The Church lies low in deep distress. It is a season of darkness and despondency. She seeks her Beloved, but the search is fruitless.
The time of this scene is night. Life is not uninterrupted sunshine. The bright rays sink into shade. Gloom spreads its mantle, and night recurs. So, also, Jesus is not always present. For a season His smile may cease to cheer. The light of His countenance may be withdrawn.
Various causes tend to produce this lack of comfort. Faith remits active exercise. Unbelief comes in with deadening power. This hiding of Christ's face is midnight to the soul.
But this night has not forever blotted out the day. That cannot be. In the darkest time the sun is not more distant than when it brightly shines. The love of Christ is never quenched. It is enduring as His own being. Communion may be interrupted, but vital union is eternal.
Of this we have proof in the Church's present trial. If Christ's love had ceased, all grace would utterly have fled. The soul would have been bound in fetters of spiritual death. But such is not the case. In its desertion it still shows signs of life. In this her night, the Church puts forth some effort. She seeks Him whom her soul loves.
The appellation of her Lord is evidence that grace still lived within. She professes that her search is in pursuit of Him to whom her soul was warmly joined. Where this love is once implanted by the Spirit's gracious hand, it may languish, and flicker like a feeble flame. But the power which first caused its birth will still cherish. The originating motives are too strong to allow it to vanish with apparent absence. Its liveliness may wither, but its life endures. In the darkest night of desertion the believer will seek Him whom his soul still loves.
It is stated that the Church sought Him on her bed. She is lying lazily in indolence. She seems unwilling to be roused. Energies and activities are drooping. She yields to languid torpor. She puts not forth any power. She girds not up the loins of her mind. Drowsily inactive, she would like to continue in repose.
It is no marvel that such search is ineffectual. Disappointment might be anticipated. "I sought Him, but I found Him not."
Solemn is this warning. If we would soon regain the presence of the Lord, we must resolutely break from the enfettering enticements of ease and indolence. We must not be slothful, but followers. "We ask and have not, because we ask amiss." We seek and find not, because our seeking is half-hearted.
But let us be assured, that the Lord though absent is not really departed. It is a tender word and should be cherished in the heart, "Having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them unto the end." Yet there are times when He "is a God who hides Himself." But these withdrawals really spring from the deep fountains of His love. They tend to invigorate faith. They cherish patience. They cause hope to look out with more ardent longing, and when His presence is restored, the soul is filled with redoubled raptures of delight.
3:2. "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 Church continues in distress. She is disconsolate. Her Lord is absent and her joy is gone. In vain she seeks Him on a bed of indolence. She resolves to exert her energies, and to make some efforts; "I will rise now." It is wise to break from indolence; but efforts will not prosper except they are put forth in right direction and in resolute determination. Many are the good resolves, which have borne no lasting fruit. Abortive desires end in disappointed blank. In early morning streaks of light promise a brilliant day; but clouds may arise, and gloom overcast the skies. Early blossoms may show lovely flowers; but frost may touch them with a withering hand, and they may fall blighted to the ground. The bud expands not always into a full-blown flower. The steps which commence in right path may often pause, or be diverted into ways of woe. If we could listen to the wails of many a lost spirit in the realms of everlasting night, we would hear much of blighted vows. The resolve was formed to leave the paths of peril, and to walk in the narrow way. But Satan came; the world enticed; the flesh seduced; the hopes were frustrated; and the end was misery.
Lot's wife resolved that she would flee to Zoar. She paused--she cast a backward look, and moved no more. Let us take heed, that no good desire in our hearts may find an early wreck. The Church resolves "I will rise now." We find her not slow in compliance. Though it be night, and the season might tempt her to remain at rest, yet she goes forth--she traverses the city, in the streets and in the broad ways she seeks Him whom her soul loved. Love is a mighty passion. It urges to strong efforts. But efforts may err in the line taken by them. He has not promised His presence in public and crowded places. Such search can plead no word to ensure success. The warm desire may not fly on the wings of victory. It is no surprise then, that the Church repeats the wail of disappointment, "I sought Him, but I found Him not."
