Better Than All!
Archibald G. Brown, May 1st, 1870, Stepney Green Tabernacle
"What is your beloved more than another beloved, O fairest among women?" Song of Solomon 5:9
O, how willing is our Jesus to hear the prayers of his people, and respond to their call. His delight is to fulfill their desires, and satisfy their longings. It is no weariness to Him to listen to their sorrows, and give ear to their requests. Indeed, his ear is more ready to drink in our words, than are our lips are to utter them. He places no restrictions on our approaches to His throne, nor does He utter a syllable to dampen our ardor or chill us in our fellowship. On the contrary, He is lavish in His invites, and endearing in His encouragements, and does His very utmost to draw out our hearts' deepest secret.
His language to fearing souls who tremble to draw near, is "let me see your face, let me hear your voice; for sweet is your voice and your face is lovely." Song 2.14.
How swift is He, moreover, not only to hear but to answer — He waits to be gracious. In our Jesus we have no Baal, who being on a journey, is unable to hear the frantic cries of his worshipers, though they cry from early morning until dewy eve. In Him we have no Diana, who according to ancient mythology, was unable to prevent the burning of her temple, owing to the necessity of her being at the birth of one of this world's great ones.
Jesus is always near His own, and ever ready to support them in seasons of distress. There are no times when we may not draw near to Him. Every day, every hour of the day, and every minute of every hour, is "a time when you may be found." Psalm 32.6.
The ancients used to represent their heathen god, Jupiter, as looking at certain seasons through the chinks of Heaven's floor; whoever then happened to address his prayers might hope for an audience — but not otherwise.
But our God — Jehovah Jesus — is ever viewing his people, and straining his ear of love to catch their faintest whispers.
We have a very beautiful illustration of our Savior's readiness to answer the request of his chosen ones, in the commencement of the chapter from which I have selected this evening's text. The church has just given utterance to the fervent desire that her beloved should come and walk in His garden, and eat of His pleasant fruits — or in other words, favor her with His company and bless her with communion — when no sooner have the words escaped her lips, than the voice of the heavenly bridegroom replies, "I have come into my garden, my sister, my spouse." Song 5.1.
Rapid was the response to the invite — but not more rapid than the change that had taken place in the church's experience. In order to understand the full meaning of the words of our text, let us recount the history.
After the church had given her Lord the invitation to communion — a spirit of drowsiness settles down upon her, and, alas, who among us has not often found so sad and sudden a transition of experience to be his own. She asks for her Beloved to come — but when He does, how cold is the reception He meets: "I sleep — but my heart wakes."
She has laid herself down on the couch of carnal sloth, and is unprepared to receive her invited guest. Drowsy though she is, she is not in the sleep of spiritual death, for she is sufficiently awake to know the voice that calls her. It is, she says, "the voice of my beloved," but she is too slothful to arise and let the heavenly bridegroom in. Full of infinite tenderness and boundless compassion, the slighted guest does not turn away in indignant wrath, as he might so justly and righteously have done; but behold, He knocks at the closed door, and in a voice of mingled love and grief, he urges his claim for admittance in the plaintive language of the second verse, "Open to me, my sister, my love, for my head is filled with dew and my locks with the drops of night."
O, lovely picture! Do you see it, beloved? There on the couch is the slumbering church — wretched in her drowsiness. There is the closed door. Outside, knocking and quietly waiting stands One with a countenance, beautiful beyond all description, in love and grief. A heavy mist wreaths everything around with a silvery mantle, and causes those flowing locks, which are black and bushy as a raven, to drip with the night dew. All is cold, damp, and cheerless, and there are but few who have not sought the shelter of their homes, and those few are hastening there.
He knocks again! Ah! Listen to the answer that follows that quiet knock. "I have taken off my coat; how can I put it on again? I have washed my feet; how can I dirty them?"
Surely she must be acting on the old adage, "that a bad excuse is better than none at all." Poorer excuses for keeping her Lord in the night damps can hardly be imagined. Suppose you have put off your coat, is it an impossibility to put it on again O, sleepy soul? Though you have washed your feet, will not an embrace from the Beloved more than make amends for their defilement?
As with her, so it is with us. When the soul is in a lethargic state, a straw, a pebble, a cobweb, a mere nothing will seem an inseparable barrier to communion with Jesus. When at other times, an Alpine mountain will appear but a hillock over which the happy spirit skips.
