"How beautiful are your sandaled feet, O prince's daughter!" —Solomon's Song 7:1
I am well aware of the purely secular treatment of the Song of Solomon has received at the hands of not a few scholars in these modern days.
I shall not, however, be deterred by any schools or tenets of theology, from utilizing a precious Book of the sacred Canon for the highest spiritual instruction. This, too, on no "accommodation theory,"—deflecting it from a poor earthly meaning, in order to engraft pious thoughts and lessons it was never designed to furnish or suggest. Grant that it has a historical basis; grant that its primary and original purpose was to serve as a 'Marriage Song', or that its literary structure assumes the form of a romantic epic—still, these are but the setting of a more precious Jewel. It has a truer intrinsic value than that of being merely a choice product and specimen of Hebrew pastoral poetry. Its chapters have been, to tens of thousands of God's holiest and best, from Origen, and Jerome, and Theodoret among the Fathers, down to our own Samuel Rutherford, like "Apples of Gold in pictures of Silver," It has been called by one of them "The Holy of Holies of the Bible sanctuary." At no time do the themes of the Great Allegory seem more befitting and appropriate, than when forming part of the service of a Communion Sabbath.
In a remarkable passage immediately preceding our text, Christ is figuratively regarded as coming down to "the Garden of nuts" (the Church on earth) to hold communion with His members—they transporting their chariots of faith and love up to the Gates of Heaven to quicken His approach—"before I ever knew it—my soul bore me (margin) on the chariots of a willing people" (6:12).
The Great Redeemer, the Heavenly Bridegroom, is now represented under the leading emblem of the Book, as surveying the beauties and excellences of His betrothed bride. "Return, return, O Shulamite; return, return, that we may look upon you." Amazed at His condescension she replies—"What will you see in the Shulamite?" "What, O my Savior, will You see in me?" by nature lost, by daily transgression incurring Your displeasure; my love so weak, my resolutions so feeble—"What will you see?" Nothing but a divided heart; "the company of two armies." Grace on the one hand, corruption on the other; faith on the one hand, sight and sense on the other; the remains of the carnal mind still enmity against God, the flesh lusting against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh.
And did You not "cover my head in the day of battle"—fight for me the good fight of faith; restrain my foes and curb my wavering affections; I would long ago have been able only to tell of one army; that I was leagued on the side of Satan against You; the helpless victim of my own legion-sins, my present tyrants, my future tormentors. Even now, with all Your wondrous mercy and gracious forbearance, I feel too often and too mournfully the tendency of the evil heart of unbelief. Self-abased, and self-condemned, alas! I need no other lips than my own to attest the humbling reality—You see nothing but "as it were the company of two armies" (2:13).
Her Lord replies in the verse of the text. The whole chapter is an apostrophe to her. She is in herself full of conscious unworthiness—blemishes and shortcomings which seem to mar her best services and highest consecration. But He sees her clothed in the bridal attire of His own righteousness, having "neither spot nor wrinkle, nor any such thing," and instead of upbraiding her for avowed imperfections, He begins with the words—"How beautiful are your sandaled feet, O Prince's daughter!"
Let me this evening speak, with God's blessing, on these two points.
I. The Church's or the Believer's NAME—"Daughter" and "Prince's daughter."
(1.) She is called "DAUGHTER." This points to the tender relation subsisting between Christ and His people. When Jehovah in the Old Testament speaks most endearingly of His ancient Church, He calls it "The Daughter of Zion." He employs, indeed, manifold figures, all indicative of strong and ardent attachment. "As one whom his mother comforts." "Can a woman forget her nursing child?" "Like as a father pities his children." "I will be a Father unto you."
How graciously, too, does He adapt Himself to their special circumstances and diverse experiences! He came down to Abraham (the pilgrim and sojourner) in a tent. He came to Moses (when Israel was in the furnace of sore trial) in a burning bush—burning, yet not consumed. Joshua was fighting—a man of war; his Lord came to him with a sword drawn in His hand. Zechariah was in a deep midnight of national trouble—the horrors of internal feud and bloodshed impending; his Almighty Defender appeared to him by night, as "a man riding on a red horse," with the ensigns of battle and pledges of deliverance.
In the text the believer needed gentle dealing. The Shulamite, represented in the lowly garden or valley of nuts—the valley of humiliation, is compared to a budding pomegranate (6:11); graces feeble; requiring the gracious influences of sunshine, or the balmy zephyrs of the south wind previously invoked (chapter 4:16). It was necessary to express the tenderness of God's pardoning mercy and purposes. He will not treat as a son—requiring bolder, harsher correction, the severer tokens of parental discipline. But He will manifest and bestow all forbearance and love. He calls that honored believer "Daughter!"