Let us be wise. Let faith enquire, "Tell me where You feed." We are not left without distinct direction. We are told, that Christ is a treasure hidden in the field of God's WORD. "Search the Scriptures; for in them you think you have eternal life--and these are they which testify of Me." As the sun abounds in light; as the ocean is full of drops; as the summer grove resounds with melody; as brightest gems reflect sparkling rays, so is the Bible full of Christ. It testifies in terms most precious and most clear of the glories of His person and of His completed work. It records His grace--His tenderness--His love. It abounds in inviting calls. It overflows with precious promises. At every page it seems to say, 'Behold Me! Behold Me!' No veil conceals His beauty. He shines throughout in heavenly luster. They who dig in this quarry will never dig in vain.
He has promised, also, to meet us if we seek Him in His holy ORDINANCES. Where two or three assemble in His name, in the midst He will appear; and He will show them His hands and His side. In the communion of His saints He will manifest Himself. He joined the two disciples as they talked of Him in their sorrowful steps towards Emmaus. They returned to testify what things were done in the way; and how He was known by them in breaking of bread.
Let us thus seek Him. We may plead the promises that His presence shall be given. Precious discoveries will gladden the heart. He never says to Israel's house, "Seek My face in vain."
3:3, 4. "The watchmen that go about the city found me--to whom I said, Did you see Him whom my soul loves? It was but a little that I passed from them, when 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."
The disconsolate Church appears still wandering in the streets. Her Lord is not found and she cannot rest. The guardians of the city in their night circuit meet her. She eagerly addresses them. Her full heart gives not the name of her beloved Lord; but she rapidly enquires whether they had seen Him. Impatient of reply she hurries forward, and to her excessive joy she now discovers Him.
Great is the transport of her delight. She clings to Him. She refuses to release Him from her embrace. She leads Him to some tranquil retreat, where without interruption she may hold delighted converse with Him. May the Spirit who delineates this touching scene write on our hearts its holy lessons!
The believer who mourns the absence of the Lord ceases not from diligent pursuit. 'Where may I find Him?' is the thought, which rolls like a full tide throughout his heart. He eagerly will seek direction from those who cross his path. Without giving name to his Beloved, he concludes that all who see Him must know the object of his fervent affection. He only describes Him as occupying the center of his heart. Thus Mary, in the garden, divulging no name, without preface, enquires, "If you have taken Him hence, tell me where you have laid Him, and I will take Him away."
It is well in times of desertion to seek directions from pious friends and godly ministers. Their holy guidance may give help--their wise counsel may relieve. Sorrows locked up may overburden. If they have vent, ease will come. But the believer rests not in ministers or friends. "None but Jesus--none but Jesus" can supply the aching void. The believer may profit much from godly counsels; but they are no substitute for Him whom the soul thus loves.
The heart of Jesus forbids protracted absence. When grace has had sufficient trial--when the set time has come, discoveries of Himself are quickly made. Who can describe the ecstacy of joy, which then overflows! The believer gazes with renewed delight, and enfolds his Beloved in his warm embrace. He clings to Him. He uses all holy boldness, and cannot relax his tokens of delight.
In the wrestling Jacob we have portrait of this overflowing feeling. The Lord desires release. The holy Patriarch exclaims, "I will not consent. I will not let You go."
Can it be that the believer, who is but feeble flesh and blood, can overmaster Him, who is omnipotent! Doubtless, in himself he is more feeble than a broken reed. But faith, the gift of God, is strengthened until omnipotence succumbs. He who kindled the flame keeps it burning with the oil of grace.
The believer longs for calm and tranquil communion, and thus retires from the giddy haunts of men to some sequestered scene of repose, where, without interruption, he may tell the Lord all the feelings of his enraptured heart, and enjoy the charms of reciprocal tenderness.
3:5. "I charge you, O daughters of Jerusalem, by the gazelles, and by the deer of the field, that you stir not up, nor wake my Love, until He please."
The Church in this sweet fellowship dreads all interruption which may cause the Lord to disappear. How blessed will that day be, when sin shall no more enter, and Jesus no more retire! Swiftly may the hours fly, until the morning dawns, which shall usher in such blessedness!