With a love unabated by these rebuffs, the bridegroom puts his hand in by the hole of the door, and at the same moment lifts the latch of her heart. It is enough. The drowsiness departs. Old desires awaken. A dying love becomes inflamed. She springs from her bed to the door. The coat is forgotten and the washed feet unthought of. With nervous haste, she opens wide the door, when, O, horror — nothing but the gloom of night is seen. Her beloved has withdrawn Himself.
Our Savior chastens us for our coldness to Him when He invites us, by hiding Himself, when with repentant hearts we seek Him. Such base ingratitude will ever bring its own punishment. Seeing how little we prize His company, He withdraws Himself for a season to endear to us His companionship. We never know how much we need a Savior's presence — until we lack it. This absence does indeed make the heart grow fond. Overwhelmed with dismay, her soul fainted and through her sorrow she swooned. With what bitter self-reproaching she now loads herself. With what wringing anguish she thinks of Him standing in the falling dew, while she was framing her miserable excuses. And now He has gone, and she cannot even tell Him how vehemently she hates her sloth. She feels she has grieved Him. Him who has ever been so kind. Him for whose company she asked.
What can she do? What will she do? Retire to rest again? No, that would now be an impossibility. Find Him she must. Cast herself at His feet she must, if it is only to sob out her broken hearted confessions of sin.
I think I see her, as with wild distracting grief she hurries from her house into the deserted streets. In an agony, she cries out and calls, "My Beloved, my Beloved!" But receiving no answer except the empty echo, she runs from street to street, up this one and down that one, in the hope that she may meet her Lord.
She did not meet Him — but I read that she met the watchmen who went about the city, who struck her and wounded her. Who these watchmen represent is not agreed upon. Some think they are the ministers of the Gospel — Zion's watchmen; and others that they represent false teachers in the church. I am inclined to go with the first interpretation, and then I think the teaching is very clear. Mourning an absent Lord, the soul goes to the sanctuary in the hope that there it may find Him; but instead of doing so, the preacher is led to utter such truths, that the sorrow of soul is only increased. He reminds the soul of its previous slothfulness. He shows it the sin in darker colors than ever. He dwells upon the unkindness of the past. Word after word strikes home, and almost every sentence wounds. This is only necessary discipline, and the preacher may have been as much under the guidance of the Master as when his whole sermon was a "Comfort, Comfort."
But now what is the poor, desponding, weeping soul to do? She has traversed every street, and her voice is hoarse with calling, while every limb aches with the blows that the watchmen gave her. A happy thought occurs to her. If she cannot find the Lord — perhaps others may. If He hides his face from her — He may reveal it to others who are "daughters of Jerusalem;" then she will ask them to tell her Lord how she longs for His presence, and how she repents her previous sloth. "I charge you, O, daughters of Jerusalem, if you find my beloved, tell him that I am sick from love." Song 5.8.
She acted in the same way that Joseph did when in prison, saying to the chief butler, who was shortly to be restored to his former high position, "think of me when it is well with you." Gen 40.14.
Ah, dear friends, it is a blessed privilege to be allowed to remember others in our prayers; and when we are full of joy, resting in the love of our Jesus, it is incumbent on us to speak to Him on behalf of those who are going here and there in search of Him. How little we can tell the amount of obligation we are under to others — perhaps humble Christians — for their prayers.
I do not have an atom of faith in the so-called intercession of saints in Heaven; but I have faith in the prayers of God's children on earth. My heart is often made glad in seasons of despondency and gloom, by the thought that there are many of you, who I know bear me up constantly in your prayers. God alone knows how large a proportion of the great blessing we have now received for so long a time, is in answer to the fervent cries of some of the humblest members of this church.
Beloved, I still crave the blessing of your prayers. When you are near to your Savior, remember me. When you have found Him after a season of loneliness, tell Him that I and hundreds more of his saints are longing and panting for more of his presence; yes, that we are love-sick through our very love of Him.
Desirous of hearing from the spouse's own lips what she thought and felt towards her Beloved, they ask her the question of our text, "What is your beloved more than another beloved, O fairest among women? What is your beloved more than another beloved, that you so charge us?" Or in other words, "What is there so preeminently lovely in the one you seek, that you give us so solemn a charge?" The question stirs her heart to its deepest depth, and in the rhetoric of love she pours forth the glowing description of her Savior, which forms the closing portion of this chapter.
