"How beautiful you are, my beloved. Oh, how beautiful! Your eyes behind your locks are like doves. Your hair falls in waves, like flocks of goats frisking across the slopes of Gilead."
Here is the admiring address of Christ to His beloved Church. He gives her the name which proves her to be a dear inhabitant of His heart. He styles her His beloved. He then proceeds to express His delight in her beauty. He strives by variety of image to commend her charms. He says in general and repeated terms, "How beautiful you are, my beloved! Oh, how beautiful!" He then diverges, and in seven distinct instances enumerates her attractions. These particulars are opened out in apt similitudes.
It is the marvel of marvels, that the Church should appear thus lovely in the eyes of Christ. We read--we believe--we adore. While we proceed to contemplate these diverse features, may the Holy Spirit increase our faith and thus give profit by this emblematic teaching.
Natural beauties here lend their aid. Their significance gives much food for faith's expanse. Conscience tells us how dark and deformed we are by nature. As descendants of fallen parents, corruption is our inheritance and breaks forth incessantly in our thoughts, and words, and works. When we look at our daily course, shame and confusion sink us into dust. We blush to lift up our eyes to the all-holy One. We feel that rejection and abhorrence are our due. But we hear Him say, "How beautiful you are, my beloved! Oh, how beautiful!"
This estimation is wholly the result of grace. Jesus, in the full tide of His mercy, comes down to earth, and in our nature walks before God in fullest obedience to every requirement of the law. Thus a lovely robe is woven, in which to array each member of the Church. Not one deviation from the perfect rule can be found. The acknowledgment then is deserved, "How beautiful you are, my beloved! Oh, how beautiful!"
By His SPIRIT, also, He works a gracious work within, and sows the seeds of grace to spring up, and blossom, and bear fruit. Hence He proceeds to specify, "You have doves' eyes behind your locks." Among the feathered tribes, none is more lovely than the dove. It is the emblem of humility, constancy, and purity, and thus sets forth precious elements in the believer's character. But its chief charm is the softness and gentleness of the eye. No pride, no haughtiness, no fierceness can consort with faith.
Hair is a lovely ornament. The goats of Gilead exhibit this truth. Flowing locks, also, are the distinguishing mark of Nazarites, and proclaim believers as wholly consecrated to their God.
4:2. "Your teeth are as white as sheep, newly shorn and washed. They are perfectly matched; not one is missing."
Teeth are an especial feature of the countenance. Their charm is their regularity and their pure color. They find similitude in the shorn flock, white from the washing stream, and accompanied by sporting lambs. These teeth are more than ornament. Let them remind believers to feed upon the Word.
4:3. "Your lips are like a ribbon of scarlet. Oh, how beautiful your mouth! Your cheeks behind your veil are like pomegranate halves--lovely and delicious."
A ribbon of glowing hue is next named. It is an emblem of the lips. Lovely indeed is the believer's mouth, giving utterance to prayer and praise. The pomegranate, laid open to the view, exhibits splendid colors. The cheeks of the believer, radiant in open boldness, illustrates the similitude.
4, 5. "Your neck is as stately as the tower of David, jeweled with the shields of a thousand heroes. Your breasts are like twin fawns of a gazelle, feeding among the lilies."
Graces of the form are added. The tall and stately neck is as the lofty tower of David. Symmetry of body finds image in twin gazelles feeding among the lilies. Thus nature furnishes her stores to show the beauty of the Church as viewed by Christ. Again we cry, 'What grace, what wondrous grace!' Again we add, 'Good Lord, increase our faith!'
4:6. "Until the day breaks, and the shadows flee away, I will go to the mountain of myrrh, and to the hill of frankincense."
We cannot sufficiently bless God for the profuse outshinings of His holy Word! It never wearies to tell in glowing terms of Christ's loving heart towards His happy flock. It portrays them in a diversity of images, tending to show how they attract His gracious favor. In this passage they are set before us as a mountain of myrrh, and a hill of frankincense, to which He delights to hasten, and in which He rejoices to tarry. May the Holy Spirit, from this new similitude, enlighten our minds and give fresh vigor to our faith!
Mountains and hills are grand features in nature's landscape. They uplift noble and conspicuous fronts, and afford security from peril. As such, they are instructive emblems of the Church. We read, "It shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills."
