The Holy Spirit gives the title to this sacred book. The name of the author and the message are not left to critical surmise. Solomon, famed for wisdom, rich in every gift, distinguished above men, is the inspired penman. We thus can date the period when this ray of light first gleamed. It follows in close succession to the spiritual songs of David, the sweet Psalmist of Israel. All thoughts of human composition are excluded.
Let us now approach it with the lowliest reverence, as a stream proceeding out of the throne of God, and of the Lamb. May it carry our thoughts high above earth, and raise them to the purest light!
It is a Song. It is not a historic narrative, relating in plain terms the annals of the past. It is not a prophetic portrait, foreshadowing in shrouded form the semblance of the coming future. It is no scientific treatise, developing God's plan in the arrangement of nature's multitudinous wonders. It is not a chain of moral precepts, directing to the beauties and bliss of holy life.
It is a Song. It mounts on the wings of metaphor and figure. It expatiates in the regions of imagination, and decorates spiritual thoughts with poetic images. Thus large scope is given for lively interpretation. But to this license strict limits are erected. No conclusion may be enforced but the obvious lessons of sound judgment and indisputable truth.
Moreover, it is the Song of songs. It rises incomparably above all similar expressions of words or feelings. May it be to us the joy of joys--the charm of charms--the delight of delights--a feast of melody! May our souls here find superabundance of heavenly transports! May we be enraptured by it to sing at the very gate of heaven!
Doubtless, the Song reveals a great mystery, even the communion which exists between Christ and His Church. Happy are they who hear in the Bridegroom's words the love of Christ addressed to their own souls. Happy are they who can respond, that the words of the Church are the pure experience of their inmost feelings.
1:2. "Let Him kiss me with the kisses of His mouth; for Your love is better than wine."
These opening words are abrupt, and presuppose that the aspirations of the Church are not unknown. They evince fervent longing for closer manifestations of the love of Christ. Evidence of its nearness is sought. A familiar term gives reality to the desire. "Let Him kiss me with the kisses of His mouth." This act is the outbreak of the warm feeling of a loving parent--of an affectionate brother--of a tender spouse--of a devoted friend. Where love is ardent it thus finds vent. The Church pants to be assured that she has a saving interest in Christ; that His feelings are real and strong, and seeks delight in manifested proofs. She desires to live in the abiding sense of this interest.
Many are the methods of this revelation. In the hours of meditation the Spirit withdraws the veil, and exhibits the Redeemer's heart. In the pages of Scripture He leads to persuasions of this love by the lessons of indisputable facts. Why does Christ assume our nature, put on the rags of mortality, condescend to represent us as bone of our bones, and flesh of our flesh? Why does He lay down His life to buy us from perdition? Why does He work out a perfect obedience to be our robe? Why does He reign at God's right hand, causing all things to work together for our good? Revelation gives the reply. Love prompts Him--love carries Him through the whole work. On every step is inscribed, "He loved me, and gave Himself for me." Clearly to see these blessed truths is to receive the kisses of His mouth.
More glowing evidence cannot be given. The enraptured believer replies, "Your love is better than wine." As wine cheers and exhilarates, so these truths, clearly seen and realized, raise the soul to joys unspeakable. No earthly objects can impart like pleasure. The love of Christ is a cup overflowing with delights. Wine cannot give like gladness to the heart.
1:3. "Because of the savor of Your good ointments, Your name is as ointment poured forth--therefore do the virgins love You."
Strains of rapture are continued. The Church commends her Lord as fragrant in delicious perfume.
It is the province of faith to view the blessed Jesus as fulfilling high offices in salvation's scheme. He is adored as Prophet, Priest, and King. Anointing oil inaugurated the personages admitted to these distinctions.
Jesus, called to execute these offices, is anointed by the Holy Spirit. Let us reverence Him as thus exalted. He ever lives, the PROPHET of the Church--He instructs in all wisdom--He reveals saving truth--He dispels the shades of ignorance--He enlightens with rays of heavenly knowledge--He teaches to profit. To know this is to delight in the savor of His good ointments.
