Scarcely is the invitation uttered, when acceptance sweetly comes. The echo of "Let my Beloved come into His garden" has not died away, when the glad voice is heard, "I am come into My garden, My sister, My spouse."
Many and precious are the assurances that prayer excites heaven's smiles. It flies directly to the mercy-seat, and it triumphantly prevails. It is the Spirit's breath, and therefore success is sure. It touches the heart of love, and moves the right hand of omnipotence. No delay checks the outpouring of sympathy and help.
Let us especially treasure up the instance now before us. Let it dispel all doubts and fears. Let it excite to more earnestness in its exercise. How grand is the privilege of the believer! It cannot be over-estimated. He feels that he may present the entire volume of his need, and that supplies of grace will copiously respond. The answer may not be in exact compliance with unenlightened words, but it will be in super-abounding wisdom.
Our blessed Lord invites our importunities. Why do we ever give Him rest? Let us revel in the assurance, "Before they call, I will answer; and while they are yet speaking, I will hear." To the supplicating Daniel the angel was bidden to fly very swiftly. It is recorded, that we might be followers of the example, and partakers of the success.
Let us now proceed to view Jesus hastening into His garden, and let us regale ourselves in the instructive scene which follows. He assures the Church that He is not indifferent to the graces, which He Himself has planted. He looked for fragrance, and fragrance fills the air. "I have gathered My myrrh with My spice." What an evidence of superhuman goodness is found in His being thus gratified by the produce of our poor hearts! He looked for redolence, and He expresses that He finds more. He testifies that there is food most luscious and abundant, to increase strength and invigorate power. "I have eaten My honeycomb with My honey. I have drunk My wine with My milk." Let it be repeated that it requires strong faith to realize that Christ can find any charms in the believing heart.
But let us never rise from deep humility--for He rejoices not in what springs from poor nature, but in what His love and power has cultivated. Let us learn, also, that He gives more grace. Never let us sit down content. Through His help we may have climbed high in the heavenward path; but there are summits above summits yet to be reached. We may have drawn water from the wells of salvation; but there are depths below depths of surpassing excellence, which our lines have not yet fathomed. We may have gathered fruit from branches hanging low. But the topmost boughs are not yet touched. Let us never rest until we are filled with all the fullness of God. Let us cultivate our gardens with faith--with diligence--with prayer, that they may contain what our Lord seeks to find.
Marvelous is the invitation which ensues. We invite Him. Instantly He invites us. We see another exemplification of the often-repeated words--"Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If any man hear My voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with Me." Rich is the banquet which His grace provides. The Spirit describes it as "a feast of fat things, of wines on the lees well refined." On this table there is the rich abundance of the Holy Word--the refreshment of exuberant promises. There is the Bread of Life--His body and His blood, and all the discoveries of redeeming love manifested in His deep humiliation, that He might represent, redeem, and save. Who will refuse the invitation, "Eat, O friends; drink, yes, drink abundantly, O beloved."
5:2. "I sleep, but my heart wakes."
These words express the Church's frequent state. We see the workings of a twofold nature. The 'old man' obeys not the dictates of 'grace', but grace has existence, immortal and divine. Corruption spreads dulness and drowsiness almost approaching unto death; but true grace lives in spite of opposition.
Sad indeed are the days when this somnolence prevails. Wretched is the time when the dull eyes are closed in sleepiness. All good desires languish as a faded flower. Faith no more strides forth in giant-power and grasps the Savior and exults in the glories of His finished work. Hope no more opens exulting eyes, and views the prospect of the glorious kingdom. Love drops its head and fails to sing the antiphon of heaven's songs. These graces, so precious in their active state, seem now depressed by the dull touch of dreary lifelessness. Torpor depresses where bright life should be in bold activity. Languor pervades the inner man.
The precious Book is not the constant study. Its pages are read with dull indifference. The beauties and the glories of redeeming love cease to be traced in every word of every line. Discoveries of the saving work shine not as the beauty of the inspired volume. It may be read; but it is a weary task, and not the rapture of raptures. Grace sleeps, and then the holy pages are obscure.
Zeal for the Lord's glory puts not forth unfailing energies. Efforts to spread abroad the knowledge of Christ's name languish. Joy becomes joyless--the song of praise loses its melody. Such and much worse is the state when the soul yields to sleep.