Of believers it is graphically said, that they shall be as a city set upon a hill. As these lofty eminences admit of no concealment, so believers are called to be conspicuous among the children of men. Their holy walk, their heavenward path, should brightly shine, and command admiring notice. All should take knowledge of them, that they are much with Jesus, that their citizenship is in heaven, that they have taken a station above the debasing pursuits of this poor world, that they have mounted on the wings of faith, far above the plains of groveling pleasures, as the mountains uplift their heads from the humble valleys. Thus this image shows the Church in exalted grandeur.
But it rests not here. It further shows the mountain and the hill as pre-eminent for delightful fragrance. Here myrrh and frankincense flourish and abound. Here is luxuriant growth of all that cheers and charms the senses. We thus are taught that sterility and sinful pleasures are not their portion. The sweetest aromas float around them.
This view leads to the truth, that Christ finds delightful solace in His people. In this fragrance we are led to see that prayer and praise are as sweet beds of spices. It is joy and gladness to the Lord, when believers thus pour forth the incense of their hearts. He delights to listen to their supplicating voice, and to bow attentive ears when they open out their need, and in sweet communion, beseech Him to render help. Their praises, also, are as fragrant as the myrrh, and as satisfying as the scent of frankincense. It is indeed a mighty mystery, but faith clings to the truth, that in prayer and praise we glorify and gratify our Lord. Shall we ever, then, be silent? Let it be our constant effort, and our ceaseless wish to besiege the mercy-seat with prayer, and to encircle the throne with praise. May we thus stand prominently out as mountains of myrrh, and hills of frankincense!
As we thus draw near to Christ, we have His promise that He will draw near to us--that He will come and take up His abode within us. His presence now is but a faint shadow of the brightness of the glory which shall speedily be revealed. In comparison with the light of heaven, these days are days of mists, and gloom, and darkness. Ignorance often is a concealing veil. We see but in part--we know but in part. Unbelief, also, intervenes, and utterly prevents open and clear sight. Sins rise as an obscuring cloud, and cast a shadow over the beauties and the smiles of Christ.
But soon shall the day break, and the shadows flee away! Soon, very soon, shall the Sun of Righteousness arise. Soon, very soon, shall we see Him as He is, face to face, in the brightness of His unclouded luster! The Lord shall be an everlasting light, and our God our glory. Shall we not cry, O Lord, we love Your appearing. Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly!
4:7. "You are all beautiful, my love; there is no spot in you."
Grand and precious are the assurances which hang in clusters from the Word! They spring from the heart of Christ, to cheer--to elevate--to gladden--to sanctify. May we have faith to clasp them to our souls, and to hold them with unwavering grasp. Sweet is their meditation. They are the seed of holiness and peace. Their study is the very gate of heaven.
Christ had enumerated diversified particulars, which showed the charms of His spouse. Here they are comprised in one focus of concentration. "You are all beautiful, my love; there is no spot in you." The Church is thus seen as entirely wrapped up in Him. She is beauteous only in His beauty, and lovely only in His loveliness. "He was made sin for us who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him."
There is no spot in the Church, because the blood of Jesus entirely obliterates each stain. Omniscience may look for sins, but no more can they be found. The absence of defect is the result of her being adorned with His perfect righteousness. In this no blemish can exist. Thus she appears righteous, even as God is righteous.
This blessed truth must be held fast without obliterating the knowledge of our own constant and innumerable transgressions. It cannot be too often repeated, that in ourselves we are deformed and loathsome. "If we say that we have no sin we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us." The most saintly of saints will ever breathe the prayer, "God be merciful to me a sinner."
4:8. "Come with me from Lebanon, my bride. Come down from the top of Mount Amana, from Mount Senir and Mount Hermon, where lions have their dens and panthers prowl."
An earnest invitation follows, couched in tenderest terms. The call seems to be addressed to one, who pauses and lingers on the bleak and barren peaks of the lofty range which parted Israel from the Gentile world. In the recesses of these cliffs, ravenous beasts formed their retreats, and rioted in vicious work. In this call we hear the voice of Christ summoning us to separate from a world, which lies beyond His peaceful kingdom.
This range is infested by beasts delighting in savagely torturing the prey. The emblem is dark in warning. The summits of this range are bleak and barren. Such is this cold world. It is warmed by no gentle and genuine and generous feelings. It looks with chilling indifference on the need and misery of others. It has no heart to sympathize. It extends no hand to help. Selfishness congeals the flow of tender emotion. It cares little what the poor and needy suffer. It seeks mainly its own contracted interests. The mountain-top is thus the portrait of this wintry world.
