We have heard the Church pouring forth the fervent feelings of her heart in admiration of her beloved Lord. The sluice was opened, the waters rushed in torrents; verily the cup was full, even to overflowing. Terms of praise had been exhausted, and eloquence had spread its wings in loftiest flight. Similitudes of beauty had been collected. Her love had blazed in ardent words of praise.
We now are called to mark the result. Earnest commendations of the precious Savior cannot go forth in vain. The Spirit, who prompts the utterance, will clothe it with effectual power. It is so in the case before us. They who listened to these sweet praises were not unimpressed. Earnestness always commands attention. Those who heard, instantly enquire, "Where is your Beloved gone, O most beautiful of women? Where is your Beloved turned aside? that we may seek Him with you."
It is a precious truth, that no one is called by grace for himself alone. Faith is not an unfruitful seed--it feasts not at a solitary banquet--it hides not its pearl of great price--it delightedly exhibits it--it swells with longings that others should rejoice in its joys. Thus it freely communicates what it has freely received.
Great is indeed the shame when faithful lips are silent, and when no calls invite to the redeeming cross. If we had not heard the preacher's commendations of the Lord--if friendly lips had not told us of His grace, we might have been left in darkness, ignorance, and death. We heard, we paused, we listened, we felt interest, we were convinced. We enquired, "Where shall we find this Savior, of whom we hear these glowing tidings?" We were filled with desire to draw near and taste the sweetness thus proclaimed.
Here by example we are taught to work with diligence for Christ. They toil with joy, who have rich expectation, that sure blessings will be the end. The husbandman breaks the fallow ground, and scatters widely the seed, in full hope that in due time the tender blade will show itself, and ripen into fruitful harvest. Thus the believer warmly magnifies His Lord in happy confidence, that no word will return void.
6:2, 3. "My Beloved has gone down into His garden, to the beds of spices, to feed in the gardens, and to gather lilies. I am my Beloved's, and my Beloved is mine--He feeds among the lilies."
Faithful lips are not slow to give instruction. It is delight to direct others to the heavenly path. The counsel is ready, that Christ will be found in the company of His devoted followers. It has already been shown that believers are His garden. Here He has planted His precious seeds, and here He seeks His refreshing fruits.
Hence enquirers are exhorted to come forth from the barren wilderness, in which thorns and briers only grow; and leave the company of worldlings, whose principles and ways are enmity to God--to break from such entangling chains--to cast away these bewitching goblets--to renounce all polluted fellowships. In this desert Christ dwells not. They who would find Him must hasten to His garden--they must join the happy flock who walk in the narrow way--they must frequent the holy ordinances, in which His truth is faithfully proclaimed.
Believers profess that here they enjoy communion with the Lord. Dwelling in this garden, each one can say, "I am my Beloved's, and my Beloved is mine--He feeds among the lilies." May we have grace thus to call others to be one with Christ! Happy the minister who will have many saved souls as his joy and crown of rejoicing in the day of the Lord Jesus!
6:4. "You are beautiful, O my love, as Tirzah, lovely as Jerusalem, majestic as an army with banners."
It is the main delight of faith to read the meltings of Christ's loving heart. This exercise uplifts from earth. It brings the riches of strong consolation. It strengthens the legs to march with activity along the heavenward path.
God's Word abounds with these invigorating assurances. The story of Christ's coming in the flesh--His taking our nature that He might become our surety--His weaving the robe of perfect righteousness--His dying on the accursed tree, are facts resplendent with the luster of His love. Abundant declarations corroborate. Such is the present passage. It speaks of the delight with which He views His Church.
It multiplies terms of admiration. Images are used, displaying her beauty in His sight. The loveliest spots on earth are chosen as apt emblems. Tirzah was a city in which Canaan's princes dwelt. It was distinguished by every charm, which could elicit admiration. Thus it is a fit exhibition. "You are beautiful, O My love, as Tirzah."
But Tirzah will not suffice. There was a city yet more renowned. Behold Jerusalem in all its glory! For situation, it was the joy of the whole earth. Go round about her--mark her towers, and her stately walls--pass her portals, and behold her streets built in compact regularity. Her palaces are unrivaled for magnificence. Her temple uplifts its front, a type of Him who is the brightness of His Father's glory, and the express image of His person. No spot, no building, could surpass in splendor. Such is the Church's beauty in the eyes of Christ.
