SONG OF SOLOMON
Charles Simeon's Devotional Commentaries
THE CHURCH'S LOVE TO CHRIST
Song of Songs 1:3-4. Your name is as ointment poured forth; therefore do the virgins love you. Draw me: we will run after you.
THIS divine song was admitted into the sacred canon soon after the Babylonish captivity (most probably by Ezra,) and has been admitted both by Jews and Christians from that time as constituting an important part of the inspired volume. It is called the Song of Songs, because of its peculiar excellence, there being no other to be compared with it, as delineating and describing the love which exists between Christ and his Church. There are indeed similar images used in other parts of holy writ, and particularly in the 15th Psalm; but there is a richness and variety in this, by which it is pre-eminently distinguished. True it is, that the representations contained in it render it unfit for the carnal eye, which would be more likely to be injured by it, through the influence of a polluted imagination, than to derive from it the good which to a spiritually enlightened mind it is calculated to convey. Many of the expressions, which, at the time they were written, were clear and intelligible, are, for want of a more intimate knowledge of the various circumstances which would elucidate them, inexplicable to us: but the general purpose of the whole is evident enough: it is a kind of allegory written in the form of a pastoral poem, in which different persons are introduced, and bear a part, relieving, as it were, occasionally, the dialogue between Christ and his Church; the one under the character of a Bridegroom; and the other, of a Bride, espoused to him in this world, and waiting for the consummation of her nuptials in the world to come.
The abruptness with which the poem opens is very remarkable. The spouse, having her mind full of her Beloved, breaks forth without any mention of his name, "Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth." She is ready to think that the minds of all must of necessity be occupied with his excellencies, and must therefore of necessity know to whom she refers. She then commends "his love, as better," and more exhilarating, "than wine, because of the savor of his good ointments That seems the more proper place for the stop;" and assigns this as the reason of her love towards him, and her ardent desire after him.
These are the two points for our consideration at this time:
I. The reason of the Church's love to Christ—
"His name is as ointment poured forth"—
A rich ointment poured forth will fill a whole house with its odor John 12:3, so that all who are within it shall be refreshed with its fragrance: and such is the delight which the whole Church derives from the mention of the name of her Beloved.
Consider his name, "Emmanuel:" it was a name given him eight hundred years before he came into the world: and the interpretation of that name is given us by the sacred historian, that we may know all the riches of grace and love contained in it. Its import is, "God with us Matthew 1:23." Wonderful name! God, "the mighty God," with us, worms of the earth; with us, who have been all our days rebels against his Divine Majesty, and who might well have expected to have been made everlasting monuments of his righteous indignation. In some respect indeed he might bear that name, even in the regions of darkness and misery: since he is there by his power inflicting his heavy judgments on all who inhabit those dreary mansions: but he is with us by his love; yes, he is with us in our very nature; "bone of our bone, flesh, of our flesh:" God and man in one person! Stupendous mystery! Can it be so? Is it true, that the God of Heaven and earth has so condescended to assume our nature, and to sojourn upon earth, that he might commend himself to us as our Beloved? Say, you who have any spiritual senses, does not a fragrance go forth at this name Emmanuel, sufficient to fill the whole universe with its odors?
But take another name, the name of "Jesus." This was given him by the Angel, when he was conceived in the womb; and the giving it was considered as a completion of the prophecy that assigned to him the name Emmanuel Matthew 1:21-23. And a fulfillment of the prophecy it was; for "Jesus" is Jah Hosea, or Divine Savior. Here, in addition to his Godhead, as united to the manhood, we have the end of his incarnation plainly announced: it was, to save a ruined world: yes, "he came, not to condemn the world, but that through him," even through his meritorious blood and righteousness, "the world might be saved." Think of this, you who have destroyed your own souls, and are trembling for fear of the Divine judgments: your God has become a man, on purpose that he might fulfill the law which you have broken, and endure the curse which you have merited; and by this substitution of himself in your place, might deliver you from death and Hell, and make you partakers of his own eternal kingdom and glory. Does not this name refresh and animate your souls? Can you hear it without receiving from it sensations which it is not in the power of language to express?
Consider yet one other name, that name whereby we are particularly instructed to call him, "The Lord our Righteousness Jeremiah 23:6." Here you have the same blessed intimations as in the former names, respecting his Godhead, and the gracious ends of his incarnation; with this additional suggestion, that his righteousness was wrought out for you, yes, that he himself is your Righteousness. A creature's righteousness would not have sufficed for you: you needed the righteousness of God himself: and God himself has become a man, that in your nature he might work out a righteousness, that should be imputed to you, and put upon you, and constitute your justifying righteousness at the bar of judgment. Tell me, Brethren, can you hear this unmoved? What spiritual perception can you have, if you are not even ravished with delight at the sound of such a name as this? Surely it is the out-pouring of this ointment that makes Heaven to be the place it is: yes, to be within the reach of this atmosphere, is Heaven.
We forbear to mention any other of his glorious names, lest we distract your attention by the variety See Isaiah 9:6; sufficient have been mentioned to justify the Church's attachment to this adorable Savior.
On account of the fragrance diffused by his name, "the virgins love him"—
By "the virgins" we understand, all that are "pure in heart," and have been betrothed to him in righteousness and truth Hosea 2:19-20." Of all such the Apostle says, "I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ 2 Corinthians 11:2." These all love the Lord Jesus Christ. In the eyes of others, this adorable Being has "no beauty or loveliness for which to be desired Isaiah 53:2;" but in the eyes of the Church "he is truly precious 1 Peter 2:7," "fairer than ten thousand," and "altogether lovely:" and the one desire of her heart is, to be able to say, "This is my Friend and my Beloved Song of Songs 5:10; Song of Songs 5:16." In comparison of him, all other suitors are utterly despised. The whole universe presents no other object to her view that deserves a thought: the constant state of her soul towards him is, "How great is your goodness! how great is your beauty Zechariah 9:17." "Whom have I in Heaven but you? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside you Psalm 73:25." Sweet as created excellencies once appeared to her, she has now no eye to see them, no taste to enjoy them. She is altogether occupied with the savor of her Beloved's name, the perfume of which makes every other odor worthless at least, if not nauseous and offensive. In a word, so entirely does this beloved object fill her soul, that with him a dungeon would be Heaven; and without him, Heaven itself would be a dungeon or a desert.
From hence naturally follows,
II. Her ardent desire after him—
Conscious that his gifts are his own, and that without his gracious assistance she can do nothing, she presents before him,
1. Her supplication—
Our blessed Lord himself has said, "No man can come unto me, except the Father, who has sent me, draw him John 6:44." And this total insufficiency for everything that is good, the Church confesses in this short but ardent petition, "Draw me!" None but Jesus himself can open for us the box in which this ointment is contained, or give the spiritual perception whereby alone its fragrance can be discovered. How many, in the days of his flesh, were rather incensed against him, than drawn to him, by all the wonders of his love! and how many at this day are like the idols which they worship! "they have eyes, and see not; ears, and hear not; noses, and smell not Psalm 115:5-8." But these have had spiritual senses given unto them; and therefore they pant after communion with their blessed Lord.
Observe, it is not the carnal unregenerate man alone that needs to offer this petition: it is here offered by "the virgins," "the upright See the close of verse 4," who already love their Lord; and it is necessary to be offered by all, as long as they continue in the body. There are times and seasons when the most favored of mankind are comparatively dead and dull: even "the Wise Virgins," as well as the Foolish ones, for a time "slumbered and slept." Again and again does every member of the Church need to be awakened, and to have his sluggishness overcome by fresh communications of divine grace, and fresh manifestations of the Savior's love. Continually do we need to be "drawn with the cords of a man, and with the bands of love Hosea 11:4;" and therefore we must continually renew the same petition as the Church offers in our text.
2. Her resolution—
It is no reluctant service which the Bride will render, when once she feels the attractions of the Bridegroom's love. No: she will "run after him:" she will run with all her might: she will regard no obstacles without; she will yield to no impediments within: she "will run and not be weary; she will press forward, and not faint Isaiah 40:29-31." The space she has already passed, she will account nothing; "forgetting the things that are behind, she will press forward for that which is before, if by any means she may apprehend that, for which she has been apprehended of God in Christ Jesus Philippians 3:12-14."
The change of person also is here remarkable: "Draw me, and we will run after you." Not only will the Church summon all the powers of her soul, and unite them all in the service of her Lord, but she will bring all she can along with her. When once she feels the constraining influence of Christ's love, she will not be content to come alone: she would impress every creature that she beholds, with the same love which she herself feels, and would bring all others into the very same union with him which she herself affects. And herein her love differs from that which is here used to set it forth: the love which is felt towards an earthly object, admits not of participation with others: it would engross all the affections of its beloved object, and not endure a rival: but the Church's love to Christ is enhanced by the most extended communication of the blessings which she herself enjoys. She would have all the earth to know, and love him. Just as Andrew and Philip, as soon as they found the Messiah, invited Peter and Nathanael to come and participate their joy, so does every member of the Church of Christ: he will, like Abraham, "command his household" to fear and love his Lord, and will use all possible means to extend the kingdom of his Redeemer throughout all the earth.