But whence the cause? It springs from restraint of prayer, and listening to the vile temptations of a deceitful world. We cease to watch. We cease to pray. We check outbursting praise. We listen to the tempter's voice. We do not come apart from the seductive company of the profane. Can we be surprised that spiritual liveliness departs! How dreary is this state! Let us be wise. Let us resist its every approach. Let our prayer cease not, "Quicken me according to Your Word."
But grace, though it is grievously obscured, is not extinguished. The eclipse hides, but does not destroy the Church's rays. We are "born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the Word of God, which lives and abides forever." Liveliness declines. Life still abides. The flame may not ascend; but there is oil in the lamp. The seed, though deeply buried, retains the germ of life. Our life is hidden with Christ in God. "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us." Doubtless, if Satan could prevail, the work of Christ would come to miserable end. But His sheep shall never perish, and none shall ever pluck them out of His hand. "I sleep, but my heart wakes."
The flesh may lust against the Spirit, but the Spirit raises the standard against it. The strong man armed may do destructive work; but the Stronger in the might of omnipotence will surely triumph. We may despond, but we may not despair. We may be cast down, but we shall not be destroyed. We may sleep, but the heavenly principle still lives unextinguishable within. "He who has begun a good work will perform it unto the day of Jesus Christ." "We are not of them who draw back unto perdition; but of those who believe to the saving of the soul."
5:2. "Listen! My lover is knocking: "Open to me, my sister, my darling, my dove, my flawless one. My head is drenched with dew, my hair with the dampness of the night."
Tender and melting is this picture of the Savior's love. We see the Church drowsy, indolent, indifferent, yielding to the seductions of a sleepy frame.
In contrast, the Lord appears unchecked by every deterring circumstance--knocking with persevering effort at the door--addressing her in terms of warm affection, and giving evidence that no coldness could obliterate His zeal. He prays for admission. He requests attention to the hardship of His exposed condition. May we contemplate the lessons of this picture, until our hearts overflow with affectionate emotion, and uplift their portals to admit the loving Savior! Obdurate indeed is he who can resist such persevering love.
We perceive here again the essential truth, that the believer, when yielding to overpowering seductions, still retains his spiritual vitality. His state is lethargy, but his ears are open. He cares not to reply, but still he hears. He will not arouse his powers; but still he cannot be completely deaf. An inward feeling in the drowsy heart can recognize the voice of the Beloved. There is the knowledge that He is near. There is the recognition that He is anxious for admission. "It is the voice of my Beloved that knocks."
Much as we deplore this miserable state, it is pleasing to allow, that grace still lives, and is perceptive of the Lord's nearness. The address is identical with that, to which her ears had often listened, when she was rejoicing in her liveliest frames. The happy truth is impressed upon us, that having loved His own which were in the world, He loves them unto the end. The precious lesson is repeated, that our indifference gives not a fatal blow to His everlasting love. He owns her still as one united to Him by the tenderest ties. He has assumed her nature. He is her elder Brother. He owns her as the offspring of His family. He professes that His love is unabated. Its birth was in the everlasting day, and no time shall ever write its epitaph.
He delights in her still, as endowed with all the beauties of the tender and the faithful dove, and in His zeal to multiply awakening terms, He adds, "My undefiled."
In these appearances of present lukewarmness and unimpassioned indifference, she still retained her fidelity of heart. She gave not her affection to another. But still there is upbraiding in this voice. She is charged with lack of feeling–'See how I persevere. The chill of night is patiently endured. My locks exhibit the signs of my indomitable endurance. Though wintry inclemency in its dreariest form bids Me to seek shelter, I cannot leave this inhospitable door. In spite of cold and suffering, I knock--I wait. Open, open unto Me.'
Where is the conscience which will not testify, "Here is a true picture of the indifference and sloth, which too frequently show such odious and repelling front! To many a startling providence--to many a friendly admonition--to awakening calls--to tender utterances of the Word, I have often closed my heavy ears. I cared only for my present ease. I desired to be left in the lap of lethargy, of torpor, and of sleep. But all praise--all glory to my Savior's love. He turned not in anger from me. He knocked until, overcome by such displays of goodness, my relenting heart responded, I am yours. Return. Come in and occupy Your throne."
