It is a precious exercise to seek for Jesus in the pages of His Word. The same pursuit is also precious in the field of nature. His beckoning hand ofttimes directs our search. He, who in the days of His flesh, said, "I am the true vine," here by the Spirit depicts Himself as "the rose of Sharon, and the lily of the valleys."
He selects the garden's pride, and the lowly valley's charm, as emblems of Himself. While we behold them, may we receive refreshing lessons!
In the garden, no flower in loveliness can surpass the rose. In the tender bud, and in the expanded flower, rare beauty shines. Streams of fragrance float around. So, also, in the sequestered valley, the lily shows its modest head. Its graceful form attracts delighted gaze--its exquisite perfume enlivens the sense of smell. The union of these choice delights shows Jesus in all the perfections of His beauty, grace, and glorious worth. But no emblems can fully paint the perfections of Him, who is the brightness of His Father's glory, and the express image of His person--the chief among ten thousand, the altogether lovely One.
More than image can express the transcendent excellence that is combined in Him. His name is as perfume poured forth. Every thought of Him delights and cheers, invigorates and gladdens, the believing heart. The objects here selected are often in our view. May we never see them without delightedly ascending to their great Anti-type!
2:2. "As the lily among thorns, so is my darling among the maidens."
He who has just portrayed Himself as the tender lily, now gives the same designation to His Church. Thus His condescending grace shows the truth, that He and His redeemed are one. This assurance is not inferred only from this sweet passage. In Jeremiah, "the Lord our righteousness" is His name. Subsequently the same title is given to the Church. The Holy Spirit by the pen of Paul similarly honors the Church by the name of Christ.
Let this truth be no unmeaning revelation to our hearts. Let us strive and toil and pray that every grace in Christ may be reflected in our lives. Let all who see us testify, that we are conformed to the likeness of the Firstborn.
But we are here especially taught, that we must surpass all others in holiness of walk. The lily blooms attractively amid thorns. So our excellence and fragrance should be discerned as raising us high above the sons of men. We should be as preeminent now, as we shall be in glorious inheritance. The thorns and briers shall be gathered together in bundles for the burning, when believers shall shine forth above the brightness of the skies.
2:3. "Like the apple tree among the trees of the forest, so is my Beloved among the young men. I sat down under His shadow with great delight, and His fruit was sweet to my taste."
Shall Jesus commend the Church, and no responsive admiration be excited? The Church in fervor of adoring love, selects as His portrait the apple tree, which in its beauty, and in its fruit, excels all the produce of the woods. She speaks of herself as attracted to it. Weary with toil--overcome by sultry rays, she finds rest beneath the shadow of the widespread branches. In this sweet repose, she plucks delicious fruit from the boughs descending to her reach, and there shelter and refreshment are combined.
Thus the soul, wearied with fruitless search for peace in forms and services, and lifeless works, beholds the refuge, which the sheltering shade of Christ presents. Here it feels that labors end, and peace is obtained. The fiery darts of Satan cannot pierce the covering protection. Thus what the needful soul requires is found in Christ.
But under His covering there is more than perfect peace. The Tree of Life bears all manner of fruit. Each craving is supplied. Rich abundance gives nourishment and delight. Happy they who thus sit down beneath this noble Tree!
2:4. "He brought me to the banqueting house, and His banner over me was love."
This portion unfolds a splendid scene. A royal banquet is opened. We discern a table spread with all luxurious delights. Like the ancient halls of earth's nobles, it is decorated with flags and ensigns, proclaiming ancestral exploits. To this grand guest-chamber Christ leads the Church. Over her seat a banner floats, emblazoned with emblems of love. The spectacle is resplendent with opulent magnificence. May the Holy Spirit teach us by these images of greatness!
We are often reminded, that the life of the believer should be a perpetual feast. How different are the provisions of the famished worldling! He seeks his refreshment in the vain pleasures of a fleeting scene. The world is indeed a mocking cheat. Its friendship is enmity with God. It brings no peace to the affrighted conscience. It affords no shelter from the law's tremendous curse. It presents no blood to cleanse from guilt--no righteousness to hide transgression--no key to open heaven's portals--no refuge from the wrath to come. It holds out indeed a goblet, dazzling to the deluded eye--but there is no reviving power from its poisoned contents. The worldling drinks, but is not satisfied. "He that drinks of this water shall thirst again."