He is anointed also, to be the High PRIEST of His Church. On the Altar of His Cross He presents Himself as the all-atoning Victim, accomplishing in His person what sacrificial rites prefigured. He bears His people on His shoulders and on His breast, and from the throne of heaven pours down all blessings to enrich them. For this office He received the good ointment of the Spirit.
Mediatorial government is committed to His hands. The Father's decree proclaims, "Yet I have set My KING upon My holy hill of Zion." He rules for His people, ordering all things for their good. He rules in them, bringing every feeling into subjection to His sway. And soon He will take to Himself His great power and reign, as King of kings, and Lord of lords. Faith views Him as regally anointed by the Holy Spirit. Charming indeed is the contemplation. It is the sweet savor of His good ointments.
Hence His name excites a thrill of joy. As fragrance, it cheers--it gladdens--it exhilarates--it quickens love. His pure and holy followers, espoused as chaste virgins, love Him with the fervor of intense affection.
1:4. "Draw me--we will run after You. The King has brought me into His chambers. We will be glad and rejoice in You; we will remember Your love more than wine--the upright love You."
The Church desires the closest communion with her Lord. She feels her inability to advance without His gentle drawing. He must invigorate her zeal; He must pour strength into her languishing powers. She earnestly solicits such constraining help, and vows, that drawn by cords of love, she will run with all alacrity. By 'plural language' (we), she intimates that she will draw others.
Can such prayer go forth in vain? Instant reply is delightedly proclaimed. Christ is recognized as her supreme Lord, and delight testifies that He has brought her into the intimacies of His favor.
The result is her overflowing delight. She avows that the exuberance of joy is centered in Him. Other gratifications vanish as empty baubles. Sensual luxury, such as the goblets of the rich banquet, present no rival pleasure. To know Jesus is to love Him supremely. His true followers, upright and sincere, give Him their undivided hearts. No other object stands in competition. Love will embrace Him with inviolate attachment. One transport is all-pervading--"We love Him because He first loved us."
1:5. "O daughters of Jerusalem, I am black, but lovely--as the tents of Kedar, as the curtains of Solomon."
The Church here holds communion with her friends. Doubtless, it is the believer's high delight to maintain direct converse with the Lord. It is sweet joy to open out the heart to Him--to tell the inmost feeling, and to crave help for every hour of need. But it is pleasant, also, to unwind in the openness of Christian fellowship. Thus mutual strength is gained, and brotherly support administered. This communion of saints is ordained as a helpful staff in the heavenward course. It is well-pleasing to our Lord. They who fear Him speak often one to another. He hearkens, and a book of remembrance is written.
So the Church here turns to her associates. They are styled the daughters of Jerusalem. To them she pictures her state. It is a seeming paradox. The extremes of lowliness and greatness are combined. She presents two aspects. Deformity and loveliness compose the portrait. "I am black, but lovely." Blackness is frightful and repulsive. No eye can rest on it complacently. But blackness is the emblem of our state by nature. We are conceived and born in sin; and sin is most hideous wherever it appears. The Spirit has revealed this truth to each enlightened convert. He sees it--he feels it--he owns it--he bewails it. It is his constant misery. When he would do good, evil is present with him. He hates and loathes and abhors himself in dust and ashes. Surveying the innate corruption, which is his, he mournfully confesses, I am black--I am vile.
But he looks off to Christ. He sees the precious blood washing out every stain and obliterating the crimson dye. The blackness disappears. In Christ he is whiter than the whitest snow. He puts on Christ, and adores Him as made sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him. He sees His pure and perfect obedience wrought out as a robe to hide his every defect, so bright, so lovely, and so glorious, that it exceeds all admiration. He feels that this righteousness is through grace imputed to him. He knows that he is lovely through divine loveliness. Thus clothed and decked, he triumphantly tells his friends, "I am black, but lovely."