5:3. "I have taken off my robe. Should I get dressed again? I have washed my feet. Should I get them soiled?"
Sad is this spectacle of the drowsy Church. But it is sadder far to hear excuses uttered by her lips. She will not arise when her Beloved calls, and then she pleads that no blame belongs to her. We see the downward course of evil. Corruption ever strives to assume a self-justifying mask. Oh! resist it--resist it in the bud, or it will soon bear wretched fruit. Resist it firmly, for it has much strength. Resist it resolutely--it cannot be easily subdued. The rolling stone at first moves slowly. But fearful rapidity comes on apace. A leak, small at its early opening, soon widens to admit a flood of waters.
Eve pauses and looks; and then the hand is stretched to pluck the fruit. Shuddering horror cries, "Am I a dog, that I should do such a thing!" How soon is the very deed accomplished! The Church springs not from her couch when first the voice is heard, and soon she thinks it well that she should still repose. She says in extenuation, that the call is unseasonable--for now is the time allotted to repose. She thinks it a hard requirement, that the garments lately taken off should so speedily be resumed; and that the feet just washed should again touch the soil. Is it proper that I should rise? It is rather fit that I should now take rest. But ah! the folly of such slothful reasoning. How poor the gain--how great the loss! What is there in all earthly ease, which can justify an exclusion of the Lord! The exchange is to take earth for heaven--to prefer a transient bauble to inestimable bliss.
Dreadful it is to see such madness in those who have had experience of communion with Him. What blindness to close the eyes which might behold His beauty! What infatuation to shut the ears, which might have the privilege of His sweet converse! What delusion to prefer the bed of indolence, to the walk by His side--to slumber and sleep, rather than actively to be engaged! How great, also, is the peril! What, if when He is thus rejected, His condemning voice should say, "Sleep on now and take your rest." Then the sleep of indolence would merge into the sleep of death, and the drowsy eyes would never see the light of life.
In this picture we see the frequent actings of the heart, when the first call of grace knocks at the portals. Many excuses plead for delay. We see the conduct of the man in the parable, who cried, "Trouble me not--the door is now shut; and my children are with me in bed. I cannot rise and give to you." The young are startled by some providence--some friendly warning--some solemn text. But they object--"there is time yet before me. The indulgences of youth invite--the world presents a fascinating cup--pleasures allure in most bewitching garb. Not yet--not yet. When the convenient time shall arrive, I will shake off these detaining fetters, and will arise to seek salvation."
How many worldlings, also, hear a voice calling them to come apart, and not to persist in ruinous pursuits. They hear; but they postpone compliance. No thought have they of final rejection. They only yield to the seduction, that the present moment is inopportune. They retain a hope that at more suitable period, they will leave all and follow Christ.
Their conduct finds examples in unhappy slumberers of every class of life. They are sufficiently awake to hear the voice which calls them to arise--to shake off indifference--to give themselves resolutely to the service of the Lord. But they invent and cherish excuses for delay. Alas! delay is the near kinsman to ruin. Happy they who instantly obey. It is a grand word, "Awake, you that sheep, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give you light."
5:4. "My lover thrust his hand through the latch-opening; my heart began to pound for him."
The graphic scene continues and is replete with spiritual teaching. The suitor, knocking and craving admittance with most tender voice, is not provoked to cease his earnest endeavor. He turns not away in anger and vexation. He rather waxes more importunate, and redoubles His efforts to prevail.
He put in His hand through the latch-opening. This action, evidencing persistence, rejects refusal. He now partially succeeds. Feelings of remorse for indifference begin to stir. Here we see Christ unchecked in His endeavors. No sloth--no indolence convert His love into cold withdrawal. We see at once that He is God and not man. Where is the man, in whose heart proud exasperation would not have arisen? Who would not have withdrawn, never again to renew solicitation! But the love which burned from everlasting to everlasting will endure. He who loved during all the deadness of the unregenerate state, will love through all the drowsiness of spiritual decline, although His knocks and His loving voice have been unheeded. Efforts shall be redoubled.
