is not merely young, but, from the answer given (Song of Solomon 8:9), seems also to have been of uncertain and unsatisfactory character. But the question may be taken as addressed to the beloved by her who has just been speaking. Many think this; that it is she who is telling of her little sister, and asking what shall be done for her. If so, then the question and answer lend themselves as parables of great spiritual truths. It is not likely that these verses have been or will be often preached upon; but should they be, they may, perhaps, be profitably used by spiritualizing them as telling of the concern for others which the redeemed soul cherishes. When the woman of Samaria found Christ, she sought that others should find him too. The Prophet Ezekiel says, "Thy younger sister is Sodom" (Ezekiel 16:46). Hence we may take this sister as telling of the whole heathen world, and that world in its worst state. If so, then we may learn—
I. THAT THE HEATHEN, EVEN THE VILEST, ARE, AS WE ARE, CHILDREN OF ONE FATHER. "We have a sister." "Christ stands in the relation of an elder Brother to the Gentile as well as to the Jewish Church; therefore these two must be sisters." All men are to say, "Our Father which art in heaven."
II. CHRIST WILL CALL FOR THEM TO BE HIS OWN. There will come a "day when she shall be spoken for." Cf. "Other sheep I have" (John 10:16); "Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for," etc. (Psalms 2:8).
III. THEY ARE NOT READY FOR HIM. Not ready for that spiritual union with Christ into which his Church shall enter. How certain this is! They are sunk in sin.
IV. THIS IS A MATTER OF MUCH CONCERN TO THOSE WHO ARE CHRIST'S. "What shall be done for her?" This has been the impulse of all true missions, of all endeavours to bring in others to Christ.
V. THEY ASK AND GAIN COUNSEL FROM HIM. Verse 9 gives his answer to the inquiry, "What shall be done?" "If she be a wall," etc. In the literal story this probably refers to her steadfastness in virtue (cf. verse 10), and the "door" to an opposite character. We may take the words as telling:
1. Of preparedness to receive the truth. There is amongst some people a preparedness for the faith which greatly facilitates its reception. That preparedness is as a wall which shuts out the inroads of the vile vices which too commonly belong to heathenism, and, as a wall, strengthens them in the maintenance of many excellences. Where this is, there Christ will build a glorious Church (cf. Psalms 48:12,Psalms 48:13).
2. Of ordinary heathenism, which is as a door, in and out of which come and go all manner and kinds of evils. If it be so, then, as in Romans 2:7, then she should be shut in, enclosed with sacred restraints, as with boards of cedar. And the providence of God has in the past and will in the future so work that it will restrain the grosser practices of heathenism. For often is it seen that even where the heart is not yielded to Christ, yet the sacred restraints of religious custom do tend to regulate conduct and hinder it from much evil See the influence of Sunday on our national life. The counsel suggested, therefore, as to what to do in regard to those as yet not Christ's, is that where there is preparedness, encourage it; and where not, restrain the practice of evil, make sin difficult so far as you can.—S.C.
Song of Solomon 8:10-12
The question has been asked and the answer given in reference to the "little sister." It was not clear what should be done, because it was not certain what her disposition might be. In contrast to such uncertainty, she who gave the answer speaks with joyous decision about herself that she is as a wall—not at all as a door—yea, as a strong tower; for though she might be assailed, her love could not be conquered. Her word here is like Paul's, "I have fought a good fight … I have kept the faith," etc. (2 Timothy 4:7). Solomon had sought by every means in his power to bend her will to his, but she had remained faithful to her beloved. She tells of his great estate and of the wealth he obtained from it; but—speaking of her own love—she says she has kept her vineyard, and that it needed no guardian. King Solomon may keep his wealth, and his tenants theirs. She desired neither, but was glad and thankful, her heart was filled with joy, that, tried as she had been, she had yet remained true. Taking all this as a parable, we may learn that—
I. THE CONSCIOUSNESS OF SPIRITUAL VICTORY IS FULL OF JOY. (cf. Song of Solomon 8:10.) What exultant tone there is in it: like that of the psalms which celebrate victory over enemies! The battle may often have wavered, defeat may have been very near, the struggle very severe; all such considerations invest the victory, when it comes, with great joy. To have kept ourselves unspotted from the world, how blessed this! And our own experience, we trust, has often known this union of joy with victory. The calm of spirit, the sense of the Divine approval, the "Well done!" of conscience, the sunshine in the soul when we have overcome some spiritual foe, all attest what we have said.
II. TOWARDS SUCH VICTORS ENEMIES BECOME FRIENDS. "Then was I as one that found peace." The meaning seems to be that the king, finding all his attempts to win her to be in vain, and struck, it may be, also, with admiration of her constancy, ceased from his solicitations, and let her depart. How often the like of this is witnessed! True, there may be foes who will remain so, though they cease from their temptations. Satan so ceased because he found he could not prevail when he tempted our Lord. But there may be those who cease their persecutions because they have ceased to be our foes. The centurion at the cross confessed, "Surely this was a righteous Man." And they who, returning from "that sight," smote their breasts in sorrow and repentance,—they would gladly have undone the work which that morning they had helped to do. And in the history of the Church, how perpetually was it the case that the constancy and fidelity of her martyrs won over those who before had been her foes; so that the saying went forth, "The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church"! And similar fidelity still wins similar triumphs; foes become friends (cf. history of Daniel).
III. THE POSSESSION OF ONE'S OWN SOUL IS BETTER THAN ANY OTHER POSSESSION BESIDE. (Cf. supra as to the probable meaning of these verses, which tell of Solomon's vineyard and her own.) She spurned all his wealth, but she prized her own truth and faithfulness. She had striven as Paul had, and succeeded in having a conscience void of offence. And no earthly honour or wealth can be put on a level with such possession, and can never compensate for its loss. Judas lost it, and went out and hanged himself. Hence the Bible says, "Keep thine heart with all diligence, for out of it," etc. Not only the kingdom of God, but your own kingdom—that which is your own indeed, and the source of your well being—is within you.—S.C.
Song of Solomon 8:13, Song of Solomon 8:14
The last appeal.
These verses are spoken not by but to the beloved. Literalists say that it is the beloved who speaks, and asks his betrothed to sing to him, and that she complies, and sings to him her song, which we have in So Song of Solomon 2:17. But we prefer to understand the whole as her appeal to him. Note, therefore—
I. THE TITLE SHE GIVES HIM. "O thou that dwellest in the gardens" (Song of Solomon 2:13). The gardens are the souls of his loving people. Rightly are they so called, for he chose them for himself, loves to dwell in them, and it is needful for them that he should. (Cf. sermon by C.H. Spurgeon on 'Supposing him to be the Gardener.')