The world, also, is a barren spot. No pleasing verdure clothes this scene. No flowers shed their fragrance. No goodly fruits are ripened to refresh. Briers and thorns are its poor produce. Here we look in vain for the fertility of holy words and works. Christ calls His people to come apart, and to unite themselves to Him.
But these summits are not only scenes of frost and unproductiveness. They have inhabitants, who delight in cruelty and craftiness. See the lion tearing the prey--see the panther crouching to take the fatal spring. Here again are the children of this world. Cruelly they ruin souls. With subtlety they lay wait to ensnare.
Christ bids us to abstain from such destructive fellowships. Let us hear His gracious voice, "Listen to me, O royal daughter; take to heart what I say. Forget your people and your homeland far away. For your royal husband delights in your beauty; honor him, for he is your Lord." Psalm 45:10-11
4:9. "You have ravished My heart, My sister, My spouse; you have ravished My heart with one glance of your eyes, with one jewel of your necklace."
Conspicuous parts of the human form are here presented to our view. Beauty in them attracts His admiring gaze. They are selected to exemplify the charms in the Church which rivet the heart of Jesus. He states the influence of the power which thus wins His love. We are hence taught the constant lesson of the wonders of His grace. The beauty, which He thus commends is His own work. It is His gift to the graceless and deformed. He first decks and adorns, and then expresses satisfaction in His own performance. He loves what His own love has framed. He is ravished by what His free bounty has conferred. From first to last, salvation flows in the stream of grace. It gives the blessing and then adds more to the recipient. It is the first line and the last line in redemption's volume.
Here, also, we have the most endearing titles given to the Church. Jesus addresses her, "My sister, My spouse." We thus are reminded, that He by condescending grace has become one of our kindred. The sister and the brother are members of the same family. The bride and the bridegroom are one flesh. Jesus becomes flesh and blood that He might possess closest relationship.
What joy--what strength spring from meditation on these names! Where is the noble brother, who loves not the sister, and devotes not his best efforts for her protection and support! Where is the pledged bridegroom, who refuses to endure all sufferings even unto death, in the cause of his bride!
In these names then, we are distinctly taught how Jesus will withhold no power to advocate our cause--to screen us from foes--to deliver us from perils--to ennoble us with rank--to enrich us with gifts--to bless us with all blessings. Let us adore Him, for so graciously assuring us that we are unto Him, "sister and spouse."
4:10, 11. "How delightful is your love, my sister, my bride! How much more pleasing is your love than wine, and the fragrance of your perfume than any spice! Your lips drop sweetness as the honeycomb, my bride; milk and honey are under your tongue. The fragrance of your garments is like that of Lebanon."
The love of Christ, by the Spirit's gracious work, kindles reciprocal love in the believer's heart. "We love Him because He first loved us." This love is a mighty passion. It blazes as a strong flame. It displays itself in adoration and praise, and in unwearied effort to commend the Lord and to advance His glory.
The eye of the Lord delights in these loving manifestations. He exclaims, "How delightful is your love, my sister, my bride!" The perception of it seems to bring refreshment to His heart. He commends it, as more cheering--more invigorating--more strengthening than the properties of wine. As the weary and the weak partake of wine and are recruited in their strength, so Jesus marks this glowing love in His people, and avows that earthly refreshments are as nothing to it.
He delights, also, in listening to the utterances of the believer's lips. No cry of prayer--no song of praise--no commendation of His grace and work, fail to touch His heart. Is honey sweet to the taste? Is milk a soft and delicious nutriment? These emblems show the delight with which He marks each utterance of His people.
It is added, "the fragrance of your perfume is better than any spice! The fragrance of your garments is like that of Lebanon." The holy walk and conversation of the believer is as the sweetest fragrance. It is rich mercy to give assurance of this truth! The thought has power to quicken our diligence, that we may rise far above base and sublunary pursuits, and diffuse the delightful fragrance of celestial life. What the Lord commends He is willing and able to accomplish. Let our prayer frequently be, "Sanctify us wholly, body, soul, and spirit." So shall the truths of this passage find their antitype in us.
4:12. "You are a garden locked up, my sister, my bride; you are a spring enclosed, a sealed fountain."
Nature here is employed to bring choice objects to our view. It is invoked to illustrate the beauties of the sister and the bride. It is used to help us to contemplate her excellences, as they may be deduced from the garden, the fountain, and the springs of water. These natural objects are rich in charms. May their delights now add instruction to our souls!