Moreover, she appears before Him "majestic as an army with banners." Believers are not called to inactive life. The fight--the good fight of faith must be encountered. For it they are equipped--in it they strive as warriors. Terrible foes assail them--hell, with all its legions, is arrayed in opposition; but they take to themselves the whole armor of God. Having done all, they stand. Their sword resists the Devil, and he flees. Jesus is the Captain of their Salvation. He is their banner, leading them to victory. Dreadful is this army to the hosts of evil. No battle ever yet was lost--no soldier ever yet was slain.
6:5. "Turn away your eyes from Me, for they have overcome Me."
We next hear of the power of faith, even over Christ. It wrestles with omnipotence. It will not forbear until it overcomes. We see its actings in the case of Jacob. Its divine Author gives it strength. Thus it takes heaven by storm. Sweet is the testimony of Jesus, "O woman, great is your faith; be it done unto you even as you will." How earnest should be our constant cry, 'Lord, increase our faith!' This grace strengthens in the use.
6:5-7. "Your hair, as it falls across your face, is like a flock of goats frisking down the slopes of Gilead. Your teeth are white like freshly washed ewes, perfectly matched and not one missing. Your cheeks behind your veil are like pomegranate halves--lovely and delicious. "
From a general description of the Church's beauty and power, particular features are now selected for commendation.
Here Christ repeats His previous description of her charms. The repetition shows His unabated love. Let it call forth our unabated praise. We marvel indeed, that He who is all holy and pure, should find delight in beings such as we are. We often are disposed to ask, "How can He thus love what we must feel to be so unlovely!" The paradox is solved by the grand truth, that by grace we are saved. The scheme in all its parts is the bright manifestation of free grace. May the Lord hasten the time when the topstone of the fabric shall be brought forth with shoutings of grace to it--grace to it!
6:8, 9. "There are sixty queens, and eighty concubines, and virgins without number. My dove, My undefiled is but one; she is the only one of her mother, she is the choice one of her that bore her. The maidens saw her, and blessed her; yes, the queens and the concubines, and they praised her."
The commendation of the Church continues. A contrast shows her marked pre-eminence. We are led to the palace of some Eastern Monarch. It is a scene of pomp and luxury and voluptuousness. Crowds meet our eye of royal personages, and others of inferior rank, attired in every attraction to charm the gaze. We gladly turn away to contemplate the Bride of Christ.
One chaste and lovely image shines throughout the pages of God's Word. We always read, that the Church is one--not many. Doubtless it is composed of an innumerable company of souls gathered from every nation, kindred, climate, living in every age--a stream flowing on through all revolving years. But the collected multitude is only one. There is no diversity--the individual members, who make up the blessed unity, have all been called by the one Spirit. They have all washed their robes and made them white in the one blood. They have all put on the one glorious robe of righteousness. They all utter the same confession of miserable sinfulness. They all walk in the same narrow way of life. They all profess the one faith. They all seek the one home. Soon they will all sing the one song of "Salvation to our God, who sits upon the throne; and to the Lamb forever and ever."
The unity of the Church is a strong argument to enforce Christian love. Let us ever strive to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Believers who injure one another, should know that the real injury is inflicted on themselves. "Now there are different kinds of spiritual gifts, but it is the same Holy Spirit who is the source of them all. There are different kinds of service in the church, but it is the same Lord we are serving. There are different ways God works in our lives, but it is the same God who does the work through all of us."
As there are not two laws and two Gospels, and two heavens, and two sacrifices for sin so there are not two Brides.
The Church is here commended for faithfulness to her Lord. She is the undefiled one. Her heart and her affections are wholly given to Him. There was a time when other lords had dominion over her; but the Spirit by His power has now entirely subdued her heart. There one object reigns supreme. She holds no more dalliance with the seducing world. She is espoused as a chaste virgin. By this mark she is distinguished from the countless voluptuaries of this polluted earth. In heartfelt sincerity she professes, "I am my Beloved's, and my Beloved is mine."
Doubtless the enmity of the world is her portion. Forever true is the word, "If you were of the world, the world would love its own--but because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hates you."
But still homage and reverence is awarded to her. As Christ could not be hidden; so neither can the Church. The guilty Herod felt the power of the Baptist's preaching. Felix trembled before the captive Paul. So the Church still possesses influence, which cannot be questioned. The man of God is a power wherever He abides. "The maidens saw her, and blessed her; yes, the queens and the concubines, and they praised her."