II. THE PLEA SHE PUTS FORWARD THAT SHE MAY HEAR HIS VOICE. "The companions hearken to thy voice." We regard these companions as the angels "that do his commandments, hearkening to the voice of his word" (Psalms 103:20). They hear his voice; then why should not the soul that loves him? Doubtless we deserve it less than they, but we need it more than they. Theirs is not, as ours, the perverse and unruly will; theirs is not, as ours, the daily need to confess sin and to seek its forgiveness, for they are holy as we are not. But then all the more we need to hear his voice causing us to know the way wherein we should walk. And we love it as much as they. "Sweeter is thy Word to me than honey," etc.; "The law of thy mouth is better unto me than thousands," etc. (and cf. Psalms 119:1-176.). And we will strive to obey it even as they; therefore may each soul plead, "Cause me to hear it."
III. HER EAGERNESS FOR HIS COMING. (Song of Solomon 2:14.) Cf. last verse of the Revelation, "Amen, come quickly. Even so, come, Lord Jesus" (cf. So Revelation 2:17). Wherefore this eagerness? Because to the soul aglow with love to him all joy is sorrow without him, and all sorrow joy with him. The kingdom of evil needs to be subdued, the kingdom of God to be set up. Therefore would the soul have it that Christ should come swiftly as the bounding hart or the springing roe. That saintly soul, Samuel Rutherford, thus writes on this verse, "Oh, how long is it to the dawning of the marriage day? O sweet Jesus, take wide steps! O my Lord, come over the mountains at one stride! 'O my Blessed, flee as a roe or young hart upon the mountains of separation!' O time, run, run, and hasten the marriage day, for love is tormented with delays!" And what is St. Paul's word but an echo of this? "Our conversation is in heaven, from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ." Thus "looking for and hastening unto the coming of the Lord" may we ever be!—S.C.
HOMILIES BY J.D. DAVIES
Song of Solomon 8:5
The Christian pilgrim.
Life with every man is a journey; a march from the cradle to the grave. To the pious man this journey is religious; it has a moral character. It is not simply the inevitable moving on from year to year; beside this, it is a progress in knowledge, faith, holiness, and usefulness. The grave is not the Christian's goal. His goal is perfection—perfect excellence and perfect joy. Every day's experience is related to the great eternity. Each duty well discharged, each sin conquered, each trouble patiently endured, is a distinct step heavenward. It is not merely a movement onward; it is also a movement upward. The journey of the Hebrews through the wilderness to the earthly Canaan furnishes many instructive analogies with the Christian's passage to the skies. We, who possess the new life within, "seek a country, that is, a heavenly."
I. OBSERVE THE CHRISTIAN'S FORMER STATE. It is described as a "wilderness."
1. It is a wilderness on account of its barrenness. So in our unregenerate condition there was in us no fertility and no beauty. There may have been a few barren stalks of common morality; but they yielded no fragrance, they bore no fruit. In this wilderness there was nothing to satisfy the desires and aspirations of the soul. This world has its possessions, its pleasures, its honours, its shows, but none of these please or elevate the soul. We aspire after righteousness, after moral excellence, after the friendship of God; and with respect to these things this world is barren and empty. No man can lie down fully contented in it. It is not suitable for us as a possession; so that most men, burdened with care and infirmity, sigh out, "I would not live alway." "He that loveth silver shall not be satisfied with silver." The vapid joys of this world soon pall upon the appetite. They do not increase the capacity for joy; they diminish it. And many a man who has taken his fill of this world's pleasure concludes life with this dismal verdict on his lips, "Vanity of vanities; all is vanity!"
2. Moreover, this wilderness is infested with foes. If in the Arabian desert the Hebrews were exposed to human foes, to wild beasts and fierce serpents, so in this world many foes infest the way. Many and subtle are the snares which the enemy sets for our feet. We are liable to ten thousand annoyances. Evil men tempt us with a view to ruin us. "Satan goeth about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour." We have need for perpetual watchfulness. We have to fight with many adversaries. Clearly "this is not our rest."
II. MARK THE CHRISTIAN'S PRESENT ASCENT. "He cometh up." 'Tis an ascent.
1. Progress is the only way to perfection. It is true that God might have brought about perfection by some other way; but, as a fact, he has ordained this way, and this only. All the similitudes employed in Scripture to set forth the Christian life describe it as a thing of progress. The progress may be slow or more rapid; nevertheless, if there is life there is growth. In some believers the processes of enlightenment, conversion, and edification may be more rapid than in others (just as in some climates the processes of budding, blossoming, and ripening in fruit trees are more rapid than in our own land); still, in every instance perfection is attained by distinct stages. The life of every Christian is a progress along the heavenly way.
2. Discomfort is incident to a pilgrimage. No one expects to find the same comforts on a journey which he finds at home. On a journey one is content with the bare necessaries of existence. Would it not be madness to encumber one's self with soft couches and luxurious indulgences while on a journey? Would not such things seriously impede our progress? And is it not the one desire of a pilgrim to advance as rapidly as possible? To reach the end of his pilgrimage at the earliest hour is the uppermost desire of every true pilgrim. Therefore needless burdens are left behind. This is how ordinary pilgrims conduct themselves. And should not every Christian be more eager to advance along the way than to cumber himself with lands, or houses, or worldly honours? He who is bent on heavenly progress is bent also on self-denial. To grow like Christ, that is the Christian's daily business. Every day another step.
3. The pilgrim often pursues a solitary path. He is much alone. In the vision of the text only one is seen "coming up from the wilderness." She had left the broad path where many were found. She had left her old friends and companions. More and more the Christian has to walk alone. When first he resolved to follow Jesus he had to abandon former acquaintances; and, as often as he essays to reach a loftier level, he has to part with some comrades. He has learnt the art of personal decision. If others will not ascend with him to the higher planes of holy living, he must go alone. He would rather miss the company of a hundred than lose the company of his Well-beloved. Hence the frequent solitariness of the pilgrim. So far as outward connection with Christ's disciples is concerned, he will not separate himself. He cultivates all possible bonds of unity. He fosters Church life. But with regard to the inner life of his soul, i.e. his personal fellowship with Jesus, he is much alone. Yet, when most alone, he has the best society.
III. NOTE THE CHRISTIAN'S HELPFUL COMPANION. "Leaning on her Beloved."
1. This leaning implies a sense of Christ's nearness. We cannot lean upon anything that is not close at hand, yea, in actual touch with us. Though we cannot perceive Jesus with the organ of the body, we have a stronger proof still of his nearness. The experience of the soul is far more real and far more reliable than any sensation of the body. No organ is more easily deceived than the eye. Certainly our Immanuel gains immediate entrance to the heart. This fact is contained in his name, "God with us." So, without the intervention of words or other vehicle, he imparts good cheer and strength straight to the soul. He comes nearer than any human friend can come. He knows all the secret doors by which to pass in. He touches all the secret springs of life and reanimates them. He comes "to give life, to give it more abundantly."