Can we sufficiently adore such unconquerable grace! Where is the believer who is not constrained to confess, "If sin could have defeated grace, my sins would often have driven Christ from me. If I still live, it is because my Savior lives and reigns; it is because the billows of super-abounding love have risen high above the billows of my abiding corruption."
It would be long to enumerate the many instances which exemplify the words, "My Beloved put in His hand through the latch-opening." The effort conquers. The heart is softened and subdued. The feeling rushes in; "Shame on my base ingratitude! Shame on my cold indifference! Shame on my slothful frame! Shame on my pitiful excuses!" Thus the Church exclaims, "my heart began to pound for Him."
5:5. "I rose up to open to my Beloved; and my hands dripped with myrrh, and my fingers with sweet-smelling myrrh, upon the handles of the lock."
Activity is now roused. Haste is made to open the door. The hand is extended to remove the bolts and locks; and the hand thus employed is fragrant with the perfume which the suitor's hand had left. This perfume is the known emblem of celestial grace. In the riches of His grace, Christ used all means to remove the obstacle. Touched by divine grace, the Church, also, strives to draw back the resisting bolts. Thus grace in Christ produces grace in the believer's heart. Thus He gives more grace. Salvation from first to last flows in the deep channel of God's sovereign will.
5:6. "I opened to my Beloved; but my Beloved had withdrawn Himself, and was gone--my soul failed when He spoke--I sought Him, but I could not find Him; I called Him, but He gave me no answer."
Christ's gracious efforts had succeeded. The couch of sloth is left. Liveliness returns. The door is opened. Expectant love is ardent to give welcome. But sadly would the spirit sink, when no appearance gladdened! Grievous surprise would depress when no form gave rapture to the sight prepared to welcome. The spirit had failed when the voice of love was heard. How much more would it fail when to her calling no answer came! How many thoughts would crowd the bewildered mind! Can it be that my loitering spirit has caused departure, and that I am now left in merited desertion!
Far different is the real case! In grace Christ had called. In grace He now appears to leave. His merciful design has entirely succeeded. Love in the Church is ardently rekindled. Active desires after Him are thoroughly restored. The torpid action has yielded to intense liveliness. The Church returns not to seek repose. She can no more rest until the presence of her Lord is gained. But let warning here be heeded. Triflers may trifle too long. Loiterers may linger until patience can suffer no more. It is an dreadful word--may it never sound in vain! "Ephraim is joined to idols. Let him alone."
5:7. "The watchmen that went about the city found me, they smote me, they wounded me; the watchmen of the walls took away my veil from me."
The believer's course is not unruffled calm. Change succeeds to change in spiritual frame. The morning brightness often sets in evening storm. The voyage commences in tranquil waters--but billows may swell before the haven is attained. If Christ, however, sits at the helm, the raging waves will not engulf--the promised rest will be surely reached.
The picture now before us exhibits such case. The Church was lately indolent and secure. She asked that no interruption might disturb her ease. Sleepy existence was her main desire. She asked to be allowed to rest. Such state, however, was not health. Safety is not in repose, but in activity of zeal. Christ in His grace will send sharp dispensations to dispel such indolence, and to gird up the loins for wholesome toil.
The time is night. The Church had pleaded, that rest was therefore due. The time continues to be night--but now in distress she leaves her home. Her Lord is absent. How can she remain in quiet? Into the street she rushes. She moves about in earnest search. She makes enquiries of all who cross her path. Nothing can satisfy until the Lord again be found.
How far more healthy is this state than her previous unconcern! Then she cared for nothing but her ease. She cares for nothing now but to recover her Lord's presence. Such is the state of the awakened soul. There can be no substitute for Christ. He, and He alone, can fill the craving void. He, and He alone, can give solace and speak peace.
What is the Church's reception from the outer world? Does she find sympathy? Is she cheered by wise directions? Is she guided to the path of peace? Is she told where Christ may surely be recovered? Far otherwise. She is regarded with contempt. Cruel mockings meet her anxious cries. Such injurious treatment is not the worst. Harshness and persecution add to her deep distress. We catch here a glimpse of the world's conduct towards Christ's followers. We are warned, that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of heaven. The Church's history presents sad pages of persecuting enmity. It would be sad to tell of the groans and agonies, which the walls of the inquisition have witnessed. It would be harrowing to relate how martyrs have been hurried to the stake. But how much better is it thus to die for Christ than to revel in the world's luxuries!