Mark, also, the empty formalist. In rites and services, he strives to gratify the cravings of his heart--but they prove husks and rubbish--their food is but the nauseousness of ashes.
The believer approaches the banquet which Christ enriches. He finds the truth, "He that comes to Me shall never hunger. He that believes on Me shall never thirst." While he thus feasts, his eye discerns the banner which overshadows him. It is a revelation of Christ's love. O marvelous--O transporting view! But it is as real as it is amazing. Who can doubt this love, who sees Christ lying in the manger--whose eye beholds Him hanging on the cross--whose faith looks to the extended hands, and the unceasing intercession! When these perceptions of Christ's love come like a flood into the raptured soul, the adoring spirit is verily overcome. It feels that it can bear no more. It verily faints in ecstasies of delight.
2:5. "Strengthen me with flagons, refresh me with apples, for I am faint with love." Song 2:5
Oh! that these feelings of transporting joy were more frequent! Such they would be, if faith were blazing in more ardent warmth. The Church is now like Sheba's Queen, of whom we read that when she saw all Solomon's wisdom and the house that he built, and all his greatness, and his ascent by which he went up to the house of the Lord, "there was no more breath in her."
The Church cries for help. She prays to be supported and sustained. She seems to feel, that if no aid be granted, her life must soon expire. The table spread before her, supplies the images which her lips employ. Give me wine from those flagons--let your sweet fruit refresh me. No cries to Christ ever go forth in vain. Hear her quick acknowledgment of response.
2:6. "His left hand is under my head, and His right hand embraces me."
Jesus appears. He raises her fainting head in His arms. He upholds her sinking frame. He puts forth His strength to reanimate and cheer. It is an everlasting truth, "He gives power to the faint, and to those who have no might, He increases strength." His everlasting arms are underneath His feeble people. Blessed is the promise, "Fear not, for I am with You--be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you--yes, I will help you--yes, I will uphold you with the right hand of my righteousness." Thus, when discoveries of His love overpower, His arm of strength will render aid.
2:7. "I charge you, O you daughters of Jerusalem, by the gazelles, and by the deer of the field, that you stir not up, nor awake my love, until He please."
A solemn charge here warns us not to drive Jesus from our hearts. We are aided by a pastoral scene, which pleasantly conveys instruction. We are bid to consider the gazelles and deer of the field. Among animals they are remarkable for shyness and timidity. We view them reposing beneath the shelter of the forest trees, or stretched beside the flowing stream, or sporting in the spacious meadow. At the least sound they raise their heads to catch the note. If a leaf rustles, they are startled. If an intruding step approaches--if the voice of a distant dog is heard, instantly they flee. In some near covert they hide themselves, when scared by any sound.
This instructive emblem is here a messenger of Gospel-truth. It is happiness to know that Christ delights to occupy the believer's heart. Scripture teaches us in graphic words, that He stands at the door, and knocks--that it is His desire to enter, and abide.
It is true, likewise, that His love is an eternal flame. No waters can ever quench it. From all eternity it has burned--to all eternity it will continue. But still His presence, at times, may be withdrawn. The seat which He occupied may be left vacant. The sun may be eclipsed. The stream may be congealed, and thus for a season checked.
Dark and sad are indeed the seasons, when we mourn His absence. But despair must not prevail. Blessed is the assurance, "For a brief moment I abandoned you, but with great compassion I will take you back. In a moment of anger I turned my face away for a little while. But with everlasting love I will have compassion on you," says the Lord, your Redeemer. "Just as I swore in the time of Noah that I would never again let a flood cover the earth and destroy its life, so now I swear that I will never again pour out my anger on you. For the mountains may depart and the hills disappear, but even then I will remain loyal to you. My covenant of blessing will never be broken," says the Lord, who has mercy on you. Isaiah 54:7-10
But the departures of Christ, though not final, are very grievous. Why do they ever occur? The fault is wholly ours. We stir Him up, and we displease Him. Therefore He retires. With no desire to see His place made void, our indifference may produce the sad effect. Affections, seeming to be cold, may be as the multitude which besought Jesus to depart; and we read, "So Jesus returned to the boat and left."