2. Leaning means the transference of all our weakness to Jesus. To lean is to find support in another. If I am too weak to walk a distance of fifty miles, and I take a seat in a railway train, I transfer my weakness to that steam engine, and I take the benefit of its strength. At the outset of our Christian life we laid the whole weight of our sin upon our Substitute. We said, "God be merciful, for the sake of Jesus!" This was the foundation of our hope. As we grow in grace we learn more and more to leave our burdens in the hand of Jesus. We overcome the tempter, not by our own native strength, but through Christ, "who strengtheneth us." "I live," said St. Paul: "yet not I, but Christ liveth in me." This righteousness I have is Christ's righteousness. This love for sinful men is Christ's love "shed abroad in my heart." This wisdom to instruct and guide others is Christ's wisdom. I am "leaning on my Beloved." He takes on him all my weaknesses. He imparts to me his all-sufficient strength. It is a sacred and a vital partnership. Faith is perpetual dependence.
3. This leaning implies that Jesus is a consenting party. He loves to be used, loves to be trusted. Our weakness can never be a strain upon him, for his strength is omnipotence. He cannot fail, for such faithfulness was never seen among men—no, nor among angels. I could not trust to him for my eternal well being if I did not know that he shared in the Godhead. Clearly he is fully competent to take the whole weight of my salvation. And equally certain is it that he is willing. His love is as great as his power. His patience has often been severely tried, but it has proved abundantly adequate. The sun may cease to shine, the mountains may bow their snowy crests, the sea may vacate its bed; yet his loving kindness and his faithfulness eternally abide—these cannot fail. It is to him a real delight to help the weak and needy. After fifty or sixty years' experience of his tender grace, he says to us, "You have never half used me yet; you have never trusted me half enough. Hitherto you have asked nothing, comparatively nothing. Ask, and ye shall receive." So that our response ought to be spontaneous, "My soul, wait thou only upon God; for my expectation is from him" As the ivy clings for support to the oak, or as the limpet clings to the solid rock, so may we in our native weakness cling to the eternal Strength. As our faith grown, so will grow our love; and love, again, will encourage faith. There is a beautiful interaction. We lean upon Jesus because he is our Well-beloved.—D.
Song of Solomon 8:6, Song of Solomon 8:7
Prayer for full assurance.
The marrow and essence of true religion is love. If there is no love to God, there is no religion. If I am not the object of God's love, I have no solid hope of a blissful immortality. Hence it is our primary and supreme concern to ascertain whether we have a place in God's affection. Has God a care for me? Has he put my name on his book of life? Is he engaged by solemn covenant to be my Friend eternally? I want to know this. If I am left in suspense, it is, of all things, most painful. It robs me of the inspiration and the stimulus of hope. It weakens my endeavour after holiness. It damps my zeal. It checks my cheerfulness, and kills my inward peace. Unless the warm sunshine of Immanuel's love encircle me, I shall not produce the ripe fruits of goodness. Will my love be steadfast? Shall I hold out to the end? Well, all is secure if I know that I share in the love of Christ; for that love is endearing, unchanging, tender, all-victorious, everlasting. If my name is on the heart of my Saviour, then my eternal fortune is certain. No ill can come to me through time or through eternity. Therefore this prayer, "Set me as a seal upon thy heart."
I. NOTE THE SUBSTANCE OF THIS PRAYER.
1. It is a plea for love. Unless God had revealed to us the fact that in his heart there glowed a vehement flame of love for sinning men, we could never have surmised it. We might have carefully noted his many arrangements in nature for ministering to our happiness. We might have reasoned in our mind that, since he had given us the capacity to love, the spring and fount of that love must be in his own breast. Yet this would have been at the best conjecture. We could not have built on it any hope of enjoying his personal friendship, or of sharing his society eternally. But he has given us a veritable gospel. He has assured us that his highest love centres in men. He has given us plain and practical proofs of the ardour of his love. He has given us the sure pledge that his love is a permanent force in his nature; yea, an attribute of his Godhead. Therefore this love kindles our hope, excites our profoundest desire. God loves me; hence I can become a better man. I can rise out of the mire of sin. I can emerge out of the grave of dark despair. I can become a child of God, a prince in the kingdom of heaven. My heart is deeply moved. I love him who gave himself for me. I want to love him more. But he must soften my nature, and draw out my love. Will he condescend to do it? Will he have pity on undeserving me? I want to have this question solved. Jesus, I pray thee make me thy friend!
2. It is a petition for the assurance of Christ's love. The language is very probably borrowed from an impressive scene in the temple. It was a part of the duty of the high priest, when he went into the holy place, and came into immediate contact with God, to wear upon his breast and upon his shoulders the names of the tribes of Israel. These names were graven upon precious stones, and this ceremony indicated the affectionate interest which the high priest felt in the welfare of the people. He lived for them. He made oblation for their sins. He interceded with God on their behalf. Their misfortunes and their fails became his misfortunes and his burdens. He identified himself completely with the people. So his influence with God was used for them. Now, we too have a great High Priest; not a frail, erring man like Aaron and his successors. We have a perfect Mediator, even the Son of God himself. He has passed into the heavens as our Representative. If he will identify himself with me, and undertake my salvation, I am fully content. For so excellent is he that his pleading always does and must prevail. Can I be sure that he feels an interest in me? Yes, it is possible. If I ask for this blessing I shall have it. Hence I pray, "Set me as a seal upon thy heart."
3. This also is a plea for practical help. "Set me as a signet upon thine arm." The love of Jesus is not an inactive sentiment. It is sympathetic; it is personally helpful. His love puts into gracious operation all the energies of his being. I want the protection of a mighty arm. I want superior help. My heart has grown very insensible through sin, and I want him to soften it. I want him to eradicate from me the old roots of lust and folly. I want him to break off my letters of evil habit, I want him to remodel and revitalize my whole nature. No one else can do it. His strength is almightiness. If he will use his Divine power for my good, I shall be emancipated and purified and ennobled. I shall run gladly in his ways. And he is willing to do it. He delights in saving men and in doing good. So I will pray, "O Saviour, let thy great power work in me. Put forth thy strength on my behalf. 'Set me as a signet on thy arm.'"
II. OBSERVE THE ARGUMENT IN THIS PRAYER. "For love is strong as death." The Christian has large hope and has large expectation, because the principle or quality in God concerned about his salvation is love. So he argues with his heavenly Friend in this way: "It is for my eternal good that my name should be engraven on thy heart, for this I know that love is strong; yea, the mightiest thing in the world."