A GARDEN is unrivaled as a sweet spot. It is inclosed from the wilderness of the world. It is tilled with care and toil. Weeds and briers are diligently removed. The soil is enriched with all that can give it fructifying power. Flowers luxuriant in fragrance and brilliant in hue are set within it. It is abundant, also, in the choicest fruits. Thus every view of it is exquisite.
Here walks are prepared for refreshment. Here the owner finds tranquil enjoyments. A garden was man's abode in his days of innocence. The heavenly Father who designed his perfect bliss, planned this delightful residence. Thus the garden ranks high in nature's choicest spots. To preserve its fruitfulness and rarities, it requires to be well watered. Hence in its enclosure the fountain claims a place--and springs, also, lend their aid to irrigate. Thus fruitfulness and luxuriance are secured.
The garden, also, is carefully fenced. Strong barriers separate it from the surrounding waste. No destructive beasts can invade its privacy. They may prowl around, but they cannot reach the lovely plenty which smiles within.
The fountain and the spring, also, are well guarded. In eastern climates where the sun's rays are fierce, and water flows in few and scanty streams, there treasures were carefully guarded! We are told that huge stones were placed as safeguards at their mouths. Their possession often provoked fierce contention.
As the vineyard carefully planted, prepared and preserved, has been selected as the Church's emblem, so here the beauteous garden and its refreshing supplies repeat the like lesson. Let us here view the people of the Lord as the antitype. They are chosen out of the waste howling wilderness. They are parted from the barren and the cheerless world. They are selected to show forth the glories of the Lord. In them fragrant and rich graces are planted. The Spirit sows the seed, and nurtures the growth of holiness.
How carefully, also, are they preserved! A garden locked up, is their emblem. Many are the foes which hate and strive to lay them waste--but such rage and enmity are impotent as a broken reed. They are kept by the power of God through faith unto eternal life. Jesus their Lord is ever watchful to defend. As the mountains stand round about Jerusalem, so His watchful eye and His almighty arm bestow security.
Providences are arranged to minister to their defense. The angelic hosts are employed to spread protecting wings around. Thus they are a garden locked up. May we strive to realize this emblem, exhibiting fragrance and fruitfulness and rejoicing in secure defense.
Let us live, also, as the fountain and the spring. They cheer--they invigorate--they refresh. Without them the soil of earth would be dry barrenness. Remove believers and you remove fertility and loveliness from the world. If they were not present the earth would be a wilderness noxious with thorns. As the fountain and the spring refresh, so holy words and works are a blessing to this earth!
4:13, 14. "Your plants are an orchard of pomegranates with choice fruits, with henna and nard, nard and saffron, calamus and cinnamon, with every kind of incense tree, with myrrh and aloes and all the finest spices."
Our attention is still fixed on the fertility of the garden. It is portrayed as abounding in all plants and shrubs which can delight the eye, or gratify the sense. They are multitudinous in number, and odoriferous in fragrance. Imagination takes wing and flies back to the garden of Eden, in which God made every plant pleasant to the eye, and good for food.
This garden is chosen to represent the Church. The plants are very many. At any given time or place, believers may seem to be a little flock. But when all are collected, they shall be found to be a great multitude, which no man can number, of every nation and people and kindred and tongue. May we have happy place among them!
In this garden every tree and shrub is planted by the heavenly Father's hand. Doubtless in the world there are many counterfeits; but a searching day shall discover their unreality, and they shall be rooted up. There is a solemn warning, "Every branch in Me that bears not fruit, He takes away."
But every plant in this garden is a branch broken from the olive-tree, wild by nature, and is grafted into the good olive-tree, and partakes of the riches of the heavenly root. They are chosen out of the wild desert of the world. They are renewed by the Spirit's invigorating power. They bear fruits of righteousness to the praise and glory of God. They are the planting of the Lord that He may be glorified.
Mark the fragrance which flows from them, and the luscious fruits, which hang in clusters from their boughs. These are the graces, of which the Holy Spirit is the author. Pre-eminently FAITH is conspicuous. This is the eye which sees Christ Jesus--the ear which hears His inviting call--the feet which run after Him--the hand that grasps Him, and strongly holds the title-deeds of pardon, righteousness and heaven. In this garden this flowering ornament emits transcendent fragrance.
In close contact HOPE blooms. It looks forward and discerns the coming glory of the heavenly inheritance. It traverses the spacious fields of promise, and deduces from each promise, most luscious flavor. Rich is the perfume of this heaven-set plant.