(2.) But again, she is a "PRINCE'S daughter." He reminds her of her pedigree. It is no ordinary birth. She is one of the adopted children of the "King of kings,"—those who, by virtue of their spiritual relationship to the Prince of the kings of the earth, their Elder Brother, are themselves "made Kings and Priests unto God." Their glory is His glory. Their lives are, through this mystical indissoluble union, "hidden with Christ." He feels what is done to them as sensitively as if it were done to Himself. Oh wondrous thought! God not only recognizes them as His children, but includes them in the same paternal affection which He bears to His own dear Son. And Christ, the Brother in their nature, regards them with a like measure and intensity of love—"As the Father has loved Me, so have I loved you."
The concluding words of His memorable Valedictory prayer are among the most marvelous in the Bible—"That the love with which You have loved Me may be in them, and I in them!" Well may we echo the challenge—"Who is a God like unto our God, who pardons iniquity and passes by the transgressions of the remnant of His heritage?" "He raises up the poor out of the dust, and lifts up the beggar from the ash-heap, to set them among princes, and to make them inherit the throne of glory!"
Would that we could realize the full grandeur of these royal privileges which have been ratified to us today at the Sacramental Table. I repeat, let us not regard the language of the verse we are now considering as a mere figure of speech of oriental poetry, but rather as a glorious divine reality—and those into whose hearts God has sent forth His Spirit, enabling them to cry "Abba, Father," know it to be so. Heavenly blessings in Christ in possession—and, in reversion, the prospect of being ushered into the presence-chamber of the King; according to the description in Psalm 45—the King's daughter "all glorious within," her clothing of "wrought gold" (the golden texture of a spotless righteousness not her own), arrayed in "clothing of needlework" (the graces of a divine life and character inwrought and inweaved by the Holy Spirit in the soul); "the virgins her companions following after," rank on rank of attendant angels—ministering ones to the heirs of salvation—ushering her with gladness and rejoicing into the Heavenly Palace; there, as princes, and prince's daughters, to reign forever and ever!
How all earthly greatness dwindles into nothingness before the honors and blessings of God's purchased people! What is the mightiest king or prince of the earth?—a robe of ermine or a crown of gold conceals, underneath, a body corruptible as others. A breath may overturn the most towering fabric of earthly happiness. The vile worm refuted Herod's divinity. In an unexpected moment the revelries of Belshazzar were stilled in death, and his diadem plucked from his brow. One mandate from the throne of Heaven converted Sennacherib's tented field into a sepulcher, and scattered the pride of Assyria like chaff before the whirlwind. What is the history of earthly empires and kingdoms? "Ichabod! Ichabod!—the glory has departed!" an alternation of rise and fall—a proud capital one day, the next century a pile of ruins. The laurels of victory and empire one day fresh; another, withering and fading with the brow that wears them. But, believers, yours are imperishable crowns—palms ever green, robes ever white. The leaves of your coronation diadem are leaves plucked from the Tree of Life; yours an inheritance "incorruptible, undefiled, and that fades not away!" "Therefore since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear."
Let us proceed now—
II. Her Lord's SUBJECT OF COMMENDATION—"How beautiful are your sandaled feet."
I would observe (1.) The sandal, in ancient times, and in oriental countries, wasthe badge of FREEDOM and HONOR. The crouching slave never wore a sandal. The lack of shoes—the unsandaled feet—was the badge and mark of slavery, if not of degradation. When the Lord, therefore, in the text speaks of His betrothed Bride's feet being "beautiful with sandals," what is this but to proclaim that she—type of every believer—is translated from the bondage of corruption into "the glorious liberty of the children of God?" Free from the condemnation of a broken law; free from the accusation of a guilty conscience; free from the terrors alike of temporal and of eternal death. "Thus shall you eat it," was the address to pilgrim Israelites of old—assembled, as you have been today, at their Paschal feast—"with your loins girded, with the shoes on your feet" (Ex. 12:11).
It was the anniversary of their emancipation—the celebration of their national birthday, which brought them forth from their land of bondage and terminated their thraldom. You come forth from a Communion Table, wearing the sandals of freedom. God has anew, in that blessed sacrament, sealed to you your divine liberty. Its significant symbols of love and suffering recall that you "are not redeemed with corruptible things, such as silver and gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot." Computing in some feeble measure the amazing ransom-price paid for your redemption, you can say with the Roman officer, as he addressed Paul in the castle of Jerusalem—"With a great sum obtained I this freedom." The Son has made me free, and I am free indeed!