From this subject we may learn,
1. What reason we have to seek the knowledge of Christ—
Who is there that has such a title to our affections as he? Who is there so excellent in himself, or such a source of blessedness to them that love him? Go through the universe; survey everything that stands in competition with him; and see what it can do for your souls. Take that highest of earthly bliss, which is here used to shadow forth the blessedness of union with Christ: how often have they been disappointed who have most passionately sought, and fondly hoped that they had attained, the summit of human happiness! And where it has been enjoyed in its utmost perfection, how soon has it been cut short by the hand of death! But nothing can damp, and nothing can terminate, the blessedness of those who are united to Christ. On the contrary, in the midst of the deepest distresses, his love will fill you with the richest consolation. When a fainting fit has come upon the body, a strong and pungent odor will revive it: and so will the fragrance of Jesus' name refresh the soul, when nothing else under Heaven will reach, and resuscitate, its languid powers. O let every one of you seek this union, and never rest until you can say, "My Beloved is mine, and I am his Song of Songs 2:16."
Yet let me remind you of a most important distinction that must ever be made between the knowledge of Christ, and "the savor of the knowledge of him 2 Corinthians 2:14." That which resides in the head will be of no avail, as bringing you into union with him: it is that only which diffuses a fragrance through the whole soul, that will terminate in the everlasting enjoyment of him in Heaven.
2. In what way we should testify our regard for him—
Seek him continually, and with your whole hearts; and whenever you find sluggishness creeping upon you, renew your cry to him, "Draw me, draw me!" Your "hearts are bent to backslide from him," yes, prone too to alienate from him the affections that should center in him alone: but strive that you may be able at all times to say with David, "My soul follows hard after you:" and if at any time you are enabled to lay hold on your Beloved, let him not go, but "cleave to him with full purpose of heart."
At the same time see what you can do in your families, in your neighborhood, and in the world at large, to bring others also to him. Commend him to them: endeavor to bring them into the assemblies, where he manifests his presence: entreat him to extend his attractive influences to them also, even as he has done to you: and labor that, if possible, all the world may behold his beauty, and be comforted with his love.
As for yourselves, look to the final consummation of your love in a better world, when your fruition of him shall be more intimate than it can be in this world, and shall continue without intermission or alloy through all eternity.
Song of Songs 2:1-3
THE CHURCH'S FELLOWSHIP WITH CHRIST
Song of Songs 2:1-3. I am the rose of Sharon, and the lily of the valleys. As the lily among thorns, so is my love among the daughters. As the apple-tree among the trees of the wood, so is my beloved among the sons. I sat down under his shadow with great delight; and his fruit was sweet to my taste.
FROM the general scope of this whole poem, we can have no hesitation in saying, that the words which we have read are a part of a dialogue between Christ and his Church; the former part containing his testimony respecting her; and the latter, her testimony respecting him. It is a kind of pastoral song, as the images used by both the parties show; and, though exceeding difficult of interpretation in some parts, it is very intelligible and instructive in others. We must bear in mind, that Christ speaks as the Bridegroom of his Church; and the Church, as his Spouse: while the "sons" and "daughters" mentioned in our text, are those children of Adam who yet lie in darkness and the shadow of death, or, at best, have only "the form of godliness, without the power." As for the "daughters of Jerusalem," who occasionally bear a part in the dialogue, they are professors of religion, who, though friendly on the whole, are not yet brought into this near relation to Christ, nor made partakers of his saving benefits.
In discoursing on the words before us, we shall consider,
I. Christ's testimony respecting his Church—
The commendation bestowed upon her is the highest she could possibly receive: it is, that she, according to the measure of grace given to her, resembles him. In order to point out the resemblance,
He first declares his own character—
"I am the rose of Sharon, and the lily of the valleys." Whatever is most excellent in the universe, is brought forward from time to time, to designate and illustrate the character of our Lord. Of the heavenly bodies he is the Sun, "the Sun of Righteousness." Of inferior creatures, he is the Lion, "the Lion of the tribe of Judah." Even the plants and flowers yield him honor also: as the rose is exceeded by none in fragrance, and the lily is pre-eminent in beauty, he is a Rose, "the Rose of Sharon," whose excellence was proverbial Isaiah 35:2; and a Lily, "the Lily of the valleys," to which Solomon in all his glory was not worthy to be compared Matthew 6:29. Infinitely diversified are his perfections. In whatever point of view we consider him, his person, his offices, his relations, we shall be fully convinced, that to him alone pertain the garments which were "made for glory and beauty Exodus 28:40." In his person are united all the attributes of the Deity, and all the grace of humanity in their highest possible perfection: In his offices, nothing is wanting that could contribute to the welfare of his Church and people. As their High-priest, he has made a full and all-sufficient atonement for them: as their Prophet, he instructs them by his word and Spirit; and as their King, he rules over them, and in them; and puts all their enemies under their feet: As for his relations, there is no relation that can inspire us with hope and confidence, which he does not bear towards his believing people. He is our Shepherd, our Brother, and our Friend. Whether viewed in his exaltation, as God; or in his humiliation, as Man; or in his mediatorial state, as "Emmanuel, God with us," he is infinitely great and glorious, "fairer than ten thousand, and altogether lovely."
He then acknowledges her resemblance to him—
To the glories of his Godhead no creature can bear any true resemblance; so infinitely is he above all: but in his humiliation he was a pattern both of lowliness and purity, to which his believing people are conformed: yes moreover, as he in this respect infinitely excels the highest of his creatures, so does his Church excel all others of "the daughters" of men: she is, like him, "a lily;" like him also, "a lily among thorns;" no others bearing any more comparison with her, than a thorn or brier with the lily. Mark the lowliness of the true Christian: he bows down his head with a sense of his own unworthiness, and manifold infirmities: yet is he "pure," at least in purpose and desire, "even as God is pure." "The very same mind is in him that was in Christ Jesus:" yes, "being joined to the Lord, he is one spirit with him;" "a partaker of his holiness," "a partaker of his very nature 2 Peter 1:4," "created anew after his image in righteousness and true holiness." Compare the Church with others, and they are no better than "thorns" before her; so superior is she to them in all her principles, her purposes, her attainments. The one have no higher aim or end than self: the other disdains to act but from the love of God, and for the glory of his name. The one leave God out even from the most sacred exercises; the other brings him into the most common acts and offices of life 1 Corinthians 10:31. The one have no life but what they received from nature: the other has Christ himself living in her; yes, "Christ himself is her life Colossians 3:4." True it is, that by nature the Believer was not at all different from others, but grace has made the difference; according to that prophetic declaration; "Instead of the thorn shall come up the fir-tree, and instead of the brier shall grow up the myrtle-tree; and it shall be to the Lord for a name, and for an everlasting sign, that shall not be cut off Isaiah 55:13." Thus is that amply verified which was spoken by Solomon, "The righteous is more excellent than his neighbor Proverbs 12:26."
In reply to this commendation, the Church proclaims,
II. Her testimony respecting him—
This she bears,
1. From her knowledge of his excellencies—
Christ is "as the apple tree among the trees of the wood." Other trees can afford shadow only; while to those who take refuge under him, he administers the most refreshing and satisfying food. Under them, the soul that continues to abide, must perish: but the soul that abides in him, shall live forever. All that it can want or desire is found in him. He is "the tree of life, that bears twelve manner of fruits Revelation 22:2;" one for every season, every situation, every circumstance of life. "The very leaves of that tree are for the healing of the nations." The law appeared to offer a beneficial retreat: but it could never satisfy the hungry soul, or "make a man perfect as pertaining to the conscience." But what not all the trees of that forest could do, Christ has done Romans 8:2; and does continually for all who seek repose under the shadow of his wings. And they who have the clearest views of his excellency, "determine to know nothing but him, even him crucified."
2. From her experience of his love—
The Church here says, in fact, "What my eyes have seen, my ears have heard, and my hands have handled of the word of life, the same declare I unto you," In fact, no other knowledge than that which has been wrought into our own experience, is of any use; at least, not for the Christian's own benefit. Hear then the Church's happy experience; "I sat down under his shadow with great delight; and his fruit was sweet unto my taste." The Believer has come to Christ weary and heavy-laden with a sense of his sins, and has found rest unto his soul. Like the traveler fainting beneath the intense heat of a vertical sun, he has sought the shade in Christ Jesus, who has approved himself all-sufficient, even like "the shadow of a great rock in a weary land Isaiah 25:4; Isaiah 32:2." Of his fruits too does the Believer eat in a rich abundance. O! how sweet is his pardoning love to the soul, when he says, "Your sins are forgiven you; go in peace!" Who can describe the blessedness of that peace which proceeds from him; from Him who said, "My peace I give unto you?" Truly it is "a peace that passes all understanding. As for the joy with which these manifestations are accompanied, it is "unspeakable and glorified." How can a soul feel anything but exquisite "delight," when thus favored with "the spirit of adoption," yes, "the witness of the Spirit" also attesting its relation to Christ, "sealing it unto the day of redemption," and giving it even now "a pledge" and a foretaste "of its heavenly inheritance?" Such are the fruits of which every one shall eat, who sits under the shadow of the Lord Jesus; and "sweet shall they be unto his taste," even "sweeter than honey or the honey-comb."