To exemplify this truth, similitudes are introduced. The tents of Kedar represent nature's vile condition; the curtains of Solomon exhibit the beauteous contrast. Kedar was the progenitor of the wandering tribes which roamed throughout Arabia. They had no settled home. In search of pasture, they drove their flocks from field to field, with no fixed rest. They had their shelter under the covering of most rough and unsightly tents. These tents, exposed to every change of weather, sometimes parched by heat, sometimes shriveled in the frost, and composed of the coarsest skins, presented an appearance on which no eye could happily repose. This image of lowliness and deformity showed nature in her low estate.
Look now to Solomon's magnificent abode. It sparkled with the riches of resplendent hues. Its tapestry was elaborate in the charms of art. Its hangings dazzled in the brilliancy of beauty. What could be more choice--more lovely--more attractive! No admiration could describe its luster. These curtains shine as an emblem of the beauty of the Church clad in celestial loveliness. Each believer beholding his dual state exclaims, "O daughters of Jerusalem, I am black, but lovely, as the tents of Kedar, as the curtains of Solomon."
1:6. "Look not upon me, because I am black--because the sun has looked upon me. My mother's children were angry with me. They made me the keeper of the vineyards--but my own vineyard I have not kept."
The Church appears low in the valley of self-renunciation. This spot is often visited by true faith, and most precious lessons are received. In this school we learn to view our natural estate with just abhorrence, and to exult more fervently in the righteousness of Christ. Thus we sink in humility, that we may soar in rejoicing love. We sternly hate ourselves, that we may more adore our Lord. The truth is realized, "He that humbles himself shall be exalted."
Thus the Church again presents herself in the garb of degradation. She appears as a peasant injured and despised by relatives--dishonored by those whose love was naturally her due--driven from domestic comfort--compelled to the drudgery of degraded work--exposed to the disfiguring effects of sultry weather, and thus conscious that her appearance could excite no feelings of attraction. As such she shuns man's observation, and piteously cries, "Look not upon me, because I am black." There was nothing in her on which the eye could rest complacently. She therefore shrinks from notice.
Obvious are the lessons of this picture. They teach us the vileness of our state by nature. Let us be wise, and open our eyes to the humiliating truth. What is our best righteousness? View it in the light of Scripture. It is full of faults and blemishes, hideousness pervades its every part. It is a filthy rag. Shall we present our own performances for acceptance before our omniscient God? At best they are the abominable thing which His holiness abhors. Let us rather cry, Away with such pleas, away with them. "Look not upon me, because I am black." "Enter not into judgment with Your servant, O Lord, for in Your sight shall no man living be justified."
If God should mark what is done amiss, who shall stand? The believer feels that in himself he is thus loathsome. From the sole of the foot to the crown of the head there is nothing in himself but wounds and bruises and putrefying sores. The sunburnt peasant, toiling in the vineyard beneath the midday rays, is the image of his wretched state.
This view of self is most profitable when it drives us to abhor self-righteousness, and to wash our thoughts and words and works in the fountain of Christ's all-cleansing blood. Then with what delight is the precious truth clasped, "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." Each child of man who mournfully exclaims, "Look not upon me, because I am black," is led to the rapturous joy of adding, "But I am lovely. God's eye beholds me bright in the righteousness of Christ."
But self-complacency may not rest in an 'enlightened mind'. Consciousness of shortcomings and defects must ever keep us lowly in shame. The Church adds, "My own vineyard I have not kept." Where is the day which testifies not of indolence and careless walk? Our souls are a neglected vineyard. Briers and weeds are not diligently plucked up. Fences are not carefully repaired. Gaps are left, through which the wild beasts of the forest may enter and spread ruin. We sit with folded hands, while much work on all sides demands industrious toil. Who will not confess, "The good that I would, I do not." Hence the prayer is prompted, 'Do not remember my countless omissions.' Hence we are led to put all our trust in the finished work of Christ, and to confess, "By grace are we saved through faith; and that not of ourselves--it is the gift of God--not of works, lest any man should boast." Holy Spirit, bless this emblem to our souls' good!
1:7. "Tell me, O You whom my soul loves, where You feed, where You make Your flock to rest at noon--for why should I be as one that turns aside by the flocks of Your companions?"