My subject this evening, you will perceive, is the incomparable excellence of Christ over every other beloved. May our Lord make it to each and all of us a sweet preparation for sitting around His table.
We will in the first place, for a few moments, observe that all have some beloved,
and then secondly, that Christ surpasses all beloveds.
I. First then and very briefly — all people have some beloved.
By a beloved, I mean any person or anything that more than any other occupies the thoughts — entwines about itself the affections, and constitutes the mainspring of the person's actions. That is a beloved on which the thoughts dwell with pleasure — and without any effort — in which our love centers with a force that affects and regulates the whole life, and which, in a word, is our life's end and our life's joy. For a man to be utterly devoid of such an experience, is an impossibility. His taste may be a depraved, vitiated, senseless one; but there it is, a hideous idol, at whose shrine he offers himself.
We have no time or inclination this evening to dwell on the multitude of beloveds found in the hearts of men. We can only just mention them and pass on; and we only mention them in order to make them a dark background on which to display the beauty and glory of Him who is, we trust, to many hundreds present, their souls' best love.
The beloved of many is MONEY. Their thoughts can only run on golden rails. No matter what subject of meditation may be started, it is sure at last to end in money. They look through its medium — they reckon by its value — they live under its influence. Whatever affection they ever possessed, has been stolen by this cursed idol! It has eaten as a canker into all that was ever warm or generous in their hearts, and now it lives upon itself, creating an ever-increasing gnawing and craving. Money is at the bottom of almost all their actions, and for them to live is cash. Such alas! is the chosen beloved of many.
But there are others of lighter, gayer dispositions who laugh to scorn the miser's treasure, and cast their offerings at the feet of PLEASURE. For it they live — in it they revel. If life is short — it will at least be merry. All stern realities are put aside with a laugh, and such gloomy subjects as sickness or death are prohibited matters of conversation. The world and the things of the world, constitute their beloved, and they pursue it with a blind devotion.
Fame — learning — position in society — self — family — friends — all these and countless others are each the beloved of thousands. Do not think we have any desire to condemn all the "things beloved" we have mentioned; far from it.
For while some are base, groveling and downright sinful — there are others that adorn as jewels the character of the Christian, and without which his very Christianity might well be called in question.
No, my desire is to show and feel, and make you feel that Jesus is infinitely more than any other, and that no other beloved can possibly be compared to Him. His excellence is such, that the anguish of losing His presence, and the anxiety to find it again — will make the believing soul a marked person, and will often lead to the question, "What is your beloved more than another beloved?" Let us then get to the sweet work of answering the question, and singing our beloved's praise.
II. Christ surpasses all other beloveds.
No question is more easily answered by the Christian, than the one in the text. The most ignorant and simple-minded children of God can grow eloquent on this theme. Whatever points of theology they may know little about, they know there is no one like Christ. Their beloved is beyond all others, and they are ready at any moment to prove it. Get them on this subject, and their tongue becomes like "the pen of a ready writer," though on any other subject, they are little better than tongue-tied. Let me then try and show you HOW Christ surpasses all beloveds.
He does so first, in BEAUTY. How magnificent is the description that flows from the lips of the spouse, when she is challenged to show the superiority of her beloved. Her love lacks no rhetoric — true love very seldom does. Her whole soul is now on fire, and the flame burns all the more intensely for the remembrance of her past coldness. But now she has an opportunity of saying what she really thinks about her Lord, and without a moment's hesitation she pours forth a glowing eulogy on his beauty. We can only pick out two or three of her rapturous descriptions this evening, and ask you to peruse them all at your leisure.
"My beloved" she exclaims, "is white and ruddy, the chief among ten thousand!" Song 5.10. Here you have the perfection of loveliness — not merely ruddy, nor only white, though there may be beauty in both — but white and ruddy — the rose and the lily united, the fairest contrasts meeting in the same person. O, is it not so with our Beloved? Is there any beauty to be compared to His? Cannot even we, like the spouse in the Canticles, exhaust the fairest metaphors to tell his attractiveness? Her beloved is our beloved, and the same language describes both. Was hers white and ruddy — so is ours. Was hers the chief among ten thousand — so is ours.