Having no fear that either of these testimonies shall ever be set aside, we ground upon them a word of exhortation—
1. Let us contemplate the excellencies of the Lord Jesus—
There is not anything in the world which may not serve to illustrate his beauty: for, in fact, all created excellencies are but rays of his glory, and stars winkling with his reflected splendor. We do not think enough of him: we can admire beauty in the creature, but have no eyes to behold it in Him who is the center and source of all. Did we but duly reflect on him, we should pant after an union with him; and despise everything else in comparison of him. "All other knowledge would be to us but as dross and dung." Truly "his name is as ointment poured forth; and therefore do the virgins love him Song of Songs 1:3." Say, Believer, Is he not "precious" to your soul 1 Peter 2:7. O that every one among us would be persuaded to go into this garden, and compare the fragrance of this "rose," and the purity of this "lily," with all that ever his eyes beheld, or his most impassioned sense experienced! O that all might "behold his glory, the glory as of the only-begotten of the Father;" "the brightness of whose glory he is, and the express image of his person John 1:14. Hebrews 1:3." The effect of such a sight cannot be conceived by those who never yet beheld it: for we should be constrained by it to cry out, "How great is his goodness! how great is his beauty Zechariah 9:17." and, while beholding his glory, we should be "changed into his image, from glory to glory, by the Spirit of our God 2 Corinthians 3:18." Go, beloved, into the holy mount, and converse with him; and you shall come down, like Moses, irradiated with the beams of his glory. Be conversant with this "lily," and you shall become "lilies" yourselves.
2. Let us receive kindly his overtures—
We have before shown, that this is a dialogue between Christ us a Bridegroom, and the Church as his Spouse. Into this relation Christ is desirous to bring us all. We come in his name, to invite you all to unite yourselves with him; we come, that we may "present every soul among you as a chaste virgin to Christ 2 Corinthians 11:2." Hear the invitation given, as it were, from his own lips: "I will betroth you unto me forever: yes, I will betroth you unto me in righteousness, and in judgment, and in loving-kindness, and in mercies: I will betroth you unto me in faithfulness, and you shall know the Lord Hosea 2:19-20." Beloved Brethren, Who is there that has such a title to your affections as He? Who can make you so happy as He? Have not all other sources of comfort proved as "broken cisterns, that can hold no water?" Why then will you not "come to the fountain of living waters?"
Say not, "I am unworthy of this high honor." Who is not unworthy? Who could ever have obtained it by any worthiness of his own? Every creature that was ever united to him was first a wretched, helpless outcast, like yourself Ezekiel 16:4-8; and, if you desire an union with him, be assured that "he will never cast you out." Only "come to his banqueting-house, and his banner over you shall be love verse 4."
3. Let us duly estimate our privileges—
The happiness of the soul that is united unto Christ, no words can declare, no imagination can conceive. Only hear the terms in which He and his Spouse speak of each other: her he calls, "My Love:" and of him she speaks in that endearing term, "My Beloved." Think, for a moment, what immense, what inconceivable privileges are implied in these terms, whether as applied by him to us, or by us to him! Whatever he is, he is for you: whatever he has, he possesses for you: whatever he does, he does for you; whatever he enjoys, he enjoys as your Head, your Representative, your Forerunner: "The glory which his Father has given him, He has given you." You may enjoy earthly sweets, and they will cloy; yes, the most fragrant rose will fade. Not so "the Rose of Sharon:" its fragrance will be undiminished to all eternity. You may sit under the shadow of other trees, and their foliage shall fail; yes, like Jonah's gourd, they may wither in a night: but not so "the apple-tree that grows in the midst of the Paradise of God:" there is no worm at the root of that: its benign influence shall endure forever: and its delicious fruits be ever new. Make then these things your own, by "apprehending Christ," and giving yourselves up to him: for "all things are yours, if you be Christ's." Only "taste, and see, how gracious the Lord is:" and having once "tasted that the Lord is gracious, you will never rest until you can say "My Beloved is mine, and I am his."
4. Let us walk worthy of our high relation—
If one be brought into union with an earthly monarch, she feels an obligation to conduct herself henceforth in a way suited to her high calling. And shall not we, when united to "the King of kings?" Yes: we must resemble him, and exhibit, according to the measure of the grace conferred upon us, the mind that was in him. Let us especially resemble him in his humility and purity. We are not indeed to "bow down our heads as a bulrush," as if we were in a pitiable and disconsolate state: but to bow our heads as "the lily," is our beauty and our excellence. Never does the Christian look so beautiful as when he is "low in his own eyes." Surely whatever may have been done for us, and in us, we must still to our latest hour "walk humbly with God." We must also be pure and spotless as the lily; yes, "blameless and harmless as the sons of God." We must not be contented with low attainments; but must seek to "walk worthy of the Lord himself," "whose we are, and whom we profess to serve." Let this be the one object of our ambition: and, as we profess to surpass every flower of the field in fragrance and beauty, let us so live, that we may not fear a comparison with any of the sons of men. Let us not be found vain boasters of privileges that are merely ideal: but, while we profess to enjoy so much in and through the Lord Jesus, let it be seen, that, "having this hope, we do indeed purify ourselves, even as he is pure 1 John 3:3."
Song of Songs 3:1-4
PERSEVERANCE CROWNED WITH SUCCESS
Song of Songs 3:1-4. By night on my bed I sought him whom my soul loves; I sought him, but I found him not. I will rise now, and go about the city in the streets, and in the broad ways I will seek him whom my soul loves: I sought him, but I found him not. The watchmen that go about the city found me: to whom I said, Saw you him whom my soul loves? It was but a little that I passed from them, but I found him whom my soul loves: I held him, and would not let him go, until I had brought him into my mother's house, and into the chamber of her that conceived me.
ONE peculiar excellence of the Song of Solomon is, that it delineates with admirable beauty and precision the workings of the believer's soul under all the varieties of Christian experience. In the first conversion of the soul, God communicates his blessings unsolicited, unsought; so that it may be justly said, "He is found of them that sought him not Isaiah 65:1;" but in our subsequent walk with God, we may sometimes find occasion to complain, "I sought him, but I found him not." Thus it was with the Bride in the passage before us: and her conduct under these circumstances is instructive, as the issue of it is encouraging to the Church of God in all ages. In our remarks on the Bride's experience, we shall notice,
1. Her persevering exertions—
When it is said, "By night on my bed I sought him," we are not to take the words in a literal, but figurative sense, as expressing the cold and listless way in which the Bride had sought her Beloved: and it is no wonder that, when sought in such a way, he did not grant to manifest himself unto her. Disappointed in her hopes, "she rose, and went about the city, seeking him in the streets and broad ways," accounting no time unseasonable, no labor too great, for the attainment of an object so dear to her as a sight of her Beloved. Still however her labor was in vain: "she sought him, but found him not." And thus the Lord Jesus Christ still frequently for a season suspends the manifestations of his love, and leaves in darkness the soul that seeks him. This he does,
1. To correct our lukewarmness—
Lukewarmness in his people is most offensive to him Revelation 3:16; and, when indulged, "grieves his Spirit," and provokes him to hide his face from us. He has told us in the Prophets, that we must not expect to "find him, unless we seek him with our whole hearts Jeremiah 29:12-13." How solemn is that warning which he has given in his Gospel; "Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many shall seek to enter in, and shall not be able Luke 13:24." What wonder is it therefore if he punish our sloth by a long suspension of his visits, and make us to eat of the bitter fruit of our own ways? By such a dispensation he plainly says to us, "Have you not procured this unto yourself, in that you have forsaken me, when I led you by the way? Your own wickedness shall correct you, and your backslidings shall reprove you: know therefore and see that it is an evil and bitter thing that you have forsaken the Lord your God Jeremiah 2:17; Jeremiah 2:19."
2. To stimulate our desires after him—
Our souls ought to "pant after him, as the deer after the water-brooks;" yes, they should "break for the very fervent desire which we have towards him Psalm 119:20." But if a listless and inoperative wish would suffice, we should never exert ourselves as we ought. Had the Bride succeeded by seeking her Beloved on her bed, she would never have risen to seek him in the streets of the city: and, if we could attain in a way of self-indulgence the rewards of self-denying exertion, we should be too ready to say to our souls, "Soul, take your ease." But our Lord has told us, that his favor is not to be sought in such a way as that: he has said, that "the kingdom of Heaven suffers violence; and that the violent must take it by force:" and he withholds from us the manifestations of his love, on purpose that he may quicken us in our pursuit of him, and stimulate us to put forth into activity the devoutest energies of our souls Hosea 5:15.
3. To endear his presence to us—
To the temporary loss which the Bride had sustained must be ascribed the zeal with which she afterwards held fast her Beloved: and we well know how the Courts of the Lord were endeared to David by his long banishment from them, under the persecutions of Saul, and during the rebellion of Absalom. And, no doubt, in proportion as we are led into deep waters, will be our gratitude for deliverance from them Psalm 40:1-3; in proportion as we have passed through the afflictive scenes of David,: will be the zeal and ardor with which we shall henceforth make boast of our great Deliverer: "Who is so great a God as our God Psalm 77:1-4; Psalm 77:13." When we feel that we have "had much forgiven us, we shall love much."