3:6. "Who is this that comes out of the wilderness like a pillar of smoke, perfumed with myrrh and frankincense, with all the spices of the merchant?"
The teaching of the Spirit is boundless in variety. Nature in its endless beauties--art in its elaborate accomplishments--marvels of science--events of long-flowing history--annals of the past, are employed in the sacred page to give pictures of Jesus. A similitude of novel features is here introduced. The Church from her watch-tower looks abroad. She casts her gaze along the widespread wilderness. She beholds the advance of pillars of smoke redolent with every precious perfume. May He, who in unfailing love supplies this image, bless it to the instruction and comfort of our hearts!
The Church in wonder exclaims, "Who is this?" This question is not infrequent in the Word. We hear, "Who is this that comes from Edom--with dyed garments from Bozrah? I that speak in righteousness, mighty to save." Crowds at Jerusalem are moved by the approach of One to whom unwonted homage is given. The question breaks forth, "Who is this?" The reply is ready, "This is Jesus, the Prophet of Nazareth of Galilee."
It is wise in every object on which the eye is fixed, or to which the mind is turned, to seek for some manifestations of the blessed Jesus. He who thus tries to add to his stores of saving knowledge, will ofttimes be delighted with new views of Him whose excellence is inexhaustible. We may find much; but more remains unfound. The question, "Who is this?" opens the door for wondrous replies.
The Church here sees an object new to her admiration. But can this be Christ coming up out of a wilderness? Is He not God's co-eternal and co-equal Son? Are not the heaven of heavens His own home? Is He not God over all, blessed for evermore? Can such condition appertain to Him? Marvel of marvels--love surpassing all our powers of thought! He empties Himself of His glory. He descends to this degraded earth. He enters on a wilderness state. He assumes the rags of poor humanity, that in man's nature He may endure our curse--sustain our penalties--pay all our debt--shed blood to wash out our every sin--and to work out a righteousness with which to cover the iniquities and deformities of His people. Though He was so great, He becomes utter lowness--though He was so mighty, He puts on extreme feebleness--though He was so rich, yet He is clothed in abject poverty--though He was heaven's Lord, He appears as earth's lowly child, and treads this wilderness, having no place in which to lay His head. We see, then, the aptness of the similitude, which shows Him in a wilderness state.
But an especial form is here exhibited. He advances as a pillar of smoke. Our thoughts at once are turned to the Tabernacle in the wilderness. By day a pillar of smoke rested on it. Clouds of smoke ascended from the Altar of burnt-offering--smoke, also, rose from the Golden Altar of Incense. Thus we see Christ corresponding to the grand teaching of the Tabernacle.
These pillars of smoke are fragrant, also, with enchanting perfume. Thus to gaze on Christ refreshes--revives--cheers--exhilarates--gladdens. Myrrh and frankincense, and the costly spices of merchants, are employed to show the sweet delights which faith inhales from Him.
3:7, 8. "Behold his couch, which is Solomon's; sixty valiant men are about it, of the valiant of Israel. They all hold swords, being expert in war--every man has his sword upon his thigh because of fear in the night."
Our thoughts are here conveyed to the chamber of an Eastern Monarch. Solomon's couch is placed before our view. It is strictly guarded. Valiant men in numbers stand around. They are selected from the chief warriors. They bear arms, which they are expert to use. They are watchful, lest in the darkness of the night some sudden surprise should imperil.
Here we are led to see how securely protection surrounds the Church. The bed of Solomon is named. This monarch is a conspicuous type of Christ. It is needless to exhibit the many features which depict the similarity. His couch represents the place of sweet repose. Thus we see the Church as the resting-place of Jesus. It is written, "He shall rest in His love." We hear the call, "Abide in Me, and I in you."