The Church addresses Christ in the warmth of devoted love. She cries, "O You whom my soul loves." All motives, which can influence the heart, constrain to this affection. Consider His love. It burns from everlasting to everlasting. It knows no change. It is gloriously evidenced by His achievements in redemption, and by His continued work in heaven. Surely the soul, enraptured by these realities, will overflow with responding love. The profession will break forth, "Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You." Happy are they whose consecrated lives give testimony to this devotion!
The Church next avows her longing desire for intimate communion. His presence is her main delight. His absence renders life a dismal blank. She addresses Him as the Chief Shepherd. She knows that in tender solicitude He leads His flock into the richest pastures of nourishment and strength; that He will vigilantly protect them from all overburdening toil, and will cause them to lie down in sweet repose. She prays to be acquainted with the spot thus carefully selected. Her sigh is, 'O that I knew where I might find Him--with eager haste I would fly to this retreat--no hindrances would detain me.' It is indeed most blessed, when the soul ardently solicits this communion.
She expresses, also, apprehension of mistake. She fears lest some false guides should turn her astray. "Why should I be as one that turns aside by the flocks of Your companions?" Alas! that false teachers should harass congregations! But so it always has been, and so it still continues. There were false apostles in the earliest days; unenlightened guides still would lead in paths of error. Let earnest prayer be made for deliverance from their vain deceits. The pulpit is no blessing--no, it is a fearful peril, unless it stands as a signpost, ever pointing to the Lord, and calling poor sinners to rejoice in His uttermost salvation. "None but Jesus" should be the ministerial motto.
1:8. "If you do not know, most beautiful of women, follow the tracks of the sheep and graze your young goats by the tents of the shepherds."
The gracious Lord grants reply. How precious is the truth, that supplication quickly reaches His loving ear! It swiftly flies to heaven's gate, and while it knocks, replies descend.
A tender appellation tells the Church that she is truly loved. She had owned her blackness. He only regards her loveliness. He sees her, as arrayed in the garments of salvation--as decked in His pure righteousness--as filled with the graces of His Spirit. Thus cleansed and clothed and beautified, she is addressed as 'the beloved, on whom His eye rested with delight'.
But He seems gently to upbraid her for lack of knowledge within her reach. A like voice chided an Apostle, "Have I been so long time with you, and yet have you not known Me, Philip?" Ignorance is a fearful fault--for God is always ready to give wisdom liberally without upbraiding.
Clear direction is supplied--Mark the example of the holiest saints--see how they live and walk, and follow them. Paul exhorts, "Be followers of me." Let us follow them who through faith and patience inherit the promises. The Church is exhorted to tarry near her faithful Ministers. In all arrangements it should be a prominent desire to dwell under the shadow of gospel-truth. Thus we shall "grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ."
1:9. "I have compared you, O my love, to a company of horses in Pharaoh's chariots."
The Church is tenderly addressed. We marvel at this condescension of God's co-eternal and co-equal Son. But if He was willing to adopt our low estate, and to espouse us as His bride forever, loving expressions may be expected from His lips. "I have compared you, O my love, to a company of horses in Pharaoh's chariots." The words portray the beauty--the excellence--the superiority of the Church. The striking image introduces a company of horses in Pharaoh's chariots. Horses are among nature's grandest productions. They are worthy of admiration for exquisite symmetry, graceful movements, and surpassing strength. How pre-eminent, then, in every aspect, would the horses be, which were selected for the chariots of the Egyptian monarch!
In their picture we are taught to see the Church. The Creator's hand endowed these creatures with their illustrious appearance. The hand of Christ enriches His bride with the glories of celestial beauty. What can surpass the brightness of the 'righteousness' which He wrought out! He clothes her with the garments of salvation. Every dark spot is completely and forever hidden. Her garb exhibits loveliness in perfection.