The Bride however used not her exertions in vain; as we see by,
II. The successful issue of them—
In her search after her Beloved, she inquired of the watchmen, whether they had seen him, or could give her any intelligence respecting him. And, soon after she had parted with them, she found him. By "the watchmen," we understand the ministers of God, who "watch for souls," whose special commission is, to "strengthen the weak hands, and confirm the feeble knees, and to say to the fearful heart, Fear not; your God will come and save you Isaiah 35:3-4." And it should seem that it was in following her directions she attained her end. But, however this might be, we see clearly from her example, that persevering endeavors shall be crowned with success.
This is expressly promised by God himself—
Exceeding strong is that declaration of our blessed Lord; "Ask, and you shall have; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: for every one that asks, receives; and he who seeks, finds; and to him that knocks it shall be opened Matthew 7:7-8." It is not said indeed that the answer shall be given, as it was to Daniel, in the very act of prayer: but it is secured from the first moment that we ask in faith; and it shall be given in the best manner, and at the fittest time; according as the Prophet Hosea has said; "Then shall you know, if you follow on to know the Lord: his going forth is prepared as the morning; and he shall come unto us as the rain, as the latter and the former rain, unto the earth Hosea 6:3." "The vision is for an appointed time: and if we wait for it, it shall come, and not tarry an instant beyond the time" fixed in the counsels of unerring wisdom Habakkuk 2:3 and Hebrews 10:37.
It is also confirmed by actual experience—
The poor Canaanitess who was so urgent in her supplications to Christ to come and heal her daughter, met with a denial; and such a denial as seemed to preclude any hope of ultimate success; "He answered her not a word." The Disciples then interceded for her, and requested, that she might be dismissed with a favorable answer, if it was only to prevent her from wearying them with her entreaties: yet they also were refused, and in such a manner as effectually to silence them: "I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel." Still however she would not give up all hope, but with deeper prostration than before renewed her petition: but the answer she received was more discouraging than before, in that it blamed her presumption in hoping to participate in any respect the blessings which were designed only for God's peculiar people: "It is not meet to take the children's bread, and cast it unto dogs." Who would believe, that, after all this, she should persevere in her request, and succeed at last? Yet so she did Matthew 15:22-28; and such shall be the success of every child of man that "continues instant in prayer." To this effect our Lord assures us, in a parable which was spoken for the express purpose of encouraging persons "to pray and not faint." A poor widow, we are told, obtained redress from an unjust judge through mere dint of her importunity: and from thence we are taught to draw this inference; "And shall not God avenge his own elect who cry day and night unto him, though he bear long with them? I tell you, that he will avenge them speedily Luke 18:1-8." Here then we are warranted in affirming that the Bride's success shall be realized in us, if only, like her, we rise to the occasion, and press through every impediment to the enjoyment of our God. God "never did, nor ever will, say to any, Seek you my face in vain."
But that we may profit more fully by the example of the Bride, let us notice,
III. The use she made of her success—
Having found her Beloved, she held him and would not let him go, until she had brought him into her mother's house, where she hoped her communion with him would be more intimate, and free from interruption. And thus should we also,
1. Exert ourselves to retain the Savior with us—
There is a holy violence which we are permitted to use, like that of Jacob, who "wrestled all night with the Angel, and said, I will not let you go, except you bless me Genesis 32:24-28." But how often, for want of this, is our enjoyment of the Savior short and transient, "like the early dew, or the morning cloud that passes away!" We should "stir ourselves up to lay hold on him;" and, if he would leave us, we must constrain him, as the disciples at Emmaus did, to take up his abode with us Luke 24:28-29. We should dread nothing so much as the loss of his presence: and knowing what a holy and a jealous God he is, we should strive with all imaginable care to hold him fast, and avoid everything which may "grieve his Spirit," and provoke him to depart from us.
2. Seek to enjoy the most intimate communion with him—
The Church, "which is the Mother of us all Galatians 4:26," may be considered as the place to which the Bride strove to bring her Beloved. And we also, both in the closet and the Church, should seek such manifestations of his love, as cannot be enjoyed in the noise and bustle of the world. In all the ordinances of his grace, and at his holy table especially, we should labor to ensure his presence; since without him they are only "as wells without water," which "fill with shame and confusion" the thirsty soul Jeremiah 14:3. Nor be satisfied with any small communications of his grace and peace: seek the largest possible measure of them, even to "be filled with all the fullness of God." In a word, so "dwell in him, and let him dwell in you;" and so be "one with him, and let him be one with you;" that you may even now, in communion with him, have a pledge of the blessedness of Heaven, even of that joy, all "fullness of which is at his right hand for evermore."
From her example, let us learn,
1. To fix our hearts supremely on the Lord Jesus Christ—
Four times does the Bride designate him by this character, "Him whom my soul loves." Let him be familiarized to us also under the same endearing name. O let him be in our estimation "fairer than ten thousand, and altogether lovely;" so that, if he interrogate us as he did Peter, Love you me? we may be able to make the same appeal to him as Peter did, "Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you."
2. Not to indulge sloth in our pursuit of him—
"The idle soul shall suffer hunger; but the diligent soul shall be made fat." What darkness have many brought upon their souls by their unwatchfulness! Peter was warned by our Lord to "watch and pray, that he might not enter into temptation." But Peter slept; and, though repeatedly awaked and reproved, gave way to sloth again, the instant he was left to himself. What advantage Satan took of him, we all know, and what were the bitter fruits of his supineness. Let us "be sober and vigilant." Let us not pray "upon our bed," as regardless whether we are heard or not, but let us "stir up ourselves to lay hold on Christ;" and then "cleave unto him with full purpose of heart." If we would succeed in our pursuit of heavenly joys, we must not only pray, but "watch unto prayer with all perseverance."
3. Not to yield to despondency, because we find him not so present with us as we could wish—
We are very apt to be impatient under the hidings of his face, and to conclude, that he has utterly forsaken us. This was the fault of the Church in the days of old: but God expostulated with her, and reproved her Isaiah 40:28-31; and assured her, that she was so indelibly engraved on the palms of his hands, that he could not possibly forget her Isaiah 49:14-16; he might indeed "forsake her for a moment, but with everlasting kindness would he have mercy upon her Isaiah 54:7-8." If then similar fears arise in your breast, say as David did, after he had unhappily given way to them, "This is mine infirmity Psalm 77:7-10." Be assured, that God, who is faithful to his promises, "will never leave you nor forsake you Hebrews 13:5-6;" that "if you seek him, he will be found of you 2 Chronicles 15:2;" and that "in due season you shall reap, if you faint not Galatians 6:9."
Song of Songs 5:2-8
SPIRITUAL SLOTH REPROVED
Song of Songs 5:2-8. I sleep, but my heart wakes: it is the voice of my beloved that knocks, saying, Open to me my sitter, my love, my dove, my undefiled: for my head is filled with dew, and my locks with the drops of the night. I have put off my coat; how shall I put it on! I have washed my feet; how shall I defile them? My beloved put in his hand by the hole of the door, and my affections were moved for him. I rose up to open to my beloved; and my hands dropped with myrrh, and my fingers with sweet-smelling myrrh, upon the handles of the lock. I opened to my beloved; but my beloved had withdrawn himself, and was gone: my soul failed when he spoke; I sought him, but I could not find him; I called him, but he gave me no answer. The watchmen that went about the city found me, they smote me, they wounded me; the keepers of the walls took away my veil from me. I charge you, O daughters of Jerusalem, if you find my beloved, that you tell him, that I am sick of love.
TWO things we should guard against in reading the Song of Solomon: namely, the laying an undue stress on particular words, and the dwelling too minutely on particular circumstances. There is a latitude due to the very species of composition, that may well exempt it from severe criticism, and from an over-strained application of its several parts. No one can have ever read the Holy Scriptures without seeing many expressions, which modern delicacy and refinement constrain us to pass over, as offensive to our ears. These expressions occur both in the Law and in the Prophets; and therefore we cannot wonder if they occur in a composition intended to exhibit the mutual love subsisting between Christ and his Church, and shadowing it forth under the most delicate of all images, the mutual regards of a bridegroom and his bride. Allowance must be made for the customs of different nations: a thing may not be at all improper in one age or country, which in another age and country would be highly indecorous, as not being sanctioned by common usage. Besides, there are many customs which obtained in the days of Solomon, which, if they were known to us, would reflect light on many parts of this poem, which are involved in obscurity because we want the key to the explanation of them. Even what we do know must be touched upon with the greatest delicacy, lest what was written only for the inflaming of our spiritual affections, should become rather an occasion of evil. The true way to profit by this book is to take the general scope of it, rather than its particular images, as the subjects for our reflection. And, if we attend to this rule, we shall find the passage which we have now read, replete with instruction. It informs us of the reproof which the Bride received, for the indifference with which on one occasion she treated her beloved.
Let us distinctly notice,
I. The indolence she indulged—
She was in a state, not of absolute sleep, like the ungodly world, but of slumber, half asleep, and half awake; "I sleep, but my heart wakes."