1. This plea for the assurance of God's love is founded on the power of love. Commentators have differed whether the writer had in view here Immanuel's love to us, or our love to him. But it is evident that the inspired writer is thinking about love in the abstract. Real love everywhere is strong. The timid bird, that usually flees from man or dog, will, to defend its young, risk its own life and attack its fiercest foe. Love is strong. What peril has not a human mother faced to save her child? Can we measure the strength of love by any known test? Can we express it by any metaphor? I cannot conceive any difficult feat too formidable for love. I think of love as I observe its working among men. I think of it as I experience its strength in me. It is next to omnipotent in man. It will readily confront death and grapple that mysterious foe. Amongst men, it is strong as death; yea, stronger, mightier! What, then, must love be in our Immanuel? Here it exists in perfect form, in uncreated measure, without a flaw or blemish. If love in Christ be the same sort of thing as love in my breast (and it is), then that love will endure anything to save its object. H my name is on Jesus' heart, this is my best-founded security for all good, present and eternal.
2. The argument proceeds on this ground, that baffled love is poignant pain. "Jealousy is cruel as the grave." This, again, is spoken of jealousy in the abstract. If I love, and my love is encouraged, and for a time reciprocated, until it burns with ardour; then, if a rival comes between me and my object, what pain, what fierce indignation, follows! Such jealousy springs out of injured love, that the heart passion is uncontrollable. It overleaps all barriers of law, all limits of reason. You cannot hold it in check. "It is cruel as the grave;" cruel as hell. Now, if Jesus has set his heart upon me; if he has sacrificed much on my account; if he has attested his affection by the cross and by the grave; then will he allow any rival to supplant him? Would there not be a feeling of intense pain, akin to jealousy, burning in his breast if anything came between him and the object of his love? Hence, for his own sake, he will not cast me off. For Iris own sake he will not cease to love me, nor cease to win my love in return. We are told that "he hates putting away." Here, then, is a very forceful argument, that for Iris own peace of mind, for his own honour, he will give me—poor, unworthy me—a larger place in his heart. "Having loved his own, he loves them unto the end."
3. The argument proceeds on love's unchangeableness. Literally translated, it is, "The coals thereof are the coals of God." This flame never decreases; it is fed from a storehouse of infinity. Changeableness is incident to man, but it has no place with God. We may love a person under a false estimate of that person's excellence. The charms may be plausible and pretentious rather than real. Hence our affections may diminish, undergo complete change. This can never happen with God. He does not love us Because we are lovable. He loves us in order to make us lovable and worthy of himself. His love chose us when we were aliens, rebels, depraved, dead in sin. As there was nothing in us to attract him at the first, so nothing in us will drive him away. He will correct, chastise, prune, purify us, but will not allow his love to change. Says he, "I have loved thee with an everlasting love." The flame of love which glows in his breast is a flame that cannot die out, so long as God is God.
III. THE RESPONSE TO THIS PRAYER. We may very properly regard this verse as the bridegroom's response. To the pathetic, yearning appeal of the bride, he promptly replies, "Thy argument is most valid; cogent in the extreme. Yea, verily, many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it."
1. Love is all-victories. If it be imaged forth as a flame of fire, then in one respect the figure fails. You can extinguish flame with water, if only you can pour on a sufficient quantity; but on this flame of love no amount of coldness or opposition will cool it in the least degree. Let Satan and his legions do their very utmost to lessen the intensity of this heavenly flame, their labour is vain. They only prepare for themselves a bitter disappointment. Or let the floods of human vice and human antagonism rise as they may, they can never rise as high as this heavenly flame. The finite can never o'ermaster the Infinite. The love of God to men is a sacred principle, an integral part of the Divine nature. There is nothing outside God to be compared in potency with what is within him. As the creature can never be a match for the Creator, so no kind of opposition can ever injure or diminish the eternal love of God. Just as nothing on earth nor in hell can diminish God's power or tarnish his righteousness, so also nothing can lessen or dim the fervent flame of his eternal pity. "Many waters cannot quench love;" yea, love turns all human hatred into fresh coals to feed the flame.
2. Love has a priceless value. The argument on the part of the Bridegroom seems to be, "Wherefore should my love abate. If it should, there must be some reason for it. What reason can there be what advantage? what gain?" Even were there some advantage to be gained, this would not weigh in the scale. For love scorns all advantage. Love delights in sacrifice. Only let love discover how it can make some new surrender, in order to bless the fallen and the wretched, and straightway love makes the surrender. Jesus will give up his heaven, his joy, his crown, today; give all up without hesitation, if he can thereby lift some poor sinner into a righteous life. On his part nothing shall impede the activities of his ardent love. Will he ever listen to any proposal to allow his love to rest? Never! Will he at any time prefer ease, or rule, or fame, or worship, to the outgoings of practical love? Never! A thousand times, never! Do I feel myself now more unworthy of his love than ever in my past history? Then, my soul, be hopeful! Here is greater scope for Immanuel's love! Spirit of truth, show me more clearly yet my guilt, my ingratitude, my inward corruption! For then shall I see how much I need my Saviour's pity, my Saviour's help. Then I know that he will run to my deliverance. For "Christ died for the ungodly." He loves to save the needy. If I have had much sin forgiven, then shall I love much. "Therefore, Lord, write my name upon thy heart, for in me thy love shall have a glorious triumph!"—D.
Song of Solomon 8:11
This language is Oriental, yet the lesson is cosmopolitan. In every kingdom there must be a system of economics. For a prosperous condition there must be division of labour. The land must be cultivated. The people must have food. The king's household must be sustained. To this end scope should be given to personal skill and personal enterprise. So a wine king farms out his land to husbandmen, who are under obligation to render back a fair proportion of the produce. This system brings the greatest advantage to both parties. Now, all this has its counterpart in the kingdom of God. Every man is a steward entrusted with God's property. He cannot live for himself. A day of reckoning is appointed, when the account must be produced and examined. Life, with all its possessions and privileges, is a sacred responsibility. Independence of God is impossible.
I. OBSERVE THAT GOD IS THE GREAT PROPRIETOR. "The earth is the Lord's, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein." No part of this vast and illimitable universe is exempt from his lordship.
1. His claim is founded on creation. God alone is uncreated. The unfallen hosts of angels, all principalities and powers in heaven, no less than the tiniest insect on earth, are the workmanship of his skilful hands. Creation gives a prescriptive and an indisputable right. What I make I claim as my own, though probably the raw material belonged to another. But God created out of nothing, or rather out of himself; therefore his title is without a flaw.
2. His claim is founded on preservation. For preservation is simply a continuous act of creation. He sustains in existence every atom of material, every form of life, every dynamic force, and this through every successive hour. In this way he asserts perpetually his supreme rights of property. Every vineyard is his workmanship. The life of every tree is his gift. The nourishing qualities of the soil; the sunshine, dew, and rain; all influences of the revolving seasons—all are his contributions to the maintenance of the vineyard. This is simply a sample of God's sustaining activity. My life hangs upon him through every hour. "In him I live and move;" "By him all things consist."