In that beautiful festal Psalm where the worshiper is heard declaring, "I will take the cup of salvation, and call on the name of the Lord," he is represented as adding—"O Lord, truly I am Your servant; I am Your servant and the son of Your handmaid, You have loosed my bonds" (Ps. 116:16).
I remark (2.) Sandals wereemblems of JOY—while the lack of these was equally recognized and regarded as a symbol of grief and sorrow.
David, you will remember, when compelled to leave his throne and capital, and take flight to a land of exile, went up Mount Olivet barefoot. On the other hand, upon the occurrence of glad seasons—whether great national ovations, or social feasts and entertainments, where mourning was turned into dancing—the guests were supplied with sandals. Such, in the Parable of parables, was the case with the hunger-stricken prodigal, on his return from the far country to his forfeited filial privileges—within paternal halls and walls; the rejoicing father proclaiming it to be an occasion for making merry and being glad.
And is not the Christian called to be joyful? Yes, God's children are indeed, really, and in truth, alone of all, in this sin-stricken world, entitled to the epithet of "happy." Never say that gloom and despondency are the conditions and accompaniments of the believer's creed and the believer's life—that sadness of countenance is the badge and penalty of godliness. Who can forget that the God of nature is the God of Christianity? Never tell me, that He who gave the lily its beauty and the sky its delicate blue, and the sun golden wheels to his chariot and golden arrows of light for his quiver, could ever intend the soul to be draped in sackcloth.
So long as we continue to be strangers to the covenant of promise, living in neglect of the great salvation—then our figurative description is that of men barefoot; our appropriate emblems those of melancholy and sorrow; for happiness, in its highest and noblest phase, must be unknown in the bosom where God is a stranger. But the moment a man is united by faith to the Lord Jesus as his ever-living Redeemer—the moment he obtains the assurance of sin forgiven—the blessed sense of adoption into the Divine family, he is "girded with gladness," the shoes, not only of liberty but of holy joy, are put on his feet. Like the Ethiopian of old, in the desert of Gaza, having found what he had so long sought in vain, he goes on his way rejoicing.
"The daughters of Jerusalem," the band or chorus of singers in this allegory, may appropriately name the Bride of the text "SHULAMITE," that is, "peaceful." She is filled with "the peace of God which passes all understanding." The sacramental rite of today, when partaken of by those who can, with humble confidence, justify their claim to the title, "children of the King,"—may well be called "Eucharist," or "Feast of Joy."
(3.) Once more. The sandals on the feet speak ofactivity and duty, and preparedness for Christ's service. They point to the nature of the journey the believer is pursuing. Though a pleasant road, and a safe road, and a road with a glorious termination, it is at times rough; a path of temptation and trial. Unshod feet would be cut and lacerated with the stones and thorns and briars which beset it.
The figure, moreover, suggests, that there can be no loitering or lingering on the way. Impressive must have been the scene that night, to which we have already referred, at the first Paschal Feast in Egypt. It was not the solemn calm which so distinguishes our Communion celebration—the elements handed slowly and reverently from guest to guest in a hush of hallowed silence. As we see the old Hebrew family, or cluster of families, gathered together, every movement betokens celerity. They stand girded—"harnessed." They eat the appointed Supper, not only with shoes on the feet, but, it was an added injunction—"in haste," as it were, by snatches, like men who have not a moment to put off—delay may be fatal. When we hear the voice of our "Beloved" saying, "How beautiful are your sandaled feet!" we are reminded that these shoes are given not for ornament, but to be worn—they are given that His true Israel may walk, yes, "run in the way of the divine commandments," ready to follow the Great Captain of salvation wherever He sees meet to guide them; seeking, with the true pilgrim ardor, to be ever advancing in the heavenward, homeward way; listening to the old monition, "Speak to the children of Israel that they go forward." The path of the just is compared to the sun in the skies, traveling in the greatness of his strength; glowing with intenser brightness until he reaches his meridian—or, like the eagle in his soaring—his nest on the earthly rock, but his home the skies. "They shall mount up with wings as eagles."
We may all take to ourselves here the apostolic injunction—"See that you walk circumspectly." In the quaint but expressive phrase of an old divine on this passage, "Many are content to walk slipshod." They go with a halting pace; with meager faith, and satisfied with a low standard of grace and holiness. They have shoes on their feet, but they are the sandals of a flimsy profession that cannot stand the rough parts of the road; and when affliction or tribulation arises, immediately they are offended. Beware, and specially those who have recently renewed their vows at the Holy Table—beware of the first symptoms of spiritual declension—that drowsy, sleepy, lukewarm condition so forcibly described in a preceding chapter of this same Song—where the believer, stretched on the downy pillow of self-security, listens—but it is only with languid indifference—to the knockings of the Savior at the door of the heart.