Moreover, when her beloved came to hold communion with her, she was inattentive to his voice: yes, notwithstanding he addressed her in terms of most endeared affection, and complained of the inconvenience he had sustained through her unwatchfulness, she still gave but little heed to his voice. In hot countries, "the night dews" are not only strong, but often very injurious to those who are exposed to them: yet even this consideration did not operate to produce in her that activity which the occasion required.
Instead of rising at his call, she urged vain and foolish excuses to justify her neglect: and in fact told him, that his visit at that time was unacceptable. These excuses were only a cloak for her own sloth and self-indulgence: had her graces been in lively exercise, the obstacles she complained of would have vanished in an instant. This conduct gives a striking picture of what too generally obtains among ourselves: it shows,
1. Our slothful habits—
There is in the very best of men "the flesh yet lusting against the Spirit, as well as the Spirit striving against the flesh, so that they cannot do the things they would Galatians 5:17." Even Paul complained, that, while with his mind he served the law of God, with his flesh he was still in some measure subjected to the law of sin, not indeed as a willing servant, but as a captive, who in vain sought a perfect deliverance from that detested enemy Romans 7:14; Romans 7:18; Romans 7:22-23. True indeed, where due vigilance is kept up, "the old man" cannot gain any permanent advantage: but even when "the spirit is willing, the flesh is too often weak;" and all in some degree find, that "when they would do good, evil is present with them." It is indeed greatly to be lamented, that "the Wise Virgins" should ever so resemble the Foolish Virgins, as to "slumber and sleep" like them: but so, alas! it is: and when, by reason of our failures, we are ready to complain, "Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of the Lord!" we need the rebuke which was given to that petition, "Awake, awake, stand up, O Jerusalem, and put on your strength, O Zion Isaiah 51:9; Isaiah 51:17; Isaiah 52:1."
2. Our insensibility to the kindness of our beloved—
How inexpressibly tender are his addresses to us! See the invitations, the entreaties, the expostulations that pervade every part of the sacred volume; and say whether they be not sufficient to melt the most obdurate heart! "Behold, I stand at the door and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and sup with him, and he with me Revelation 3:20." Yet how long does he stand and knock in vain! His pleadings too, how kind, how gracious, how forcible they are! "Have I been a wilderness to Israel? Why say my people, we will come no more unto you Jeremiah 2:31." "Turn you unto me; for I have redeemed you: I am even married unto you Jeremiah 3:12; Jeremiah 3:14;" "Turn you, turn you; why will you die, O House of Israel?" But all his expostulations have been to no purpose with respect to the generality; and even on the best they are far from operating to the extent they ought. Paul could say, "The love of Christ constrains us," or carries us away like a mighty torrent: but how many are the seasons when his attractions are not so felt by us, and when, instead of regarding him as "the chief among ten thousand," we see scarcely any "beauty or loveliness in him for which he is to be desired!"
3. Our vain excuses with which we cloak our sins—
Something arising out of our present circumstances we are ready to plead in extenuation at least, if not in excuse, for our sloth. But, if we would deal faithfully with ourselves, we should see that all our pleas are a mere cloak for self-indulgence: we are called to "crucify the flesh with the affections and lusts," but we do not like self-denial: to "mortify our earthly members" is a work in which we cannot bear to engage: the "cutting off a right hand, and plucking out a right eye" is so painful to us, that we cannot be prevailed upon to put forth the resolution it requires. We promise ourselves a "more convenient season," which in too many instances never comes at all. Like those in the parable, we find some reason for declining the invitations sent us, and return for answer, "I pray you have me excused".
A due consideration of her fault will prepare our minds for,
II. The reproof she met with—
At last, beginning to see her error, she rose to open to her beloved: and with such ardor of affection did she open to him, that "myrrh dropped, as it were, from her hands upon the handle of the lock." But behold, he was gone; and though she sought him, she could not find him; and though she called after him, he gave her no answer. The watchmen too reproved her with great severity, as questioning even the sincerity of one who could so treat the beloved of her soul. And such reproof must we all expect, if we give way to sloth instead of watching unto prayer. We must expect,
1. That he will depart from us—
Truly he is "a God who hides himself," a holy and a jealous God, that will make us to "eat of the fruit of our own ways, and to be filled with our own devices." He has warned us not to "grieve his Holy Spirit," lest he depart from us. I "will go and return to my place," says he, "until they acknowledge their offence Hosea 5:15." And oh! how painful are the seasons when he withdraws from us, and leaves our souls in darkness! Even he himself, when for our sins he was deserted of his God, how bitterly did he cry; "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" O that we may never provoke him to put that cup into our hands! How distressing will it be to be reduced to any measure of that experience which Christ endured for us; "O my God, why are you so far from helping me, and from the voice of my roaring? I cry in the day time, but you hear not; and in the night season, and am not silent Matthew 22:1-2." See David in this predicament Psalm 42:3; Psalm 77:6-9, and "let us be instructed, lest we provoke him to depart from us also."
2. That the word and ordinances shall he unproductive of any solid comfort to us—
The "Watchmen" are the ministers, whose office is not only to instruct and comfort, but also to warn and "rebuke with all authority." True it is, they may be too hasty and severe in their reproofs; and may by such indiscreet zeal make the heart of the righteous sad, when they should rather bind up the broken heart, and heal the wounded spirit. But it is possible also, that they may be too lenient, and "speak peace to persons when there is no peace." But where there is no fault in their ministrations, God may make their word as a sword, to enter into the very bones of those who hear it, and to cut them to the heart. Even the promises, when held forth in all their fullness and all their freeness, may afford no comfort to the soul of one who is under the hidings of God's face; but may add tenfold poignancy to all his griefs. How unhappy was the state of David, when even the thought of God himself was a source of sorrow and despondency, rather than of joy and peace! "He remembered God, and was troubled; and his soul refused comfort." In like manner, all the wonders of redeeming love may be made a source of the deepest anguish to our souls, by the apprehension that we have no part or lot in them. If then we would not bring these heavy judgments on our souls, let us "seek the Lord while he may be found, and call upon him while he is near."
1. Those who yet enjoy the light of God's countenance—
Happy, happy are you, in the possession of this rich mercy: Surely such a state is a foretaste of Heaven itself. But do not presume upon it. Do not say, "My mountain stands strong; I shall never be moved;" lest you cause God to "hide his face from you, and you be troubled." "Be not high-minded; but fear." Keep upon your watch-tower: "let your loins be girt, and your lamps trimmed;" and watch every moment for the coming of your Lord. "Blessed is that servant, whom his Lord, when he comes, shall find so doing."
2. Those who are under the hidings of their Redeemer's face—
If others are not to presume, so neither are you to despond. "If your sorrow endure for a night, there is joy awaiting you in the morning." This do: imitate the Bride in the passage before us. She desired the prayers and intercessions of the saints, and entreated them, in their seasons of communion with their Lord, to plead her cause: "I charge you, when you shall see him, tell him that I am sick of love." She felt no grief like the absence of her beloved; and could find comfort in nothing but the restoration of his love. Thus let your hearts be fixed on him; even on him only: and suffer nothing to weaken your regards to him. Never entertain hard thoughts of him. Take shame to yourselves, until you even loath yourselves in dust and ashes: but relax neither your love to him, nor your confidence in him. Say with yourselves, "Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him." Then will he in due season return to your souls, so that "your light shall rise in obscurity, and your darkness be as the noon-day." Only be content to "go on your way weeping, bearing the precious seed of penitence and faith; and you shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing your sheaves with you."
Song of Songs 5:9
TRANSCENDENT EXCELLENCIES OF CHRIST
Song of Songs 5:9. What is your beloved more than another beloved, O fairest among women? What is your beloved more than another beloved, that you do so charge us?
THOUGH zeal in every earthly pursuit is approved and commended, it is almost universally banished from the concerns of religion. The most temperate exertions are deemed excessive, and a moderate degree of solicitude is called enthusiasm. Even they who profess godliness are too often found ready to damp the ardor, which persons, more active than themselves, may at any time express. Thus the Bride was checked in her inquiries after her beloved. The "daughters of Jerusalem," who keep up the dialogue with the Bride and Bridegroom, seem to be either formal professors of religion, or to have made a very small progress in the divine life. And they, when the Bride, under great trouble and anxiety, requested their intercession, reflected on her as manifesting an intemperate and needless zeal. But we will answer their questions, by showing,
I. The excellencies of our Beloved—
Who the Beloved of the Church is, we need not declare; since it is too manifest to admit a doubt. There is not a member of that body who does not regard Jesus with supreme affection. Nor is there any apology needed for such a choice. His excellencies are exceeding great.
In him are concentrated all the glories of the Godhead Colossians 2:9. Being the brightness of his Father's glory, and the express image of his person, he must of necessity possess all the Divine perfections Hebrews 1:3. To search out these perfections is beyond the ability of any finite being Job 11:7; but to love and adore him on account of them is the duty and privilege of all his people. The excellencies of his human nature may be more easily declared. There his glory is veiled, so that we may behold and contemplate it without being blinded by its overwhelming splendor. He was not only holy, but holiness itself, without spot or blemish. His most inveterate enemies, Satan himself not excepted, could not find a flaw in him John 8:46. John 14:30, and God himself has borne testimony, that in him was no sin 1 John 3:5. As Mediator, he united both the Godhead and the Manhood in his own person, and executed an office which he alone was able to sustain. In that character we behold him reconciling God to man, and man to God 2 Corinthians 5:19, yes, glorifying all the perfections of the Deity in the salvation of sinners Romans 3:25-26. Well may we, in this view of him, exclaim, "How great is his goodness, how great is his beauty Zechariah 9:17."