3. His claim is founded on acknowledgment. We admit that we are not our own. The enlightened conscience of every man testifies that God is the supreme Owner. We are not masters even of ourselves, nor of our own life. We did not choose in what year, or in what city, or in what family, we would be born. We have no control over our continuance in life. The voice from heaven says, "Return to the dust, ye children of men!" We have no control over the mode or the time of our departure. Nor have we unlimited control over our property. Sudden misfortune may scatter our wealth. "Riches make themselves wings and fly away." We feel that we are accountable to God; for to the bar of our own consciences are we frequently brought, to be prejudged of the use we have made of life, and the decision of this court will simply be ratified in the great assize. We are tenants at will. We have only a life interest in our earthly possessions. We are stewards, not proprietors.
II. OBSERVE THAT GOD HAS MADE US KEEPERS, OR STEWARDS. "He let out the vineyard unto keepers." The interest of the Proprietor is to be kept in view. We are "keepers" of his property. His good, not ours, must be sought.
1. This stewardship comprises everything. My body is not my own; it is a temple of the living God. Every organ of body and of mind is simply entrusted to my care. My tongue is not my own; it is an instrument for praising God. My learning is not my own; it should be laid on God's altar. My will is not my own; it should be made submissive to God's will. Hourly my prayer should be, "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?" Even the skill for gaining money belongs to another. "Say not in thine heart, My power, and the might of my own hand, have gotten me this wealth. But thou shalt remember the Lord thy God, for it is he that giveth thee power to get wealth." If I live to please myself, I am usurping the place of my Lord, and I incur his displeasure.
2. We are stewards who know the will of our Master. He has not left us in ignorance respecting the business of our life, or in what way his property should be employed. The vineyard must be "kept," and must be made fruitful. His Word is full of instruction, which demands our careful study and our faithful observation. In these living oracles he clearly speaks, "Son, go work today in my vineyard." "As ye have opportunity, do good unto all men." "Follow me," says Jesus. In other words, he means, "Live as I live. Spend life in doing good." We cannot plead as an excuse for slothfulness that we know not the will of our Master. And if we desire to obtain fuller direction, the Master himself is at hand, and guides every submissive soul "Ask, and ye shall receive." For the promise still runs, "I will guide thee with mine eye."
3. We are stewards who have the ability to do our Master's will. He is no hard Taskmaster, requiring the tale of bricks without providing raw material. On the contrary, his yoke is easy. In every circumstance, his friendly voice whispers, "My grace is sufficient for thee." Often do we put up the prayer, "Thy kingdom come, thy will be done." But it behoves us to remember that the means for attaining this great end lie within our reach. Had all servants of God been faithful in their office, what a different world would this be today! How large a proportion of our fellow men would be in the kingdom of God! It does not suffice that we serve Christ with one talent, while we allow other talents to lie idle. We cannot, with our money gifts, buy release from personal service. As no man can transfer to another his mental endowments, or his social influence, or his personal responsibility; so no man can transfer to another man his work. In these vineyards, service by proxy is not allowed. That person whom I presume to employ is already under the same obligation as myself, and cannot therefore serve as my substitute. Nor can we hope to see any great enlargement in the kingdom of Christ until each separate disciple feels and realizes that the burden of the world's salvation rests upon him. "As each one hath received the gift, let him minister the same, as a good steward of the manifold grace of God"
III. NOTE THAT GOD APPOINTS A RECKONING TIME. In the annual vintage season, the husbandman was required to make a proper return to the owner. This return might be made either in kind or in some equivalent.
1. There is a special season for this reckoning time. Speaking generally, the reckoning time will be at the day of judgment. Yet, for all practical purposes, this tenure terminates st death. Then our Lord comes, and convoys his servant home. Then the authoritative voice says, "Give an account of thy stewardship, for thou mayest be no longer steward." Then the faithful servant gives in his account with joy. "He has boldness in the day of judgment." It is the end for which he has toiled and waited. Just as the busy farmer rejoices greatly when his last harvest sheaves are garnered, because his toil has reached a successful end; so the disembodied Christian presents himself before his Lord with rapturous joy. For, with the fruits of his toil surrounding him, he confidently says, "Here am I, Lord, and the children thou hast given me. It is only thy talent I have thus multiplied. Not unto me, not unto me, but unto thy Name be all the glory."
2. Note the system of the reckoning. In God's kingdom the system must be strictly equitable; on God's part generous. That system is that a fair proportion of the gain belongs to God. He that is entrusted with ten talents is required to bring more gains than the man with only five. In proportion to our faith, fidelity, and zeal will be the measure of our success. Divested of all imagery, the simple fact is that each Christian is required to increase righteousness, loyalty, and love in God's world. I am expected to leave this world better, i.e. holier, than I found it. My business in life is to bring men nearer to God. If I can increase in men repentance, faith, piety, mutual benevolence, I have fulfilled my stewardship in some measure. If I have persuaded men to abandon a life of sin and to follow Jesus, I have brought honour to my Master's Name. My life work as a Christian is to enlarge the spiritual empire of Messiah. As in the fields of nature seed corn will produce sixty, or eighty, or a hundredfold; so each servant of Jesus Christ should lead sixty, or eighty, or a hundred men out of a state of rebellion into the covenant grace of our Immanuel. Saved ourselves, it should be our main business in life to save others.
"What is my being but for thee,
Its sure support, its noblest end?
Thy ever-smiling face to see,
And serve the cause of such a Friend?"
Song of Solomon 8:13, Song of Solomon 8:14
The love of Christ to men amazes us by its generosity; it amazes us also by its constancy and its condescension. He, who delighted in human companionship when on earth, delights in it still. In his irrepressible longing to do us good, he encourages us to speak freely, to tell out our desires, and to ask largely. Our requests for his gifts are never too large; they are invariably too small. If he can increase our faith in him and draw forth our love, he has done us greatest good. So, with exquisite tenderness, he says, "Cause me to hear" thy voice.
I. OBSERVE THE CHRISTIAN'S ABODE. "Thou that dwellest in the gardens."
1. This description of the Christian's dwelling implies quiet retirement. Formerly he loved bustle and excitement; now he loves a place for quiet meditation and prayer. He finds more pleasure in being among the works of God than among the works of men. As at the beginning God provided for Adam a garden, because most suited for healthfulness both of body and of soul; so the man who has the mind of Christ feels strongly the attractiveness of a garden. He loves to be shut out from the world, and to be shut in with God. He is a learner; and in deep quietude he best learns the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven.