The couch surrounded by such valiant warriors, shows the Church guarded by secure defense. In this wilderness of woe God's people are exposed to countless perils. They are as the little lamb surrounded by a troop of wolves--as the dove pursued by devouring hawks--as a tender plant exposed to wintry blasts--as a vessel tossed by the billows, and threatened by treacherous rocks. But the Church lives, even amid her perils. No foes prevail--no dangers bring her to destruction. How can this be? It results not from any innate strength. No power--no vigilance resulting from herself could rescue her from sure ruin. She survives and safely reaches her eternal home, because her Lord extends His shield around her. The garrison of omnipotence is her defense.
How precious are the many assurances of unfailing support, which cheer our spirits! Of the vineyard of the Lord it is delightfully recorded, "I the Lord do keep it. I will water it every moment. Lest any hurt it, I will keep it night and day." We hear the sustaining voice "The Lord is your keeper. He will preserve you from all evil. He will preserve your soul. He will preserve your going out, and your coming in from this time forth and even for evermore." We rejoice, also, in the knowledge, that He is as a wall of fire round about His people, and the glory in their midst. In tender terms we hear that "he that touches you touches the apple of His eye."
It is an eternal truth, that His people are kept by the power of God through faith unto eternal life. Their life is hidden with Christ in God. His sheep shall never perish, and none shall pluck them out of His hand. The Father, who gave them Him, is greater than all, and none is able to pluck them out of His Father's hand.
Solomon's couch is defended by Israel's valiant men, all armed and on the watch. An invincible garrison defends the saints.
Jesus gives His angels charge over them. "The angel of the Lord encamps round about those who fear Him and delivers them." Invisible are our mightiest foes. Invisible are our mightiest friends. Elisha prays that the eyes of his servant might be opened, and behold, the surrounding hills were filled with chariots of fire and horses of fire. If similarly our sight could be quickened, we should behold a multitude of the angelic host driving back the legion of the prince of darkness, and keeping us in sweet security.
The Lord, also, by His mighty Spirit, girds up the loins of our minds, and gives us strength to resist the assaulting Devil until he flees. He puts, also, in our hand the sword of the Spirit before which Satan quails. The armies of heaven, like Israel's valiant men, protect us from all sudden assaults. We are kept unto eternal life, by Him who never slumbers nor sleeps.
3:9, 10. "King Solomon made himself a chariot of the wood of Lebanon. He made the pillars thereof of silver, the bottom thereof of gold, the covering of it of purple, the midst thereof being paved with love, for the daughters of Jerusalem."
A splendid object dazzles our admiring eyes. The Eastern Monarch plans and constructs a chariot for his bridal procession. It reflects the treasures of his vast empire. Skill and the resources of wealth are employed for its embellishment. Lebanon contributes its choicest cedar--the mines supply their dazzling wealth. The pillars shine with silver. The bottom is resplendent with gold. The curtains are rich in materials of splendid hue. For the flooring which sustain the feet no suitable substance can be named. Therefore it is sublimely said, Love is its pavement.
In this instructive picture, we may vividly discern the plan and arrangement of the Gospel-scheme, and the provisions of the covenant of grace. To form this structure, heaven bestows its choicest possessions. But the pavement for the feet claims first attention. It is Jehovah's love. The thought baffles all power to express--but faith delights to contemplate the reality.
The FATHER loves and designs a scheme to rescue His beloved ones from their misery, and to bring them in triumph, thoroughly fitted for His heavenly home. JESUS loves, and accepts them, as His bride--His jewels--His choice treasure--the sheep of His pasture--the delight of His heart. He comes to save, flying on the wings of love. He strides in love over every opposing barrier. In love He vanquishes their every foe--bursts the prison, which immured them--pays their every debt--works out for them vestments fit for His bride. In love He woos them--takes possession of their hearts, and rests not until He presents them pure and blameless in the presence of His Father.
The HOLY SPIRIT loves. In the plentitude of His grace He condescends to seek them in their low estate. By His sanctifying power He cleanses them from inward filth. He opens their eyes, that they may see Christ's finished work. He unlocks their ears, that they may listen to His inviting calls. He wins their hearts, that Jesus may be welcomed to occupy the throne. Such is the love, which constitutes the basis of this bridal chariot.