But the text requires us to speak of him in a comparative view—
Surely there is no other object of affection in the universe worthy to be compared with him. In whom is there such a marvelous combination of excellencies? As God, as Man, and as Mediator, he not only unites in himself every perfection proper to the Divine and human nature, but exhibits a character peculiar to himself, a character that is and ever must be the admiration of the whole universe. In whom was there ever found any one excellence in so eminent a degree? There have been men wise, and virtuous and loving; but in him were hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge Colossians 2:3; and he was not only virtuous, but virtue itself incarnate; and as for his love, its heights and depths can never be explored Ephesians 3:18-19. Indeed, whatever excellence has at any time beamed forth in the creature, it has been nothing but a ray reflected from this Sun of Righteousness 1 Corinthians 4:7. We may ask yet further, Whose excellencies were ever so beneficial to us? Others indeed have profited us by their example; but He, by his obedience, has wrought out a righteousness for us; a righteousness wherein the vilest of sinners, if truly penitent, shall stand perfect and complete in the sight of God Romans 5:18-19. Let the contemptuous inquirer then blush for his ignorance; and acknowledge that our Beloved infinitely transcends everything that can be put in competition with him.
According to his excellencies must of necessity be,
II. The regard we owe him—
If we look to the example of the Bride, who well knew how to appreciate his worth, we shall see how we ought to manifest our affection towards him.
1. We should esteem him above everything in the world—
The Bride has used every simile that the most fertile imagination could suggest, in order to express her sense of his excellency Song of Songs 2:3 and in ten different particulars, 5:10–16. David esteemed nothing in Heaven or earth in comparison of him Psalm 73:25; and Paul counted all things but dung for the knowledge of him Philippians 3:8. And if we do not see a "beauty and loveliness in him for which he is to be desired" infinitely beyond everything else, our eyes must be altogether blinded by the God of this world. Let us then despise everything in comparison of him, and take him as our portion, our all in all.
2. We should be exceeding careful that we do not grieve him—
In this also the Bride affords us an excellent example. Frequently does she repeat her tender concern lest by any means he should be provoked to depart from her Song of Songs 2:7; Song of Songs 3:5; Song of Songs 8:4. Such a holy caution also should we continually maintain. He is a holy and jealous God, and will not endure our neglects without manifesting his displeasure Isaiah 45:15. The Bride herself, notwithstanding her care in general, experienced the loss of his presence, when she became remiss Song of Songs 5:3-6. And thus will he also hide himself from us, if by our unwatchfulness we grieve his Holy Spirit. Let us then "walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise." Let us "look to him as our Guardian Angel, and beware of him, and obey his voice, and carefully abstain from every species of provocation Exodus 23:20-21."
3. If at any time we have lost a sense of his presence, we should by all possible means immediately exert ourselves to regain it—
With what contrition did the Bride arise! How did her very soul faint within her, when she found he was departed! With what earnestness did she call after him! How did she instantly inquire after him, applying to those who from their office and character were best fitted to direct her! How did she persist, notwithstanding all the discouragements she met with! And what a solemn charge did she give to her fellow-saints to intercede for her See each distinct step exemplified: Song of Songs 5:5-8. Such should be our conduct under the hidings of his face. We should not sit down in despondency, but labor with more abundant diligence to obtain renewed expressions of his love and favor Hosea 5:15.
4. If he grant to visit us again, we should feel ourselves completely happy in him, and yield up ourselves entirely to his will—
No sooner were the Bride's endeavors crowned with success, than she redoubled her efforts to retain and enjoy him Song of Songs 3:2-4, and earnestly sought to be most intimately, and inseparably united to him Song of Songs 8:1-2; Song of Songs 8:6. Thus should we seek to "abide in him, and to have him abiding in us John 15:4." We should "cleave to him with full purpose of heart," and, in the possession of his love, our souls should find all that they can desire 2 Corinthians 6:10. Thrice happy they who are thus influenced by their views of Christ! Their "labor shall never be in vain." They shall enjoy the greatest, the only real good, the light of his countenance Psalm 4:6; and though in a little wrath he may hide his face from them, it shall be only for a moment, and with everlasting kindness will he have mercy on them Isaiah 54:8.
It may now be allowed us, not merely to exhort, but to "charge," you all—
In the name of Almighty God, we "charge" you all to love the Savior. If the love which Believers bear to him constrains them to be singular, let it be remembered, that the blame of singularity does not rest on them: as they can "give a reason for the hope that is in them," so can they also for their love to the Savior. His transcendent excellencies demand their supreme regard. If they love him with all their heart and soul and mind and strength, it is no more than their bounden duty; yes, their most fervent affections fall infinitely short of his desert. Let all then set their love on Jesus. Let them search out his excellencies, until they are ravished with the sight, and let them "cast their idols to the moles and to the bats." Nor let any be ashamed to confess him before men. It is a small matter to bear the taunts of an ignorant and ungodly world. One hour's enjoyment of Christ's presence will more than counterbalance an age of man's contempt; and if on earth, how much more in Heaven! Dare then to be singular. Shine, Believers, as becomes your relation to the heavenly Bridegroom. Be "the fairest among women," as your Beloved is among men Psalm 45:2-13; and let your union with him be discovered by your conformity to his image.
Song of Songs 5:16
THE EXCELLENCY OF CHRIST
Song of Songs 5:16. He is altogether lovely. This is my Beloved; and this is my Friend, O daughters of Jerusalem.
WITH many it is a matter of surprise, that truly converted Christians should manifest such zeal in prosecuting their own ways, and in commending religion to all around them. The world see no such excellency in Christ as the true believer does; and therefore, while they cannot but acknowledge the superiority of the Christian's walk, they ask, in a tone of self-justifying confidence, "What is your beloved more than another beloved, that you do so charge us verse 9." But, if they beheld the Savior in his true character, so far would they be from wondering that his people loved and served him so ardently, that they would rather wonder at the coldness of their hearts towards him, and at the unprofitableness of their lives. To the above question the Church of old replies, in the words I have read to you: from which I shall take occasion to show,
I. The excellency of Christ—
This is set forth in highly figurative language; agreeably to the tenor of the whole book, which abounds in allegory from beginning to end. The Church marks, under very sublime images, his beauty in every part—"his head, his locks, his eyes, his cheeks, his lips, his hands, his body, his legs, his countenance, his mouth;" and proclaims him, not only "the chief among ten thousand," but "altogether lovely verse 9–16." We will not attempt to follow the particular description here given; for we could never do justice to it. We will rather content ourselves with a general view of Christ, who is altogether lovely,
1. In his person—
In himself he unites all the perfections of the Godhead, with every grace that can adorn humanity. "In him there was no spot or blemish;" insomuch that his bitterest enemies, after the severest possible scrutiny, were forced to confess, "We find in him no fault at all".
2. In his offices—
These were altogether sustained for us, and executed for us; and they are precisely such as our necessities required. Did we need an atonement for our sins? He is our Great High Priest who offers that atonement; yes, and offers himself, too, as the sacrifice which alone was sufficient to expiate our guilt. Did we need to be instructed relative to the way in which alone God would accept a returning sinner? He became our Prophet, to make known to us the mind and will of God, and to reveal to us inwardly, by his Spirit, what he has outwardly proclaimed to us in his word. Did we need to be delivered from all our spiritual enemies? He yet further assumed the Kingly office, that he might rescue us from our bondage, and make us partakers with him of all the glory and felicity of Heaven. It is not possible to find in man a want for which provision is not made in him, to the utmost extent of our necessities; and which he will not supply to all who call upon him.
3. In all his fellowship with his people—
O, who can conceive the extent of his condescension and grace? How ready is he, at all times, to "draw near to those who draw near to him;" to "manifest himself to them, as he does not unto the world;" and to impart to them all the consolation and strength which they look for at his hands! "In all the afflictions of his people he is himself afflicted;" and to such a degree is he "touched with the feeling of their infirmities," that every trial of theirs is felt by him as his own. "Whoever touches us, touches the apple of his eye." In a word, there is no weakness which he will not support: no want which he will not supply: nor shall there be any bounds to his communications, except what are fixed by our capacity to receive them.
With this view of Christ's excellency, it is impossible not to connect,
II. The blessedness of those who believe in him—
Between him and his believing people there is the closest union that can be imagined.