How tenderly, how gently, how urgently He importunes—"Open to me, my sister, my love, my dove, my undefiled—for my head is filled with dew, and my locks with the drops of the night!" (v. 2). What is the cold reply of the slumberer? Mark how she invents excuses. She has cast off the sandals of a close and holy and habitual walk with God, and replies—"I have put off my coat; how shall I put it on? I have washed my feet; how shall I defile them?" Ah, if the feet had been shod as they ought to have been; if she had been on the alert, ready for duty and obedience, her Pilgrim-Lord would not have been repelled from the door, or left unwelcomed amid the falling, drenching dews. If she had been careful then to have been ready for His presence, she would not have been driven, as we find she was, out amid the dark streets and crude watchmen of Jerusalem, seeking Him with plaintive wail, and bleeding feet, and anguished tears.
This subject suggests to us a lesson of a different kind. Another befitting fragment may be gathered from it at the close of our Sacred Feast. The shoes (the beautiful shoes) seem to indicate, not only the believer's personal activities in the matter of his own high calling, they point to him also as a messenger to others. The Church in each of her members must be, or ought to be, shod as "a ministering one." It is noticed by an excellent commentator, that the translation of our text in the oldest Bible is, "How pleasant are your treadings with shoes, O Prince's daughter!" Hers should be treadings in the world's thousand pathways and byways of duty and kindness and mercy. It is a law in all God's moral government that "the elder should serve the younger,"—the higher minister to the lowlier natures. He who is at the summit of all Being ministers to the needs of angel and archangel. Christ, the Incarnate God, came "not to be ministered to, but to minister."
The angels are "ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for those who shall be heirs of salvation." And, as God ministers to angels, and angels to man; so, surely, man, in a higher social station, ought, in accordance with this great law, to minister to those of his fellow-beings occupying a lowlier one. "We who are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak." The family, surrounded and dowered with many domestic blessings, should be the willing almoners of God's bounty to others—aiding and succouring the orphan and fatherless, the poor also, and him that has no helper. Blessed is that church which sends its messengers "shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace," and whose advent is thus hailed by the perishing in the world's darksome valleys—"How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that brings good tidings!"
In Isaiah's temple-vision of the six-winged seraphim, while the 'pose' of a double pair of these wings was indicative of reverence—the contemplative and devotional element in the Christian character and life—with the remaining pair "he did fly," the symbol of joyful activity, ever ready to speed on behests of unselfish love and mercy. Nor is this the duty and the privilege only of the influential few. All in their varied ways—(with many it may be a very humble and lowly way) may become such ministering angels of kindness. You may receive, for that little, but a small recompense of praise from man. But the Great Recompenser, who does not forget even the cup of cold water, may be heard addressing you—"How beautiful are your feet,"—how pleasant are your treadings "with sandals, O Prince's daughter!"
Let all who have put on afresh their festal sandals today, seek in this, as in other ways, to follow Christ—to "walk, even as He walked." May it be said of you, "These are those who follow the Lamb wherever He goes." He may at times take us by a rough road, narrow and difficult; full of crosses and hardships and losses; but He will not conduct us over a path harder than our shoes can bear. He will lead us by the right way to a city of habitation.
When we think of the lessons more especially taught us at His Memorial Ordinance; how His feet were transpierced, that the sandals of salvation might be put upon ours; when we think that there is not the path of sorrow which the treadings of the Man of Sorrow knew not; nor the pang of woe which His bleeding heart felt not; shall we refuse to follow Him in any way He may choose to appoint? The ruggedness of this and every other tortuous and thorny road will be all forgotten, when our feet shall stand within your gates, O Jerusalem!
Dare I close without one other urgent thought, which seems yet to claim a concluding sentence? Should there be any here, to whom the symbols of the Holy Table have been all unmeaning, who are still strangers to Christ and His Salvation—walking unshod—slaves, for they have no real freedom; joyless, for they have no true joy—leading a selfish, aimless, profitless existence; living in unconcern and sin—their own souls in unrest, and others around them uncared for and unblest—Let any such arise, and go to their Father. He welcomes every prodigal's return. There are shoes—jeweled sandals—awaiting in the long-lost home. Oh! how many has that Lord of love and tenderness watched in the hazy distance! How many a drooping penitent, with ragged dress and tear-dimmed eye, has He met at the threshold; and stripping off the tattered clothing, given orders to the attendant servants—"Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and SHOES ON HIS FEET."