Let us gaze on it until our every faculty be melted into responding love, and until we can in truth exclaim, "Lord, You know all things; You know that we love You."
Every portion of the Gospel-scheme shows all heaven employed in using its riches to carry out the plan. It is the exhibition of unbounded wisdom. All the intelligence of angels and of men--all the resources of intellect and of mind could never have contrived a scheme, in which God and His every attribute should be infinitely glorified, and man eternally redeemed. God's highest WISDOM arranges this glorious plan.
What His wisdom designs His POWER executes. The pillars of the chariot are of the choicest metal--beautiful and durable. So God's power in its perfection consolidates the scheme. In vain is the might and malice of hell. In vain is the resistance of infatuated man. Every loved one by Him, is rescued from opposing foes--not one is lost. Divine power makes them more than conquerors. The chariot is for the 'daughters of Jerusalem'.
His PROVIDENCES, also, are employed to secure their heavenward course. Often is their path perplexed and perils seem to threaten ruin. But all harmonize at last, to give them safety and deliverance. Thus heaven constructs this glorious chariot. Happy they who through the riches of God's grace have been raised to a seat in this chariot! How can they utter praise sufficient! Once they were groveling in the mire of earth. Now they move onward with the heavenly Bridegroom to heaven.
3:11. "Come out, you daughters of Zion, and look at King Solomon wearing the crown, the crown with which his mother crowned him on the day of his wedding, the day his heart rejoiced."
King Solomon strides forth before us, arrayed in wedding vesture. His mother places the marriage-crown upon his head. It is the day of his wedding--joy and gladness glitter on his brow. Festivity pervades the scene. To the contemplation of this happiness may we in humble piety draw near.
A far greater than the Eastern Monarch claims our first view. We think of Jesus, the Bridegroom of His Church. Of Him it is grandly said, "On His head were many CROWNS." Let us just glance at some of them, before we concentrate our view on the crown of crowns--the bridal diadem.
The crown of essential Deity is His. He and the Father sit on one throne of Godhead. He is God over all, blessed for evermore.
The crown of the mediatorial kingdom is His by Jehovah's gift. "Yet have I set My King upon My holy hill of Zion." In the book of Revelation He rides forth receiving all homage as the King of kings, and Lord of lords. This crown He shall wear until He gives up the kingdom to the Father, when God shall be all in all.
Warriors are crowned when they return in triumph from conquered lands. Jesus ascends with clothing dyed in blood from slaughtered foes, and receives His merited reward.
But the crown, which we are here invited to contemplate, is that of MARITAL UNION. The Bridegroom's garb is the apparel which He condescends to bear. The name of Bride is tenderly given to the Church. We read, "He who has the Bride is the Bridegroom!" And again, "The Spirit and the Bride say come." Sweet is the assurance, "As the Bridegroom rejoices over the Bride, so shall your God rejoice over you." Precious is the promise, "I will betroth you unto Me forever." And again, "In that day," declares the Lord, "you will call me 'my husband'; you will no longer call me 'my master.'"
Here we enter on a wide expanse of Gospel-joy. We read with raptures of delight, that He takes poor sinners to be the objects of His tenderest love. Yes verily, He flies to earth, and becomes one of our family, that no dissimilarity of nature might intervene, and thus He is qualified to be our Bridegroom. He strives to win our love by every endearing effort. He knocks at the door of our hearts, and beseeches us to open unto Him. He cries, "Look unto Me." "Come unto Me." "Abide in Me." "See how I have loved you; behold My wounded hands and My pierced side." He sends His Holy Spirit to remove reluctance, and to win consent. Then the union is complete--the Bride clasps Him to her heart--it is the day of His marriage, and He receives the wedding crown.
Angels rejoice when sinners turn to God--and shall not Jesus be glad when one immersed in guilt surrenders to Him every affection of a conquered heart?
But at present, this union reaches not its perfect joy. Yet a little while, and the enraptured shout will be heard, "Behold, the Bridegroom comes--go out to meet Him." "Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honor to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and His wife has made herself ready." Then shall be the consummation of joy. The day dawns which shall never find end. It shall be the day of the rejoicing of His heart.