1. He stands pre-eminent in their regards—
So says the Church; "This is my Beloved." It is the Spouse that speaks; and here she claims him as her Divine Husband. Now, conceive a person excelling all others in every endowment, both of body and mind; conceive of whole nations acknowledging him as the Benefactor of the human race; and conceive of him as not only thus lauded for former benefits conferred, but as at the very time scattering in rich profusion all manner of blessings upon millions of mankind: I say, conceive that you behold such an one surrounded by applauding and adoring multitudes; and then think how happy that woman must be who can say, "This is my Beloved;" I have a right in him which no other human being has; all that he is, is mine; and all that he has, is mine. I say, my Brethren, that we cannot conceive of felicity on earth greater than hers. Yet, my Brethren, this is yours, if only you believe in Christ. He is your Beloved; and you may claim precisely the same interest in him as if there were not another, either in Heaven or on earth, to claim it with you. What happiness, then, is there to be compared with yours; when it is not a mere man, however excellent, but your incarnate God himself, to whom you stand in this near, this glorious relation?
2. You also stand high in his regards—
Yes, the regard is mutual. You might possibly love one in whom there was not a reciprocal attachment. But it is not so in this case. He calls you "The dearly beloved of his soul Jeremiah 12:7." As surely therefore as you can say, "This is my Beloved," you may add, with confidence, "This is my Friend." Yes; Jesus himself says, "I call you not servants, but friends." Nor can you imagine any act of friendship which he will not most gladly execute for you. "Abraham was the friend of God." See, then, what God wrought for him! and know, that that, yes, and infinitely more, will the Lord Jesus Christ work for you in the time of your necessity. On every occasion will he come to you, to counsel you by his wisdom, to uphold you by his power, and to enrich you with his benefits. We are told. "There is a friend that sticks closer than a brother:" truly, there is no brother in the universe, that will be so entirely at your command as he. Only apply to him, and spread your wants before him, and you shall never go empty away. On the contrary, "He will do exceeding abundantly for you, above all that you can ask or think."
Now then let me ask of you, my Brethren,
1. "What think you of Christ?"
This was a question which Christ himself put to his Disciples: and I now put it to you. You know what is said, "To them that believe, he is precious," even preciousness itself. Is he viewed in this light by you? This will determine whether you be true Believers, or not: for in every Believer, and in him exclusively, this grace is found. Truly, if you are really his, you will say, "Whom have I in Heaven but you? and there is none upon earth that I desire besides you": Your sublimest joy on earth must be to say, "My beloved is mine, and I am his Song of Songs 2:16; Song of Songs 6:3."
2. How are you endeavoring to requite his love?
If you love Christ, it must be not in word only, but in deed and in truth. Are you then living in the enjoyment of his presence?: Are you consecrating yourselves unreservedly to his service?: Above all, Are you seeking to grow up into his image, so that he may be as well satisfied with contemplating your relation to him, as you are in viewing his to you? See how, in the chapter before my text, Christ views his bride Song of Songs 4:1; see how he views her with admiration, as it were, from head to foot Song of Songs 4:2-6; and what a blessed testimony he bears respecting her Song of Songs 4:7. Let it be your ambition so to walk before him, that he may testify the same of you; and that the union which has thus been commenced between you on earth, may be consummated in Heaven for evermore.
Song of Songs 8:5
THE CHRISTIAN'S RELIANCE ON CHRIST
Song of Songs 8:5. Who is this that comes up from the wilderness, leaning on her Beloved?
THERE is an intimate and mysterious union between Christ and his Church. It is often compared, in Scripture, to a marriage union: and in the book before us, the Song of Solomon, there is a figurative representation of the fellowship which exists between Christ and his Church under this relation. A third description of persons, called "the daughters of Jerusalem," are occasionally introduced, to diversify the dialogue, and to enliven it by bearing their part in it. The words of the text seem to be uttered by them. The Church had, in the four preceding verses, expressed her desire after more familiar and abiding fellowship with her divine Husband: and the bystanders, admiring and felicitating her state, exclaim "Who is this?" etc.
I will endeavor briefly,
I. To throw light upon the words thus addressed to the Church—
There does not, indeed, appear any considerable difficulty in them; especially if we bear in mind the passage of the Israelites through the wilderness to the land of Canaan. This world may fitly be represented as "a wilderness"—
That through which the Israelites passed is called "a waste howling wilderness Deuteronomy 32:10;" "a land of deserts and of pits, a land of drought and of the shadow of death Jeremiah 2:6;" a land "wherein were fiery serpents and scorpions; and drought, where there was no water Deuteronomy 8:15." And such, indeed, is this vain world to the weary pilgrim. It affords nothing for the comfort and refreshment of a heavy-laden soul; but furnishes obstructions without number, snares at every step, and enemies filled with the most envenomed hostility.
Through this the Christian is passing, in his way to Heaven—
He has, of necessity, his duties to perform, like other men. But "though in the world, he is not of the world John 17:6." He regards not this world as his rest; but merely as a country through which he must go, towards "that better country which he is seeking after." He accounts himself a "pilgrim and a stranger upon earth Hebrews 11:13;" and advances on his journey with all practical expedition, "not setting his affections on anything by the way Colossians 3:2," but looking forward to the termination of his labors in a better world.
In all his way, "he leans upon his beloved" Savior for support—
He feels his insufficiency for the work he has to perform: but "he knows in whom he has believed, that he is able to sustain him, and to keep that which he has committed to him 2 Timothy 1:12." No sick or enfeebled traveler places a more entire dependence on one who has undertaken to bear him onward, than the Christian does on Christ, who has engaged to perform this office, saying, "Even to your old age I am He; and even to hoar hairs will I carry you: I have made, and I will bear; even I will carry, and will deliver you Isaiah 46:4." He would account it a most heinous offence if for a moment he should "trust to an arm of flesh Jeremiah 17:5;" and with a holy indignation at the thought of placing any confidence in the creature, he says, "Ashur shall not save us; we will not ride upon horses; neither will we say any more to the work of our hands. You are our gods: for in you the fatherless finds mercy Hosea 14:3." In a word, the whole habit of the Christian's mind, throughout this dreary wilderness, is that which the holy Psalmist addressed to his Lord and Savior: "Hold you up my goings in your paths, that my footsteps slip not:" "hold you me up, and I shall be safe Psalm 17:5."
But my object is, to mark the spirit of my text, and,
II. To point out more particularly the force of the interrogation—
I should say, that, in its strictest sense, it appears to express admiration: but we may very properly consider it as the language,
1. Of inquiry—
"Who is this?" Is there, among ourselves, any one answering to this character? Am I this happy person? Do I so live in this world, that the by-standers notice the peculiarity of my walk, and my entire devotion to the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ? Do I, instead of loving the world, account it a dreary wilderness? Do I renounce, as in my baptismal vows I undertook to do, all the pomps and vanities of this wicked world, and all the sinful lusts of the flesh? and "am I daily dying unto the world," to its cares, its pleasures, its maxims, its habits, its company altogether? Am I "crucified unto the world, and is the world crucified unto me by the cross of Christ," so that I value it no more than a man does who is in the very article of death Galatians 6:14. And, in my passage through this wilderness, am I leaning constantly on my beloved Savior, saying, "In the Lord have I righteousness and strength Isaiah 45:24." This is, indeed, the character of the true Christian; and we are commanded to "examine ourselves, whether we be in the faith, and to prove our own selves 2 Corinthians 13:5." I would entreat you, therefore, to make this a subject of most serious inquiry; and to ask yourselves, Am I the person characterized in the words of our text?
2. Of admiration—
This I suppose to be the more immediate feeling expressed in my text. And truly a person so circumstanced as the Bride here was, is one of the greatest wonders upon earth. Conceive yourselves to be that person; that such an earthly and sensual creature, as every one of you must know yourselves to be, should so renounce the world!—that such a polluted creature should enjoy such intimacy with the Lord of Glory! that such a weak creature should persevere, in despite of so many obstacles both within and without! May not such an one well say, "I am a wonder unto many Psalm 71:7." Must he not, above all, be a wonder to himself? "Who am I that I should be so honored; while the world at large are left to walk after the imaginations of their own evil hearts, and to "live as without God in the world!"
3. Of congratulation—
No man in the universe is so to be congratulated, as he who dies to the world, and seeks all his happiness in Christ. Think with yourselves from what imminent danger he has escaped. "The whole world is lying in wickedness 1 John 5:19," and will be condemned at last 1 Corinthians 11:32; but "he has been taken out of the world John 15:19," and been delivered from it, even as Lot from Sodom. Is not he a fit object for congratulation? But consider, further, to what a glorious place he is hastening; even to Heaven itself, where he shall speedily possess "an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled, and that fades not away 1 Peter 1:4." Behold, too, to what a blessed company he is joined! "He is come to an innumerable company of angels; and to the general assembly and Church of the first-born, which are written in Heaven; and to God, the Judge of all; and to the spirits of the just made perfect; and to Jesus, the Mediator of the new covenant; and to all these, as his everlasting companions." Think, also, how near he is to all this felicity, every day and hour bearing him towards it, as fast as the wings of time can carry him. And, above all, what an all-sufficient support he has in his way thither, even his beloved Lord, "who is able to keep him from falling, and to present him faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy Jude verse 24." Tell me, Who is happy in comparison of him? Who is to be congratulated, if he be not?
Is there here a weak believer, who doubts whether such an one as he can ever attain this blessedness?