White and ruddy! Ah, here believer, see your Lord, for who is so white and ruddy as He? Who is so lovely in these blended colors as He? View Him in Gethsemane's shade, trodden in the winepress of Jehovah's wrath. Mark his wan and saddened countenance, pale as driven snow. Your beloved is white.
But see at every pore there gathers a ruby drop — a drop of blood; and now he is robed in a garment of His gore Your beloved is ruddy. Glance at Him again as He stands in Pilate's hall, bound with cords to yonder column. See how white and ruddy is your beloved now, as at every furious blow the crimson tide afresh pours down his back. Linger by His feet at Calvary — look into that face the eyes of which are well-near blinded by the bloody shower falling from His thorn-crowned brow — see the mingled stream of blood and water gushing from His riven side. Your beloved is white and ruddy now. True — but it only adds another charm to His loveliness. Like the spouse we glory in it, "Beauteous Savior, your blood drops are your charm."
And now the repentant sleeper dwells with delight upon every detail of her beloved's loveliness. She thinks of those eyes into which she has so often gazed, and which have so often returned a look of love unutterable; and at the remembrance she exclaims, "His eyes are like the eyes of doves by the rivers of waters, washed with milk, and fitly set." Song 5.12.
Can we not also speak of the eyes of our beloved. Was not that look of His that broke our hearts? And when with bleeding soul we ventured near Him and feebly cried for mercy, was it not that look of divine compassion and welcome pardon that sent sweet peace flowing into our soul like a river? And when like Peter we have denied Him before a scoffing world, have we not also like Peter been restored by just one look at those eyes, soft and loving as a dove's. Ah, yes, there are no eyes like our Beloved's.
And now having described his cheeks and locks, she pauses to think what else she can say in praise of His beauty. There is but a moment's pause, and then love's rhetoric takes its highest flight and places the crown on all previous praises in the exclamation — "Yes, He is altogether lovely!" Song 5.16
Our beloved is more than others in that He reciprocates my love. That must be an inferior beloved, that allows all the love to be on one side; and yet how often is it so with the beloveds chosen by many.
Can gold return the love that is lavished upon it? Can it make any return for the affection shown? No, not a whit. It receives all — but gives none. View the man who for years has chosen wealth as the recipient of his heart's love. View him in the hour of sorrow and bereavement when all other comforts fail. Does he find his wealth a solace? Does it bind up the heart that is broken? Does it become the good Samaritan pouring in oil and wine? Never! If you doubt it, ask the men who have tried.
When friends prove false, and bosom friends grow cold, does gold whisper into the ear of the embittered soul, "be comforted, I love you, and will never, never forsake you." No, it has no power to love. When the devotee of gold has to die, can his beloved stand by him then? Can it speak to the ears that are deaf to every other voice? Can the dying wretch say concerning it, "Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for you are with me, your rod and your staff they comfort me?" Psalm 23.4. He cannot. He has wasted his heart and life's best love on that which fails him at his greatest need. His beloved is a dumb idol, when he most needs a voice. It is unconcerned and indifferent in the moment of his greatest agony.
O cold-hearted wealth, you who have never yet returned love for love, I marvel at the number of your lovers. My beloved is more than you. For every drop of love I have towards Him — there is in His heart an ocean full for me.
He is more than any other beloved also, because He is never a cause of sorrow. Can you point me to any other love that never gives a pang or brings a tear?
God knows that as parents, our CHILDREN are our beloved. But are not children sometimes the sharpest dagger that ever sheaths itself within the breast? In this concourse of tonight, are there none who find their children to be their greatest trial? The greater the love the greater the grief, is too often found true in the family.
Have any of us ever had a FRIEND who has never given us one moment's anxiety or sorrow? I think not. Earthly honey is always mixed with gall — and this world's fairest rose is ever accompanied with thorns.
But Jesus is a beloved who is all joy. His friendship is sweeter than honey, and the rose of Sharon has no thorns. I challenge my soul and yours, O child of God, to remember a solitary moment in our Christian life, when the heart was made sad by lack of faithfulness on His part, or coldness in His love. No, no, our sorrows are our own — and all our joys are His. It is confiding too little in Him, not too much — which gives us days of darkness. We have never had, and we will never have anything to fear, on His part. He is always true, ever loving — never fickle and never false. O, what beloved then can be compared to Him?