Open and notorious sins are not here denounced. No light can tarry with such darkness. Warning is rather given against the stealthy approach of some enemy in attractive guise. For instance--the WORLD often comes with crafty step. It quietly strives to introduce its principles, and to win to its Christ-denying vanities. Unhallowed PLEASURES, also, may be permitted to entice. The godly voice of Scripture may be unheeded. Conscience may fail to be startled by ungodly sights and words--prayer may be restrained--communion with the Lord may be regarded as irksome and unwelcome.
As in a moment, the gazelles and the deer of the field startle and disappear--so Jesus leaves His chosen resting-place. Let us take heed, and guard well the portals of our hearts. Let not an unhallowed thought intrude. Let all diligence be used that we may never quench the Spirit, or resist His blessed sway. If we abide in Christ, we may be well assured that He will abide in us, until heaven be entered, where separation cannot come.
2:8. "Listen! The voice of my Beloved! Behold, He comes, leaping across the mountains--bounding over the hills."
The Church appears in the attitude of charmed attention. She listens, and rapturously exclaims, "It is the voice of my Beloved!" She then lifts up her eyes, and she beholds Him drawing near in activity and haste. Mountains and hills may intervene, but over them He bounds. No hindrances retard His happy coming.
May these contemplations expand our spiritual perceptions!
The Church hears a voice, which instantly she recognizes. The believer's joy is to listen to the voice of Jesus. Frequent should be the prayer, "Speak, Lord, for Your servant hears." The assurance will be verified, "My Sheep hear My voice." It is in the pages of God's Word, that this voice sweetly sounds. How many are the calls--how tender are the promises--how sustaining are the assurances! In them the Savior speaks. The believer drinks them in with joy; and as in succession they are heard, he delightedly exclaims, "It is the voice of my Beloved!"
No music can be sweeter to the ear. It is the very melody of heaven. Let us ever listen and partake of the raptures, which bless the hearing ear. "Come to me with your ears wide open. Listen, for the life of your soul is at stake. I am ready to make an everlasting covenant with you. I will give you all the mercies and unfailing love that I promised to David." Isaiah 55:3
The ear thus listens, and the eyes, also, are ravished with an enchanting sight. Jesus appears in all eager haste drawing near. Faith sees this fact in His coming to assume His people's nature. Obstacles and difficulties raise their head in formidable array. Satan and all his legion muster their forces to prevent. But zeal for His Father's glory, and love for His people's souls, triumphantly bear Him onward. Over every mountain and over every hill of intervening obstacle He bounds forward.
So, also, He comes to enter hearts--to invigorate grace--to fill with joys unspeakable. Indifference may strive to close the door. Unbelief may present a gigantic barrier. But in vain. "He comes, leaping across the mountains--bounding over the hills!"
2:9. "My beloved is like a gazelle or a young deer--behold, He stands behind our wall--He looks forth at the windows, showing Himself through the lattice."
Manifestations of Christ's presence do not always shine in unclouded luster. Sometimes He partially retires, and is for a while obscured. Like the timid creatures of the chase, He seems to seek a temporary concealment. "He hides Himself behind our wall." We know to whom the blame is due. Evil passions have been indulged--faith has dwindled--the earnestness of prayer has been relaxed--the rich pastures of Gospel-ordinances have been neglected. The sad effect is sure.
But the hidings of His face are not desertion. "He hates divorce." "I am the Lord, and I do not change. That is why you descendants of Jacob are not completely destroyed."
We instantly perceive that His withdrawal has ceased, and He has entered the dwelling. "He looks forth at the windows, showing Himself through the lattice." Jesus will make it apparent, that absence is not congenial to Him; that His delight is to dwell with His people. Let our cries ever invite Him to rest in His love. Let us plead His Word, "Abide in Me, and I in you." Let us listen to the grand teaching, "He that has My commandments, and keeps them, he it is that loves Me; and he that loves Me shall be loved of My Father; and We will come unto him, and make Our abode with him."
2:10 "My Beloved spoke, and said unto me, Rise up, my love, my beautiful one, and come away."