Let him trust in Christ, and not be afraid: for none ever perished, who trusted in Him. As for a man's own weakness and insufficiency, that can be no bar to his attainment of this felicity; since the Lord Jesus Christ is "able to save to the uttermost all who come unto God by him Hebrews 7:25;" and he has expressly told us, that "he will carry the lambs in his bosom, and gently lead them that are with young Isaiah 40:11." Only take care that he be for you; and then you may hurl defiance at all that are against you.
But is there any backslider that is turning back to the world?
O, think what you are doing; and what tremendous evils you are bringing upon your soul! What has this vain world ever done for you, that it should influence you by its attractions?: And what has Christ not done for you, while you sought him, and relied upon him! Hear his complaint against you: "Have I been a wilderness unto Israel; a land of darkness! Why say my people, We are lords; we will come no more unto you Jeremiah 2:31." The world has been a wilderness to you, at all times: but has Christ been so? Has he been so at any moment, when you sought your happiness in him? Hear, and tremble at the warning given you by an inspired Apostle: "If, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome (a case that too frequently occurs), the latter end is worse with them than the beginning. For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them 2 Peter 2:20-21." And is there one in such an unhappy state as this? "Who is he?" Let every one inquire, "Lord, is it I?" And whoever he may be, let us all regard him as an object of the deepest commiseration.—The Lord awaken all such before it be too late!
Song of Songs 8:6-7
THE CHURCH'S DESIRE OF CHRIST'S LOVE
Song of Songs 8:6-7. Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm: for love is strong as death; jealousy is cruel as the grave: the coals thereof are coals of fire, which has a most vehement flame. Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it: if a man would give all the substance of his house for love, it would utterly be contemned.
THE more any person enjoys of Christ, the more ardent will be his desires after him, and the more enlarged his petitions for richer communications from him. The Church, as represented in the song before us, has already been brought into the closest fellowship with her Beloved; yet this, so far from satisfying her, serves only for an occasion of soliciting from him yet further favors, and urging her request with more powerful pleas: "Set me as a seal upon your heart, and upon your arm; etc." That in this we may be stirred up to follow her example, let us notice,
I. Her request—
To fix the import of this, we must determine the precise sense in which the Bride uses the word, "seal." In the general acceptance of that term in Scripture, we understand that which is affixed to deeds or covenants of any kind, in order to ratify and confirm them. Such was that with which Jeremiah's purchase of a field was confirmed Jeremiah 32:10-11; Jeremiah 32:14; and in reference to such was circumcision appointed to Abraham, as the seal of God's covenant with him, and of the righteousness which he, by faith in that covenant, already possessed Romans 4:11; while, on the other hand, God's foreknowledge and fore-ordination of his elect is a seal on his part, attesting that that covenant stands on a sure and immoveable foundation 2 Timothy 2:19. In a similar sense, the Holy Spirit's work in sanctifying the elect is a seal, whereby he seals them unto the day of redemption, and assures to them their enjoyment of their purchased inheritance Ephesians 1:13; Ephesians 4:30. But we apprehend that the use of the term in this place is different; and that it refers to signets which were not uncommonly worn upon the hand or arm, as memorials of persons who were greatly beloved. Such we find mentioned by the Prophet Jeremiah; "As I live, says the Lord, though Coniah, the son of Jehoiakim King of Judah, were the signet upon my right hand, yet would I pluck you thence Jeremiah 22:24," utterly unmindful of all my former regards. In this view the Church's request is, that her Beloved would make her the object of his most endeared affections, and of his continual care. Now,
This is a proper request from every child of man—
All without exception are invited to come to Christ John 6:37, and to participate freely his richest blessings Isaiah 55:1. Unworthiness on our part is no bar to our acceptance with him; since all, however elevated and ennobled afterwards, are, previously to their union with him, in the lowest state of guilt Romans 3:19. and degradation Ezekiel 16:3-12. He, and all his benefits, are to be apprehended simply by faith John 1:12. Whoever comes to him by faith is united to him, as a branch to the vine John 15:1-5, and may expect to receive out of his fullness all that has been treasured up in him for our use and benefit John 15:7. We may ask for the entire affections of his soul, and the unlimited exercise of his power, as if there were no other creature in the universe to share his regards. Less than this we ought not to ask. Less than this would not avail for our eternal happiness. We must have all the love of his heart, and all the power of his arm, if we would be brought through all our difficulties and trials to the everlasting enjoyment of him in his kingdom. Whatever the most beloved Bride may hope for from him to whom she is betrothed, that, and infinitely more, may we expect from our heavenly Bridegroom.
And it shall be fulfilled to all who offer it in spirit and in truth—
Christ has solemnly pledged himself to this extent by an everlasting covenant Jeremiah 32:40-41. And he has fulfilled it to millions of the human race, who were once as guilty, as polluted, and as helpless as we: Hence he chides the Church for her doubts, after that he had graven her on the palms of his hands Isaiah 49:14-16; Who can tell the efficacy of fervent and believing prayer? Our God and Savior could as soon deny himself, as he could withstand it. Instead of rejecting our petitions on account of their being too large, he will approve of them the more, and answer them the sooner, on account of their comprehensiveness and extent: he has said, "Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it Psalm 81:10;" "You may ask what you will, and it shall be done unto you John 14:13-14."
We shall, however, be more certain of success, if we can follow her in,
II. Her pleas—
Two things in particular she urged on the consideration of her Beloved, in order to prevail on him to grant her request; the one was, that she could not endure the thought of having a less interest in him than her relation to him required, yes, that her "jealousy would burn like coals of fire that had a most vehement flame;" and the other was, that her love to him was supreme and unalterable; that it was "stronger than death;" that "no waters could quench it, no floods drown it;" and that, if the richest monarch in the universe would "give all the substance of his house" to engage it for himself, "it would be utterly contemned."
Now in these pleas we see,
1. What distress is occasioned by a doubt of Christ's love to us—
To have it a doubtful point whether we be children of God and heirs of Heaven, or children of the wicked one and heirs of Hell, is a source of unutterable anguish to every man who knows not what "a fearful thing it is to fall into the hands of the living God Hebrews 10:31." How bitterly did Job bewail his condition, while he apprehended God to be his enemy! "The arrows of the Almighty are within me, the poison whereof drinks up my spirit: the terrors of God do set themselves in array against me Job 6:4." David likewise in many of his Psalms pours out similar complaints Psalm 42:1-3; Psalm 77:1-4; Psalm 77:7-9; Psalm 88:1-7; Psalm 102:1-6; Psalm 102:9-11. Careless and ungodly men can rest satisfied without any inquiries: but an awakened man cannot be so indifferent about his interest in Christ: to him suspense is death: he feels "a jealousy cruel as the grave," (which will never suffer its destined victim to escape,) and devouring, like a flame, which consumes all within its reach.
2. What consolation arises from a consciousness of our love to him—
Though there is no merit in our love to Christ, it greatly emboldens us in our addresses to him, and gives us a just ground to hope, that he will in due time manifest his love to us, and shed it abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit. He has expressly said, "I love them that love me Proverbs 8:17;" and has assured us, that, "if we love him, his Father will love us, and come and make his abode with us John 14:21; John 14:23." The very circumstance of our love to him is of itself, independent of all other evidences, a proof that he does actually love us: for our love to him is the effect of his love to us; "We love him, because he first loved us 1 John 4:10; 1 John 4:19 and John 15:16;" yes, "He loved us with an everlasting love; and therefore with loving-kindness has he drawn us Jeremiah 33:3." If then we have within ourselves an evidence, that our love to him is supreme, and that nothing which the world could either offer to us, or inflict upon us, would induce us to surrender our hope in him, we may rest assured, not only that he is ours, but that he will be ours even to the end. We may even make this an argument with him in prayer, as David did, "I am your: save me Psalm 119:94." and as the Church of old did, "Now, O Lord, you are our father: we are the clay, and you our potter: and we all are the work of your hand: Be not wroth very sore, O Lord, neither remember iniquity forever: behold, see, we beseech you, we are all your people Isaiah 64:8-9." Bearing us, as he does, on his shoulders, and on his breast, in his official capacity as our High Priest within the veil Exodus 28:9-12; Exodus 28:21; Exodus 28:29-30, we may be sure that "he will never leave us nor forsake us Hebrews 13:5," nor ever suffer anything to "separate us from his love Romans 8:35-39.
Learn from hence,
1. What should be the frame of your minds towards the Lord Jesus Christ—
Our hearts should be supremely set on him, and we should "count all things but loss for the knowledge of him." So ardent should our love to him be, that no floods of affliction or persecution should ever be able to drown it, nor all that the world can give stand for a moment in competition with it: Examine yourselves, Brethren, and see whether it be really so? Can you, in answer to the question put by our Lord to Peter, make the reply that Peter did, "Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you?".
2. What we should daily look for at his hands—
Your security and happiness depend altogether upon his unchanging love. Were he to withdraw from underneath you his everlasting arms, you would instantly fall and perish. Entreat him then to "carry you in his bosom," and to "bear you still as upon eagles' wings." Plead with him in earnest prayer; and let him not go until he bestow his blessing upon you. "You are not straitened in him: be not straitened in your own affections:" and let all the fellowship which you enjoy with him here, be regarded by you as a pledge and earnest of still closer fellowship with him in the regions of eternal light and blessedness.