Other beloveds may be loved too much — but Jesus never. Love to Him can never become a snare — love to Him need not and should never have any restraint. Love Him to a passion — and you will not love Him half enough. Let your love be what the world will call fanatical, and lead you to do things that it will account as madness — and it will then be but a poor dying love, unworthy of its object. O open the flood-gates of your souls, and let an unpent torrent of affection flow out that will carry all before it. Cut every cord that would bind your love, cast aside every impediment in its course. Do not rest until your love to Jesus has risen like a heavenly deluge flowing over every mountain top of earth — and then pray to love him more. He is a beloved beyond all others, and love to Him can never be extreme!
Our beloved is more than others in that death does not rob us of Him. Death carries a sharp knife, that severs the closest bonds of earth. The dying miser may breathe his last with the gold still in his death-grasp — but he must leave it — yes, every penny! The mother may hug her darling to her breast with all the strength of parental love — but death releases her hold, and takes her from her treasure. "For the present only" is written upon the brow of all earthly loves.
It is far different with our Beloved. The cold black wave that washes us away from everything on earth, only washes us high upon the heavenly shore and leaves us landed in His arms. In Him we have a treasure we take with us through the flood — or rather, in Him we have a treasure that takes us through the stream.
O, child of God, rejoice! For however poor you may appear, you have that which will make you rich to all the intents of bliss — when death has stripped every worldling bare, and laid in the dust every beloved he once possessed. Blessed Jesus, who can help but extol You and exclaim, "There is no beloved to be compared to You!"
No other beloved DIED for me — but Jesus did. Great and wonderful are the sacrifices that have been made through love. Selfish though human nature is, there have yet been deeds of affection worthy of an angel. But how few friends have died for friends, or have even reached that point of love that would make them willing to. But I think I hear some of you say, "Where is the superiority of your beloved over others? Have you not just granted that some friends have died for friends? Yes, friends for friends. But did you ever hear of one willingly dying for His enemies?
Remember our Beloved loved us to the death, not because we loved Him — but because He would love us, though we were ungodly enemies against Him. So you will perceive that we have here a love beyond that ever shown by friend to friend, being displayed to enemies.
Yes, blessed Jesus, you have written your love to us in letters drawn with blood. You stand before us this evening with scars still visible, and pointing to them, you say, "Did any other beloved suffer such for you?" No, Lord! No, Lord! You are peerless in your love. Like yourself, it is infinite and defies all measurement in its height and depth, in its length and breadth. Concerning You alone, can I say, "He loved me, and gave Himself for me."
And now, lastly, our Beloved is more than any other beloved in our estimation. Whatever others may think of Him, to me He is the chief among ten thousand — the altogether lovely one! Notice how the spouse concludes her address to the daughters of Jerusalem, in the last verse of the chapter, "this is my beloved, and this is my friend." Song 5.16. It is only those who do not have Christ, who see no beauty in him. It is only the mere professor who places the Lord on an equality with other beloveds. The true saint — the one who can say "this is my beloved!" will allow no comparison. A holy jealousy fills his heart, and he counts the dearest thing that would usurp his Lord's position in his heart, as an accursed idol. The sad reason why so many of you present are unable to understand the rapturous love of the saint to his Savior, is because you are unable to say "He is my Beloved." Once you learn to say that with truth, you will no longer marvel — but join us in our song of praise.
I will now conclude with just these few PRACTICAL WORDS. If Jesus is all that he is described in this sweet chapter — and we know that He is — let us give Him a love that in some small measure is worthy of his excellence. Let us hang down our heads with shame, as we remember how cold and formal we have been with such a beloved. And while we do so, let there be a fresh dedication on the part of us all, to Him who is so peerless in His love and beauty.
Is there a child of God here, who through past slothfulness is now mourning an absent Christ? Oh go dear friend into the streets of Jerusalem and cry after Him. Yes, that is what I know you are doing now. Then cheer up. He is not far from you. He only hides Himself behind your wall. He sees your tears — He hears your sobs — He knows you are love-sick — and soon will He come and take you into his banqueting house under his flowing banner of love.
Poor lost sinner, I want you to fall in love with Jesus, I desire to make a marriage between your soul and Him — to woo you into his arms. What are your present beloveds compared to Him? What satisfaction have you found in them? How long can you keep them? O turn your back upon them — and look into the face of Jesus and say, "O Savior, from this evening I receive You as my beauteous Savior. I take You as you so freely offer yourself. You are and ever shall be, my Beloved."