5:8, 9. "I charge you, O daughters of Jerusalem, if you find my Beloved, that you tell Him that I am sick with love. How is your beloved better than others, most beautiful of women? How is your beloved better than others, that you charge us so?"
Sometimes sympathy is found. Some friendly ears will listen to the Church's wail. To such she earnestly appeals. She seeks their counsels and their prayers. She beseeches them to make intercession for her--to spread out her case before the Lord--to tell Him that her sickness is extreme--that she faints--she languishes--she dies from her intense longings for His presence.
But still her case may not be fully understood. Such vehement desire may excite surprise. It may seem strange that the Lord should so engross each feeling, and that all things should be counted loss when placed in comparison. Hence the reply is heard, "How is your beloved better than others?" The question opens the door for a rapturous description of the Lord's beauty, grace, and goodness.
As we proceed to ponder, may our souls reply, "Such is my Beloved, and such is my Friend, O daughters of Jerusalem."
5:10-16. "My beloved is dark and dazzling, better than ten thousand others! His head is the finest gold, and his hair is wavy and black. His eyes are like doves beside brooks of water; they are set like jewels. His cheeks are like sweetly scented beds of spices. His lips are like perfumed lilies. His breath is like myrrh. His arms are like round bars of gold, set with chrysolite. His body is like bright ivory, aglow with sapphires. His legs are like pillars of marble set in sockets of the finest gold, strong as the cedars of Lebanon. None can rival him. His mouth is altogether sweet; he is altogether lovely. Such, O women of Jerusalem, is my beloved, my friend."
The Church is invited to give a portrait of her beloved Lord, and to depict the charms which have engaged the warm affections of her heart. Rapture instantly transports her on swift wing to ascend to the highest heights of praise. But the task surpasses all her powers. She brings to view a human form, perfect--exquisite in every proportion--beauteous in every feature.
She selects ten bodily members as showing forth all that constitutes His excessive beauty. She strives to give them reality, by comparison with the most lovely images in nature and in art. But how inadequate is this elaborate portraiture! Let the rarest things that nature can boast, of unrivaled excellence, be collected in one picture--let art bring her most surpassing works--they dwindle into nothingness, when called to represent the Lord.
The sun in mid-day brightness hides its dwindled face, and nature verily sinks into nothing, when called to exemplify the truth. No voice of angel--no thrilling eloquence of man--no brilliant colors from the painter's hand, can offer any just similitude. All efforts hang down ineffectual hands. Nothing can be added to the simple tribute, "He is chief among ten thousand, and altogether lovely." We see--we praise--and we adore.
But the picture before us is written with most blessed intent. It calls us to perpetual admiration. It bids us rouse our languid powers to contemplate and commend. Let then, the eye of faith be quickened by these choice similitudes, and without attempt accurately to discriminate, let us learn from these ten particulars, that beauty, majesty, and glory are all concentrated in Him, whom our hearts love--in Him who is our Savior and our God.
Let us contemplate Him arrayed in the glories of essential Deity. He is God over all blessed for evermore. He is as high and great and glorious, as God can be. He sits supreme above all that thought can conceive. He reigns forever the great 'I am that I am'. His power is complete omnipotence. His wisdom is perfect omniscience. Creation's wonders are the formation of His will. No earthborn words can adequately portray Him.
Our sight, also, is dazzled when we contemplate His love and condescension in taking the manhood into God, that He might be qualified to be the Bridegroom of His Church--the surety of His people--the Representative of His chosen ones.
Thus we learn that all eloquence is utter feebleness, which strives to represent Him. If we attempt to draw His picture, the canvas fails to give the slightest image of His beauty and His glory. It has been deemed superfluous to dwell upon the several particulars here named. They might rather tend to distract the thought, than to enhance the truth of His pre-eminence.
But when we forbear to open out the portrait, let adoring faith remember that yet a little while, "He will change our vile body, that it may be like unto His glorious body, according to the working whereby He is able to subdue all things unto Himself." Lord, hasten the time when we shall be like You, and see You as You are!