Who can listen to the voice of Christ without a thrill of joy! The Church here states that His address now reached her ear. He calls to her. He bids her arise and break from delay, and come with Him in holy fellowship to refreshing scenes. The beauties of reviving nature are introduced as alluring to this sweet communion. Let these lovely scenes now pass before our view.
2:11. "See! the winter is past, the rain is over and gone."
Winter is the season of external dreariness. Nature is locked in the cold arms of gloom. Hardness sits supreme on the surface of the soil. The trees present a leafless aspect. The streams are often bound in congealing fetters. The eye surveys, and no verdure gladdens. Pitiless storms affright with frequent visits. They dash with fury along the meadows and through the groves. They drive the flocks and herds to sheltering retreats.
But this winter season is not perpetual. In due course the sun breaks forth in vernal power. The scene is changed. Gladness again assumes its sway, and the happiness is felt that "the winter is past, the rain is over and gone."
2:12. "The flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds has come, and the voice of the dove is heard in our land."
The entire prospect is changed. The garden--the fields--the meadows and the valleys, smile in renewed beauty. In rich profusion sweet flowers show their lovely heads. In varied hue they charm the eye--with delightful fragrance they regale the sense. Earth seems again to bloom in Eden's loveliness--and melody is heard throughout the air. The happy songsters warble in the branches. From trees and shrubs around sweet harmony resounds. One note fixes rapt attention. The plaintive dove utters her melting song. Thus universal joy prevails.
2:13. "The fig tree forms its early fruit; the blossoming vines spread their fragrance. Arise, come, my darling; my beautiful one, come with me."
At the recurrence of this season, some trees attract especial notice. The fig tree pleases with its luxuriant growth. Promises of rich fruit abound. The tender grape appears in clusters on the wide-spreading branches of the fertile vine. Exquisite is the fragrance, which the young fruit emits. Realizing these charms, we hear with melting effect the call, "Arise, come, my darling; my beautiful one, come with me."
Let us now turn to the anti-type--the believer's heart. There are times when dark and dreary winter freezes the inward feeling. Pitiless storms, also, frequently assail. Temptations come in cruel fury. Shelter from the merciless attacks seems far away. Where is the soul, which has not had experience of such dark and stormy days!
But the Sun of righteousness sends forth reviving rays! The season of gloom is past--the torrents of temptation are over and gone. Sweet grace again revives, and the heart smiles as the well-watered garden--the wilderness rejoices and blossoms like the rose. In the place of dreary desolation, signs of lovely vitality reappear. The heart so dull--so silent, now breaks forth in praise. Songs of adoration mount up to heaven. The fig tree, no longer barren, is laden with luxuriant fruit. Delicious aromas, as from the infant berries of the vine, pervade. It is the resurrection-time of the Spirit's graces!
Jesus now invites to closer fellowship with Himself. He bids the soul to arise--to leave its couch of sloth and indolence, and disconsolation. He calls it to put forth strength and to break from all entangling fetters to join itself to Him in closer fellowship, and to enjoy with Him the beauties of this newborn state.
If such the sweetness of His present call, what will it be when His voice shall bid our bodies arise from the grave's cell, and come away to His eternal presence, and to exult in fullness of joy, and to partake of the pleasures, which are at His right hand forever more! Lord, may we be ever listening for the last trumpet's clang!
2:14. "O my dove, who is in the clefts of the rock, in the hiding places on the mountainside, let Me see your face, let Me hear your voice; for sweet is your voice, and your face is lovely."
No words can exceed the tenderness of this address. The most endearing name is given to the Church, "My dove." In the feathered tribe the dove attracts especial admiration. The form--the note--the habits--the faithfulness--awaken just praise. Beauty and sweetness are its peculiar properties. In every aspect the bird is lovely. Thus the Church is beauteous in the Redeemer's eyes. This truth almost baffles our belief. It requires faith in strong exercise to realize that the eyes of Christ can rest satisfied on us. If we are conscious of our deep corruption--of our vile transgressions--of our inconstancy and waywardness--much more must the omniscience of Christ discern this sad deformity. But in His superabundant grace He views us as mantled in His own righteousness, and adorned with the excellences, which His Spirit imparts. This view is loveliness. Christ sees, and says, "O my dove."