2. A garden implies privilege. It is a privileged place. It is not open to all comers. The believer is no longer a rover, wandering up and down the earth in quest of some unpossessed good. He is not, like Cain, an outcast. He does not inhabit a wilderness, like the Edomites. The best situation this earth can furnish is for him. The place where God reveals himself is the place for him. Once it was a wilderness, now it is a garden. Among the lilies the good Shepherd feeds his flock; so there the Christian loves to abide. In the cool of the evening God walks among the trees; so there the Christian will walk also. It is Christ's garden, Christ's workmanship; a place of special privilege. This garden is, of course, the Church. Here the Christian sees what beauty and what fruitfulness adorn others; so he is emulated to be fragrant and fruitful also.
3. A garden implies useful occupation. For though God himself is the chief Husbandman, there is something forevery Christian to do in the garden. He cannot give life to the plants, yet he can water them; he can shield them from peril; he can prune and train the branches. He is a worker along with God; a partner in service. Such occupation is contributive to his own life and health and joy. An idle Christian is an anomaly. So long as I am in the Church, my influence is felt in moulding the church. The Church will be either better or worse for my presence. My zeal for fruitfulness will be contagious. My devoutness will lift the Church to a loftier elevation. Or my unspirituality will chill the ardour of the Church's love. I cannot be an idle spectator. I must do good work in the Church or bad. I am called unto usefulness.
4. A garden implies abundance of good. Whatever can meet the hunger of the body, or gratify the nostrils, or please the eye, or bring delight to the whole man, is found in a perfect garden. The word suggests abundance. So, in the Church, Jesus Christ spreads a perpetual banquet. He well knows our every requirement, and. he anticipates every need. Here is truth for the nourishment of the soul, wisdom for practical guidance, refreshing cordials for hours of weariness, strength for dally duty, deep wells of water for the soul's thirst, grace forevery time of need. No earthly garden can fitly picture forth the lavish provision God makes for our souls. Not a blessing is withheld. "All things are ours; for we are Christ's, and Christ is God's." Much as I have already received, there's much more to follow.
II. MARK THE CHRISTIAN'S SPEECH. "The companions hearken to thy voice."
1. This means that a Christian is social. If he has withdrawn from the society of worldly men, he is the more drawn into the fellowship of the saints. A Christian cannot be a recluse. This is a mistaken idea of his position and his obligation. Christian love excludes selfishness. His new instinct impels him to help others. He yearns that all men may be saved. God has given him the talent of speech. It is a wondrous gift. He can convey his thoughts to others. He can express tender feeling and brotherly sympathy to others. He can reprove faults and encourage virtues by his speech. He can have intimate friendships, which shall be helpful to him and to others. He dare not leave neglected the social side of his nature, or he will be disloyal to his Master.
2. His speech is attractive. "The companions hearken to thy voice." They did not complain of the harshness or bitterness of his speech. The very reverse: "they hearkened." It was pleasant. There was a heavenly savour about it, that made it winsome. It was like a breath of spring that quickened and refreshed them. The Christian's converse sheds new light into others' minds. It stimulates gently all the better impulses of the soul. It strengthens faith and love and hope. He hears new revelations from God's lips, and communicates the message to his fellows. Each Christian can help and instruct other Christians. Each has his own peculiar experience of the new life, and the interchange of experience is comforting and stimulating. If we speak what "we have known, and tasted, and felt, and handled of the good word of life," if we speak under an impulse of love, our speech will be attractive, and will minister grace to the hearers. "As iron sharpeneth iron," so do wise and gracious words quicken friendship.
3. This Christian speech was praiseworthy. Had it not been so, the Divine Master would not have asked to hear it. May we not learn here how ready our Immanuel is to find occasion for commending us? Instead of being in a mood for censoriousness, he is always ready to put the best construction on our doings. If he can find in us a virtue to praise, he will do it. It well behoves us, then, to ask ourselves whether our converse with others is always edifying. Our speech greatly influences men; is that influence always on the right side? In the dark days of Israel's fall, there were a few "who spake often one to another: and the Lord hearkened, and heard, and a book of remembrance was written before him" During his earthly ministry, Jesus often reminded men of the power that resides in human speech, and of the tremendous issues that follow. "By thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned."
III. THE CHRISTIAN'S FELLOWSHIP SOUGHT BY CHRIST. "Cause me to hear it."
1. A rare instance of Christ's meekness. There is nothing more edifying or more delightful to the Christian than to listen to the voice of Jesus. "Never man spake like this Man." His words are like pearls of wisdom, and for sweetness are like the droppings of the honeycomb. But how comes it to pass that Jesus can find pleasure in listening to our imperfect speech? This is almost a crowning act of condescension. He delights to hear our voices. He asks us so to speak that he may hear. He loves to hear us speak as his witnesses among men. He is pleased to hear our testimony concerning himself. His ear is gratified with our songs of adoration and gratitude. Specially he rejoices to hear our voices in prayer. "Hitherto," he says, "you have asked nothing"—comparatively nothing—"in my Name. Ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full." As an earthly father delights to hear the silvery prattle of his little child, and no request from an infant's lips goes unheeded; so our God finds peculiar pleasure in hearing our voice of childlike appeal. Before we finish our petition, the answer is on the way.
2. This request is an outcome of Christ's relationship to us. Since he has entered into intimate and affectionate union with us—ay, made with us a marriage covenant—it follows that communion with us is a thing to be desired. If he had not been willing to live with us on familiar and reciprocal terms, he would not have entered into this mystic and organic union. Having made the greater sacrifice, he will not refrain from the lesser. It is not his fault that his intercourse with us is not more frequent, more close, more sensibly enjoyed. He is ever asking us to treat him as our bosom Friend, and to trust him forevery kind of need. It is as if he said to us, "You tell your troubles unto others; why not tell them unto me? Cause me to hear thy voice!" Would a loyal wife tell her cares and her griefs to one and to another, while refraining from speaking of them to her husband? Would not this be a scandalous folly? Hence Jesus says to us, "Tell me everything. There is nothing that disturbs your peace which is not a care to me." We are charged to "cast all our care upon him." And our simple duty is, "in everything …to make known our wants unto God."
3. This request of Christ will serve as a corrective. To remember that Jesus wants to hear our voice, will this not often be a check upon our speech? Those hasty or unkind words of ours respecting another, did not Jesus hear them? Or, if we are forming in our minds an ungenerous estimate of a neighbour, does not Jesus whisper to us, "Cause me to hear thy voice"? Even thoughts are heard by him. The voice that Jesus hears is not always the voice that others hear. They hear the words which escape the lips. Jesus hears the intention uppermost in the mind. Jesus hears the "still small voice" of our motives. Our every feeling, our every ambition, has a voice, and Jesus says, "Let me hear it." It is for our good that he should hear it all. My best Beloved is ever listening. How soft and loving and true should my voice always be! I must "set a watch on the door of my lips, that I sin not with my tongue."