The horses for Pharaoh's use were doubtless the choicest which earth produced. Distant lands would send supplies to the royal stables. So, also, the members of the Church are gathered from all nations and kindreds and people and tongues. All countries from East--from West--from North--from South contribute to their number. When the great multitude shall stand around the throne, the noblest sons of the whole world shall be assembled as the Lamb's bride. Let the enquiry be diligently made, Shall we appear in this resplendent throng?
Doubtless, these horses were of surpassing value. They would be purchased at high cost. The treasures of Egypt would not be withheld to procure them. Thus the Church is bought with the most precious price--Christ presents His own blood as the purchase. But who can tell its value! The riches of this earth--the treasures which it contains--the elaborate productions of art and science--millions of suns in meridian brightness--gold and silver in countless heaps are worthless in comparison. When Christ lays down His life, He gives so much that heaven can give no more.
1:10. "Your cheeks are lovely with rows of jewels, your neck with chains of gold."
Next, these horses are richly decorated. Behold them. How splendidly they are adorned! Their heads are brilliant in choice jewels--chains of gold sparkle on their necks. The Church, also, is adorned with precious gifts of grace. The Spirit employs His wondrous power to enrich her with charms of godliness. They who see her are constrained to acknowledge that she is raised high above the rank of fallen nature. To enumerate the excellences thus granted to her would be to enumerate out all the gifts of the Spirit. He is ever lavish in decking and beautifying her.
1:11. "We will make you borders of gold with studs of silver."
The rich ornaments of these horses seem incapable of improvement. But more shall yet be added. Collars of gold, sparkling with studs of silver, shall be added to the rich adornments. It is a precious truth, "He gives more grace." Let us never be content with what we have already gained. Let us strive and toil and pray, until we are filled with all the fullness of God. We must be conscious that at the best we are most miserable short-comers. Let us give our God no rest, until grace more and more enriches our hearts.
1:12. "While the King sits at His table, my perfume spread its fragrance."
Another image here instructs us. May it shine brightly as a Gospel-ray! The King is seen seated in His banquet-hall. We may imagine the table rich in all the luxury of Eastern courts. The Queen, in royal robes and redolent with sweet perfumes, is enthroned by His side. We here are taught a lesson written emphatically in Scripture. The desire of Christ to hold free converse with the Church is vividly portrayed. He calls her to sit at His table. Such is the voice of the Revelation, "Behold, I stand at the door, and knock. If any man hears My voice, and opens the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with Me."
Amazing grace that we should be welcomed to such feast! His Spirit, His grace, the Scriptures, holy meditation, and Gospel-ordinances thus constantly invite us. It would exceed our space to tell the luxuriant bounties which enrich His banquet. Here we are regaled with realizing views of His eternal love. We may enter on refreshing knowledge of His incarnation. We may find that His flesh is food indeed, and His blood drink indeed. Here we may extract strength from most precious promises, and draw delight from their countless dainties. And while we feast, the tender voice may be heard, "Eat, O friends, drink, yes, drink abundantly, O beloved."
Mighty is the effect on the delighted guest. "While the King sits at His table, my perfume spread its fragrance." Marvelous is the power of Christ's presence to invigorate grace. Walk in the garden in the chill days of winter. Shrubs and flowers, to appearance, are withered and dead, and no sweetness is presented. Revisit this spot when summer-rays are bright, and genial breezes softly blow. Then countless flowers expand in lovely charms, and fragrance breathes around. So when Christ is absent, the soul is a barren wasteland. But when He comes with His reviving power, all graces bloom, and spread deliciousness around. The perfume of the heart sends forth its fragrance. When Jesus sat at the table, Mary broke her box of ointment, and the house was filled with the fragrance of it.
1:13, 14. "A bundle of myrrh is my well-beloved unto me; He shall lie all night between my breasts. My beloved is unto me as a cluster of henna blossoms from the vineyards of Engedi."
The Church well knows the source from which her graces flow, the tree on which her blossoms bud. If fragrance proceeds from her, His love has first infused it. If she shines as light, she only reflects the rays of heaven. If she diffuses delight, it is from the treasures which He so abundantly has imparted. In the deep consciousness that all her grace is the aroma of His indwelling, she avows that her beloved is unto her a bundle of myrrh and a cluster of the choicest henna blossoms. As the rich perfume cheers and invigorates, so Jesus is the chief joy of every believing heart.