The dove, also, is distinguished for its gentleness. This grace was pre-eminent in Christ. Believers are entreated "by the meekness and gentleness of Christ." It is, also, their constant study to follow these footsteps. Thus proud and haughty looks are studiously shunned--and in lowliness of mind each strives to esteem others as better than himself. Thus the injunction is obeyed, "Put on the Lord Jesus Christ." Thus the title is obtained, "O my dove."
The dove, moreover, is noted for conjugal fidelity. Here we see the image of the believer espoused as a chaste virgin to the Lord. The whole heart is given, and every affection clings to her beloved. May we reflect this loving character!
This dove is here described as seeking refuge in the clefts of the rock, and in the hiding places on the mountainside. Here is a sign of timidity. It strives to hide itself from observation. It seeks concealment in rocks above man's access; or in the most secret recesses of the mountains. Of Jesus it is said, "He shall not strive nor cry, nor cause His voice to be heard in the streets." His kingdom comes not with observation. So the believer shuns all needless ostentation. It is not his desire to attract the gaze of man; or call for public applause. He meekly pursues an unnoticed path; and with his heart fixed on heaven, he disregards the notice of inferiors. To the retiring believer the voice is addressed, "Let me see your face, let me hear your voice--for sweet is your voice, and your face is lovely." Amazing grace! Can Christ desire this close communion with us? Can He call us thus to present ourselves to Him? We see in this cry the reality and the immensity of His love.
He asks to hear our voice. Let us humbly and delightedly obey, besieging His throne with constant and importunate petitions. By prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let all our requests be made known to Him. And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, shall keep our hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
Let praise, also, be our constant exercise. Let it ever ascend as grateful incense to His courts. Let it sound forth in unwearied admiration. Let it depict our sense of His goodness and His grace. Let us tell Him of our delight in the glory of His person and His work. Christ stoops to mark our approach, and to listen to our voice. "Sweet is your voice, and your face is lovely." Faith is thus assured that such communion is welcomed!
2:15. "Catch the foxes, the little foxes that spoil the vines--for our vines have tender grapes."
A solemn lesson warns that grace is a tender plant. As such, it needs to be guarded with incessant care. A similitude gives the instruction. Believers are represented as a vineyard of luxuriant fruit. But it is infested with wily and injurious foes. Destructive broods abound. Stealthily they watch to inflict vital harm. Thus the tender shoots are constantly imperilled.
The picture leads us to mark the subtleties which lurk to spoil the Spirit's work. We are here called to mark the INNATE CORRUPTION of our nature. When sin entered, terrible was the ruin which ensued! Every imagination of the thoughts became evil, and that continually. A noxious fountain was opened to send forth poisonous streams. Briers and thorns sprang up in the blighted soil. These corruptions are as the foxes in the vineyard. They are perpetually assailing the sweet fruits of grace. Let us be wise, and ever on our guard. Corruption undetected--unopposed--will kill the buddings of sanctity within, and soon render the soul a desolate and barren wilderness.
SATAN, also, ever hates, and ever plots, and ever watches to check the holy work. He is termed the old serpent. Is he not, also, a wily fox? How stealthily he crept into Eden's fair garden--with what deceitful words he enticed our first parent! With a lie he tempted and prevailed, and with daily lies he still continues to succeed. But let us meet this fox with resolute determination. When boldly encountered he will instantly depart. We know, that if we resist the Devil, he will flee from us. We know, also, that if our strength is weak against this ensnaring foe, we may call Jesus to our aid. Satan may be strong--but Jesus is stronger. The arch-enemy may have power--but Jesus wields omnipotence. Thus let us catch the fox and all his brood. The victory will be ours. We shall tread Satan under our feet shortly.
Let our eyes be open, also, to the crafty temptations of the WORLD. No fox can surpass it in treachery and deceit. It calls to an attractive walk. It makes a show of pleasing prospects; and a path fragrant with flowers. But the path is beset with every peril. It leads from God, and goes down straight to hell. It presents a goblet mantling with enticing draughts, which, sweet for a moment to the taste, prove to be deadly poison. The world checks the budding of all grace. It renders the soul an expanse of dreariness and disappointments. Let us catch this wily fox. Never let him be spared.