LOVE, also, sweetly blossoms. It is the counterpart of "the plant of renown." It is profuse in exhibiting the features which shall pervade the heavenly home. It is not obscure among the odoriferous plants of this garden.
Countless are the shrubs, which surround these most conspicuous plants. There is MEEKNESS with its lowly head--HUMILITY casting fragrance in the sequestered shade--PATIENCE, which endures, without withering, the adverse blasts, which threaten its destruction. There are JOY and PEACE showing their beauteous heads, and their refreshing forms. Indeed no grace is absent, which can contribute to enrich this paradise of God.
4:15. "You are a garden fountain, a well of living water, as refreshing as the streams from the Lebanon mountains."
Enumeration has now reached its close. The view has been concentrated on the collected treasure of beauty and perfume. It is however added, the Church is "a garden fountain, a well of living water, as refreshing as the streams from the Lebanon mountains." We know that Lebanon supplied the rivulets which spread fertility through the chosen land. Thus from the Church the waters flow, which diffuse beauty and plenty through this fallen world. This truth is expressed in the words of Jesus, "He who believes in Me, from within him shall flow rivers of living water. This He spoke of the Spirit." May our bodies always be the temples of the Holy Spirit!
4:16. "Awake, north wind! Come, south wind! Blow on my garden and waft its lovely perfume to my lover. Let him come into his garden and eat its choicest fruits."
There are times when the garden is dreary, cold, and dull. The flowers droop, and charming fragrance ceases to float around. The invigorating and the congenial breezes have withheld their influence. The sigh is then heard, Oh! that the north wind would awake, and the south wind breathe again!
Similar is the case not infrequently with the believer's heart. The flow of grace seems to be impeded. The Spirit's work is intermitted. Faith is not in lively exercise. Hope looks not gladly from its high watchtower; and love exerts not its delightful sway. Other graces, also, are dull and languid. This is the time when the believer should put forth his energies in wrestling prayer. He should call for the Holy Spirit to return in His reviving and life-giving power.
The wind is the apt emblem of the Holy Spirit. It blows where it wills, and you hear the sound thereof, but cannot tell whence it comes, or where it goes, so is every one that is born of the Spirit. Thus the Spirit's operations are brought to our notice. His absence is blight and deadness. His return is life and energy and brightness. Let His removal, then, be deeply mourned.
Sometimes He returns in chilling dispensations as a northern blast. These visits restore life and strength. Tribulation works patience, and patience opens the door, that other graces may revive. Before we are afflicted our feet wander from God's ways. By affliction the Spirit recalls us to the upward path, and gives us power to climb with vigor. Painful discipline prunes the too luxuriant vine, and causes more abundant fruit to fill the branches.
So, also, when mercy smiles and sweet prosperity diffuses joy, then gratitude swells in the heart--fresh discoveries of God's love cheer, and praise redoubles its adoring songs. Thus congenial breezes from the south call forth new life and fragrance. Hence we are taught that the Spirit's varied operations in turn invigorate the heart, and give new life to grace.
The fruit of these blessed visits is mainly evidenced in desire for closer communion with the Lord. The cry is fervent and incessant, "Let my Beloved come into His garden, and eat His pleasant fruits." Thus to partake is gladness to the Savior's heart. It is the marvel of marvels that anything in us should give God joy--but it is tenderly revealed that He takes pleasure when our hearts are faithful. Shall we not, then, strive and toil that every grace should raise in us a fragrant head? Shall it not be our effort in all our powers and at every moment to respond to His desires! He thought it not too much to empty Himself for us. For the joy set before Him in our redemption He endured the Cross--despising the shame. Shall we be dull and languid in striving that our hearts should be as the garden abounding in pleasant fruits for His refreshment! It should indeed be to us the delight of delights to give delight to Him.
When then each morning dawns, let the earliest thought be strong, O that we this day may serve the Lord and glorify His holy name! As day proceeds, let the same earnest feeling be dominant within us! Let the cry be ever sounding, Lord, what will You have us to do! When the lips open, let no word issue forth, which is not redolent of grace. When the feet move, let every step be in the path marked out by His Spirit. At home--abroad, let us thoroughly live Christ. And when evening's shadows call us to retire, let our hearts bless Him for mercies so undeservedly bestowed, and let us cleanse the hours which have passed, by sprinkling them all with His atoning blood! Thus may we always present ourselves as full ripe fruits in the garden of His grace, and show that in response to earnest cry, the north wind and the south have breathed most healthfully upon us.