It is indeed ecstacy to meditate on Him and on His work. Every feeling is charmed when contemplating His beauty--His glory--His achievements. Let us be wise, and entertain ourselves in the sweet garden of these countless flowers. Each is enchanting sweetness--each exhilarates and strengthens.
The Church resolves that nothing shall take this joy from her. The bundle of myrrh--the cluster of henna blossoms--shall lie all night between her breasts. She will clasp her beloved Lord to her heart of hearts. As throughout the day His presence had gladdened her walk, so when shades of night obscure all other objects, He still shall be near to her adoring love, and breathe His fragrance through her wakeful hours.
1:15. "How beautiful you are, my beloved, how beautiful! Your eyes are soft like doves."
Christ still most tenderly commends the Church. He views her with admiring gaze, and utters His deep feeling, "How beautiful you are, my beloved, how beautiful!" The repetition denotes the fervor of His heart.
The believer should never close his eyes to his low estate by nature. His birth is in a vile cradle. He is shaped in iniquity--in sin his mother conceives him. His walk through life is linked to uncleanness. Transgression is his frequent rule. His weak steps totter into mire. His best righteousness is but a filthy rag. The leper's miserable state, is nature's portrait.
This sense of deep depravity should not be banished from the mind. The believer should ever be smiting on his breast, and crying for mercy as a miserable sinner. But in close connection with these humbling thoughts, the knowledge of his Lord's gracious estimate excludes despair. In the depths of self-abhorrence he hears the whisper, "How beautiful you are, my beloved, how beautiful!"
A seeming paradox here perplexes reason. But faith by Scripture-aid can reconcile the dual aspect. As viewed in Christ, what object can be more beauteous than the blood-washed soul! Over all its defects the robe of Christ's perfect obedience is spread. The requirements of the law, which demand love in every step--in every moment--in every movement of the mind--are perfectly and gloriously fulfilled by Him. This righteousness is "unto all and upon all those who believe." In it there is no spot or stain--no blemish, nor any such thing. Jesus views His bride thus adorned and cries, "How beautiful you are, my beloved, how beautiful!"
He marks, also, the work of the Spirit in her heart. There sovereign grace implants the seed of godly words and works. How beauteous is the holiness wrought by the Spirit! Jesus admires the blossoms and the fruit which thus flourish, and exclaims, "How beautiful you are, my beloved, how beautiful!"
Let us diligently ponder this truth. The dark clouds of our iniquity should not conceal the splendor of this light. The vile waters of our sad course should not extinguish the brightness of Christ's work. In Him, partakers of a divine nature, we should fully recognize His goodness, and lying low at the footstool of His grace, we should adoringly give thanks, and embrace the truth, "How beautiful you are, my beloved, how beautiful!"
An especial grace is next commended--"Your eyes are soft like doves." It is pleasing to see that gentle bird--how sweet the softness of its eye! It shows not the brilliant fire which sparkles in the majestic eagle--it exhibits not the wild ferocity of the cruel and unsparing hawk. It is sweet in the charms of softness. We here see the humility of the followers of the Lord. He was meek and lowly in heart. Let all pride and uplifted looks be cast away, and let our clothing be this lowly grace.
1:16, 17. "Behold, you are lovely, My beloved, yes, pleasant--also our bed is verdant. The beams of our house are cedar, and our rafters are firs."
To give strong consolation and good hope through grace, Christ multiplies His praise. Let not such tenderness be lost. He next reveals His intimacy by representing His people as inhabitants of the same dwelling. This abode is described as built of the most costly, fragrant and enduring materials, and furnished with every apparatus for rest. The beams are cedar; the rafters fir; the bed is of most lovely hue. Intimate are they who thus are united beneath one roof.
Such are the delights which Christ provides for His people here. What must those mansions be which He is now preparing for them! They were arranged from the foundation of the world. Christ is now employed in making them ready. How wondrous is His love!