In this evil world, also, TEACHERS OF ERROR craftily beguile. At first they show not their true front. A pleasing mask conceals their features. They can transform themselves into angels of light. But they are murderers in disguise. They check the growth of grace--they mislead into the region of ignorance and death--to receive their teaching is to abandon Christ.
Thus numerous is the offspring of the old fox. Let all be attacked with vigilance and unsparing effort to destroy. Let each like Dagon fall to the ground. Let each like Agag be hewed to pieces. Let us, also, be on our guard against the infant brood. Their appearance may be innocent. Their power to do harm may not be obvious. But such is not the truth. They can mangle the stem of the vine--they can suck the precious juice. It is awfully true that temptations, however weak when once admitted, grow with terrible rapidity. Oh! let us watch--and resolutely crush. Let us spare not the little foxes, they will destroy the vines, which have such tender grapes.
2:16. "My Beloved is mine, and I am His--He feeds among the lilies."
The Church appears in raptures of delight. The heart overflows with love. The lips abound with heavenly assurances. The believer realizes, that he has acquired an inestimable treasure; that he has found the pearl of great price; that he has plucked the plant of renown. Gracious invitations have subdued him. On the wings of ecstasy he has flown directly to his Lord. He has grasped Him with indomitable might. He avows, "My beloved is mine." Who can count these inestimable riches! To gain Christ is to have all that heaven itself can give. It is to possess His blood to wash out every sin--His death to redeem from all iniquity--His sufferings to cancel the law's inexorable curse--His robe of pure obedience to adorn for the courts of heaven--His throne of glory to be a seat forever--His intercession to ward off evil and to enrich with blessings--His providences to direct events to promote real good--His angels to encamp around and to shelter with their protecting wings--His Holy Spirit ever ready to teach, to sanctify, to comfort--His God to be a God forever. Happy the soul, which can in truth exclaim, "My Beloved is mine."
Another profession is added. There is reciprocity. "I am His." The Lord prefers all claims to the possession of our hearts. The believer is His by sovereign creation. Christ willed his being, and he lived. Christ breathed into him the breath of life, and he shall never die. The thing formed is the property of Him that formed it.
But Christ is more than the author of being. The believer is naturally born a prisoner in the cells of Satan. He, stronger than the strong man armed, assails the prison-house--demolishes the empire of the powers of darkness--breaks all chains from the enfettered hands, and bids the prisoners go forth. The liberated company are His by right of conquest.
But they are deeply in bondage through their countless debts. They owe much to the wronged attributes of God. Great is the price required to liberate them from such demands. But Christ presents His blood. The scales of justice are more than filled. Every debt is paid. Thus believers are Christ's by superabundant purchase.
Moreover they are His by their voluntary surrender. Other lords have had dominion over them. Now they reject the vile servitude. They come forth like Israel's sons from Egypt's bondage. They present themselves and all they are, and all they have--their every faculty of mind and body, and every moment of their time, to be unreservedly a free-will offering to Him. So in every sense the believer exclaims, "My Beloved is mine, and I am His."
"He feeds among the lilies." A sweet description here follows. Christ is described as finding refreshment among His people. The Church has been portrayed as the "lily among thorns." Here He is set forth as delighting in communion with the flowers, which His hand has planted, and His grace has matured. Wondrous condescension! It requires strong faith to grasp it. But it is an everlasting truth. It is His joy to have communion with His people. His delights are with the sons of men.
2:17. "Until the day breaks, and the shadows flee away, turn, my Beloved, and be like a gazelle or a young deer upon the mountains of Bether.''
The truth is confessed, that earthly days are not without their gloom. The shadows of night are their frequent emblem. At these times how ardently the presence of Christ is sought! The cry is heard, "Turn, my Beloved, and be like a gazelle or a young deer upon the mountains of Bether." Turn and come near. Come quickly with the speed and activity of the gazelle and deer skipping and leaping upon the mountains, which form Israel's boundary. Bless Your loved ones with Your visits until the brightness of the heavenly day shall come. Then clouds and darkness shall no more obscure. Then they shall see You face to face, and ever bask in the sunshine of Your smile!