IV. THE CHRISTIAN'S RESPONSE TO HIS LORD'S REQUEST. "Make haste, my Beloved, and be thou like to a roe or to a young hart upon the mountains of spices."
1. Note the promptness of true obedience. Jesus had said, "Cause me to hear thy voice." Forthwith the loving soul responds, "Lord, thou shalt hear it. Come, Lord Jesus; come quickly!" No word could be more welcome to Jesus than that. It is as if the spouse had said, "Mayhap my voice may express feelings and inclinations which are very faulty; but do thou, beloved One, come, and thou wilt correct all faultiness. Thy presence will be food and medicine, rest and growth, in one. The 'one thing needful' is thyself. I pass by all the streams of help; I come to the Fountainhead. Thou art the Fount of life. 'All my springs are in thee.'" Love is swift to obey
2. Yet absence is for a time expedient. The night is as needful to the plant as the day. Winter is as useful to agriculture as summer. It was expedient for the first apostles that Christ's visible presence should be withdrawn. They learnt to use the wisdom and the courage which he had given them. They gave themselves more to the study of Scripture and to prayer. They showed far more enthusiasm and zeal than when he was among them. We see, as a fact, that great advantage accrued to them from the departure of Jesus. So is it still. We have from him all the help we need. We have his mighty Spirit in our souls. To have the visible presence of Jesus would fill us with a new rapture. But enjoyment is not the main thing now. We want personal holiness and personal consecration; these are attained through faith.
3. The Christian interprets this command of Christ as a fresh proof of his love. Did he say, "Cause me to hear thy voice"? then this is a love token. He would not desire to hear my voice unless he loved me. What delicate reminders of his love does our Immanuel give! How he devises to do us good, and plans to give us pleasure! And the more love grows, the stronger grows the desire to see him as he is. We long to have nearer access to Christ, without a veil between.
4. Love is impatient of all delay. We cannot climb to the heavenly heights, or sometimes we would. Hence, if there is to be a meeting between Christ and me, he must come down to me. Where he dwells must be a mountain—a mountain of fragrant spice. As mountains are the eminences of nature the loftiest parts of this material globe, so they help us to ascend to those empyreal heights, where true purity resides, where the Highest dwells. Love can conquer every hindrance. Love annihilates distance and time. Already Love dwells in the future. To her eye the final consummation is reached; and hence she sings, "Come, Lord Jesus; come quickly!"—D.
HOMILIES BY J.R. THOMSON
Song of Solomon 8:1-3
The ardour of spiritual love.
There is no measure, no restraint, in this language. If it is possible for human love, when duly placed, to be too fervent and absorbing, this is when that is given to the creature which it behoves us to reserve for the Creator. Passion and poetry combine to express the deepest emotions, the most ardent wishes of the soul.
I. THE OBJECT OF SPIRITUAL LOVE.
1. In loving Christ the soul centres its purest and strongest affections upon One who is in himself infinitely excellent. Earthly love is often the creature of the imagination, conceiving beauty and excellence which do not exist, or which exist in a measure extravagantly exaggerated. There is no possibility of thinking too highly of the Saviour, of admiring him too absorbingly, of loving him too warmly. He is all, and more than all, that our imagination can picture.
2. In loving Christ the soul does but render to him what his services and his sufferings deserve from our hearts. "We love him, because he first loved us." He has done for us what none other could or would have done. "While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." Is it possible to overstate our obligations—to offer him more than he has a right to expect and to claim from us?
II. THE YEARNING OF SPIRITUAL LOVE. Love would receive from the beloved. Two points are suggested by the passionate and glowing language of the text.
1. A desire for intimacy, for closest fellowship, for endearing friendship.
2. A desire for instruction, for lessons such as Christ only can convey to the soul of the disciple. It is well that we should look to our Lord for all things, for the wisdom that guides, the love that cheers, the grace that supports and sustains. The proper attitude of the Christian towards his Lord and Saviour is an attitude of dependence, of supplication, of expectation.
III. THE TRIBUTE OF SPIRITUAL LOVE. Love would give to the beloved. And the saved, rejoicing soul would fain offer of its best to Christ. The kisses, the spiced wine, and the pomegranate juice which the bride would offer to her spouse may suggest to us that Christ looks for the affection, the holy service, the consecrated devotion, of those for whom he died. What can we give him? If we cannot bathe his feet with tears or anoint his head with precious and fragrant unguents, we can at all events offer to him the sincere affection of the heart, a constant place in our thoughts, the tribute of our praise, and, to crown all, the service which, being rendered to his people, he will accept as given to himself.—T.
Song of Solomon 8:5
Leaning upon her beloved.
As a skilled artist by two or three strokes brings some incident vividly and picturesquely before the eye, so does the poet here by a few words picture before us a scene harmonious with the whole composition, and depict the mutual relation of the two personages of this exquisite dramatic idyll. We see the bride returning to the home of her youth, quitting the familiar pastures, and approaching the dear abode; she is "leaning upon her beloved." If true love is suggestive of true religion, as is not to be doubted, then we may regard this attitude as having its analogue in the Christian's wonted experience as related to his Lord.
I. THE CHURCH'S INNATE WEAKNESS. Men sometimes use extravagant language regarding the Church, as though in itself it were great and powerful. But the juster view to take is that suggested by the posture of the beloved coming up out of the wilderness. All the Church has is derived; she can neither stand nor walk alone; her steps would falter if unsupported, would stray and err if unguided.
II. THE CHURCH'S DIVINE FRIEND AND HELPER. Christ, who has called his Church into fellowship with himself, is alone able and willing to take her under his protection and control. He knows the way in which she is to walk, the enemies she will encounter, the dangers by which she will be assailed. And he has all resources of spiritual strength and wisdom, encouragement and love. Every earthly counsellor and friend has limited powers, which sooner or later will surely fail. There is no measure to Christ's capacity to save and bless.
III. THE CHURCH'S WILLING, GRATEFUL, AND CLINGING DEPENDENCE. They who would fain go alone are not Christ's. So surely as he chooses his own, so surely does he put within them a spirit of subjection and attachment to himself. A cry for leading and for support comes up from the depths of the spiritual nature—a cry to which Christ is never indifferent, to which Christ always responds. He bids her "lean hard" upon him.
IV. THE CHURCH'S HAPPY SECURITY. Having given herself into his keeping, she knows that she is safe; that he will lead her aright, that he will never leave and never forsake her; that if she stumbles, she will not be allowed to fall; that if she is faint and weary, he will uphold her tottering steps; that if she is fearful, his words and his smile will banish her apprehensions and restore her peace.—T.
Song of Solomon 8:6, Song of Solomon 8:7
The power and praise of love.
Literature furnishes no eulogy of the passion which most profoundly stirs the heart of man more splendid than this. Some of the clauses have passed into proverbs, and are often upon the lips. Here is a human scintillation from the Divine fire, glowing with something of the brilliancy of the celestial original. Such language as this has been adopted as their own by those ardent souls with whom piety is a passion, and for whom the love of God consumes all earthly emotion and desire. To analyze such poetry seems almost a profanation. Yet we may trace herein some of the characteristics by which the love of the saints of God has ever been in some measure distinguished. Of that love, especially as enkindled by the sacrifice of the Divine Redeemer, we are reminded that it is—
I. ARDENT. "A very flame of the Lord;" "the flashes thereof like flashes of fire." The story of the Church tells us of many whose affection and devotion to their Lord cannot be justly described in less fervent terms. There have been consecrated apostles, zealous missionaries, seraphic saints, who have been consumed with this sacred passion. And lowly Christians have lived, and yet live, unnoticed by the world, and little recognized even by the Church, in whose breasts this pure fire has burned with fervour so glowing as to verify this glowing language.
II. STRONG AND TENACIOUS. There is a frequent belief that as a keen bright flame soon burns itself out, so it is not to be expected that piety should long retain its utmost fervour. It is presumed that the exalted mood must pass away, that the spiritual passion must give place to the cold ashes of indifference. But this is not so with the love which consciously responds to the love which passeth knowledge. This is persistent, and is "strong as death."
III. UNQUENCHABLE. "Many waters" roll over it in vain, "neither can the floods drown it." Opposition and persecution try their power upon this spiritual passion, only to find that it is more than able to resist them. The oil which is poured upon the fire by the hand that is unseen is mightier than the water which is dashed upon it by the carnal, cold, and unbelieving world, Nay, the worldliness and indifference too often distinctive of professing Christian society, more dangerous than open hostility, is powerless to extinguish the flame which God himself has kindled.
IV. UNPURCHASEABLE. How true is this language even of human love, which, if it be sincere, is surely spontaneous and unbought! If love is to be purchased, it is love and not money which must be paid for it; "the substance of a man's house" is no equivalent for the priceless treasure. Gratitude and service may be bought, but love is beyond the value of jewels and of gold. We are taken into another region than that of market value and of merchandise. It is the love of the Saviour, that love which shone through the lurid darkness of Calvary, which wins the love of human hearts.
"I give my heart to thee,
O Jesus most desired;
And heart for heart the gift shall be,
With grateful ardour fired."
V. IMMORTAL. It is sealed, i.e. for an everlasting possession. An ancient writer said, "Christ seals us in the heart, that we may love him; in the forehead, that we may confess him; in the hand, that we may profess him, and that we may practise what we profess." Over this love time and death have no power. It burns brighter when the lamp of life bums low; it breaks forth in perfect lustre when, beyond this murky atmosphere of earth, it reaches the clear air of heaven.—T.
Song of Solomon 8:11, Song of Solomon 8:12
The reward of the faithful.
The vine was cultivated very generally in some parts of Palestine, and afforded the Hebrew poets and prophets many similitudes, especially of the life of the nation and the Church. The incident related in these verses is apart from the main interest and plot of the work, but to whomsoever it refers—and it is conjectured to refer to certain rustic brothers of the bride—it suggests valuable spiritual lessons concerning the moral government of God and the responsibility of men.
I. A TRUST GRACIOUSLY COMMITTED. As Solomon let out his vineyard at Baal-hamon to certain tenants, so the Divine Lord and Ruler of all has appointed for each one of us a certain province of opportunity for improvement and for service. This is more strikingly the case with regard to those who occupy positions of eminence, but in reality such is the position of every intelligent and reasonable creature of God. We are tenants to whom his goodness has assigned a sphere of action in which we may be negligent or diligent, responsive to his behests or indifferent to his claims.
II. A TRUST FAITHFULLY FULFILLED. In the parable the keepers or tenants are represented as having cultivated the vineyards entrusted to them with skill and success, so that they were able to pay the king the rent which was agreed upon or the tribute which he required. In this they are representatives of all those who, having received privileges and enjoyed opportunities, turn them to good account. The scholar who cultivates his mind, enlarges his knowledge, and fits himself to influence aright the opinion and convictions of his less favoured fellow men; the man of wealth who employs his riches in a spirit of wise and expansive knowledge; the Christian minister who cultivates the corner of the spiritual vineyard committed to his care; every faithful child of God who diligently and prayerfully endeavours to do the will of the heavenly Husbandman, may be said to be faithful in his discharge of the obligations of his trust.
III. FIDELITY TO THE TRUST AMPLY RECOGNIZED AND REMUNERATED. Whilst the king received his thousand pieces of silver, the cultivators of the vineyard were rewarded with two hundred pieces as the recompense of their toil. And God suffers no faithful labourer to be the loser by his service. True, the recompense may not be material or temporal. Many a diligent servant of God is allowed to live a life of privation and to die in poverty. But there is a rich reward reaped by such a faithful trustee and steward of God's grace. He has the recompense of a good conscience; he may have the affectionate gratitude of some whose best interests he has promoted; and he certainly has the approval of him who can appoint to a higher ministry, who can confer lasting honours and true blessedness.—T.
Song of Solomon 8:13
The longed for voice.
"The companions hearken for thy voice: cause me to hear it." Such is the closing utterance of the royal spouse, who thus invites the bride to give expression to the feelings that animate her breast. May we not believe that the King of kings, who is yet the Lover and the Friend of his Church, in similar language asks for the free communication of the Church's purest thoughts and best desires? Welcome to the Saviour is the outpouring of his people's hearts. Never can they speak to meet with inattention and disregard from him upon whom their all depends.
I. CHRIST DELIGHTS IN THE VOICE OF HIS PEOPLE'S LOVE. He has not refrained from assurances of his love towards us, and he expects that we shall not repress the utterance of our affection towards him. His kindness evokes our affection, and that affection cannot be speechless; it must needs find a voice, whilst its expression will ever be welcome and grateful to his tender heart.
II. CHRIST DELIGHTS IN THE VOICE OF HIS PEOPLE'S SINCERE SUPPLICATIONS. The relation being such as it is, our addresses to our Lord must be constantly taking the form of prayer. There is no reason why we should withhold our petitions. We are altogether dependent upon him, and in our dependence he takes pleasure, because it affords him the opportunity of constantly displaying his kindred. When we come into his presence as suppliants, we do not come unbidden. "Cause me," says Christ, "to hear thy voice."
III. CHRIST DELIGHTS IN THE VOICE OF HIS PEOPLE'S GRATITUDE AND PRAISE. For such acknowledgments there is incessant occasion. He does not cease to give, nor should we cease to bless the Giver. If supplication is the special exercise of the Church on earth, praise is the undying exercise of the Church in heaven. Gratitude and adoration are as immortal as is love itself.—T.