Observation attests the truth, that faith never glows without imparting warmth around. A believer may dwell in some lowly hut--no influence of rank, of station, of wealth, of talent may be his portion; but it is always found that his humble life is not in vain. Some eye will rest upon his peace, and obvious blessedness, and will receive a lesson which takes deep root. The impression will go forth, that godliness has the promise of the life that now is, as well as of the life that is to come. It will be seen that while lordly owners have trouble and sadness in their vast possessions, the meek have real enjoyment of this earth.
6:10. "Who is she that looks forth as the morning, fair as the moon, clear as the sun, and majestic as an army with banners?"
The praises of the Church are as boundless as the Bridegroom's love. Varied images have been employed in commendation of her beauty. The theme is not exhausted. Varied images still enlarge the picture. The grandest cities of the earth, pre-eminent in situation and in construction, have contributed illustration. We are now led to expand our vision, and to contemplate the glories of the skies over our heads. It proclaims a lesson to the ears of faith. In it we read how beauteous is the Church! "She looks forth as the morning."
What can be more lovely than the first streaks of light along the eastern sky! The eye beholds and admires with joy. Slender at first, the rays gradually increase. As they wax stronger their beauty amplifies. Mists and vapors disappear before them. A glowing prospect springs to light. The plains, the mountains, and the sea cast off the garb of darkness, and exhibit an illumined face. Inhabitants of earth awaken to their daily toil, and with gratitude go forth.
Let us see in the opening of returning day the beauty of the Church. Where it appears strong in the Lord, and bright in His grace, ignorance no more spreads its gloom. Discoveries of God, of His character, and of His work are gradually unveiled. The light shines more and more unto the perfect day. Thus morning light is a similitude of the Lamb's Bride.
Again lift up the eye, and mark the skies. Evening shadows prevail. Darkness has spread around its obscuring mantle. But a bright orb is seen on high. The MOON appears in sweet and silvery light. It pursues its beauteous course, delighting the gladdened earth. What object can be more enchanting! What eye can weary in gazing on the lamp of night! By its soft rays the wakeful shepherd tends his flock--the weary traveler pursues his way--the sleepless mariner directs his course. Thus the lesser light rules the night.
Let our admiring eyes read spiritual improvements. Adorned in grace the Church thus shines, and scattering benefits thus moves. Lovely is the moon in heaven; and lovely, also, Christ's Church on earth.
But the similitudes of the skies are not exhausted. Behold the glorious SUN. In majesty and glory it strides across the skies. Its rays dispel all darkness, and give life to the dormant powers of earth. Marvelous is, indeed, the grace, that this emblem of the blessed Lord should be employed to give figure to the Church. We learn the wondrous truth, that God who gives Himself for her, enrobes her in His perfect beauty. It is a marvelous thought, that yet a little while we shall be like Him--for we shall see Him as He is. Our bodies of humiliation shall be transformed to the likeness of the body of His glory. His favored servants shall shine forth as the sun in his strength.
Again the Church is exhibited as a bannered army marching forth to victory. Let us clasp to our hearts the invigorating truth, that Christ's followers are arrayed in the armor of omnipotence--that no enemy can finally impede their heavenward course; and that they shall tread Satan under their feet shortly. All praise to Him who has loved us, and given Himself for us!
6:11. "I went down into the garden of nuts to see the fruits of the valley, and to see whether the vine flourished, and the pomegranates budded."
A garden is again presented as an emblem of the Church. The similitude is apt, significant, and teaching. It is often therefore introduced, and cannot be too often studied. It is a spot enclosed from the wilderness of the world, prepared by careful culture, and enriched with the choicest flowers and fruits. It abounds with recreations and delights. Its cultivation gives especial pleasure. Frequent are the visits of the owner; and with anxiety He watches the budding fruits--the opening blossoms--the ripening clusters.
Thus Christ's ever-watchful eye surveys His people. He has prepared their hearts as the good ground. He has filled it with good seed; and He looks to see that good fruit is the result. May it be so with us! Shame indeed will be justly ours, if His selecting care, and His enriching grace should end in barrenness and disappointment. Shame if when He comes and looks for sweet grapes, He finds sour grapes. How sad when in this garden, barren fig-trees show nothing but the leaves of profession, without reality of precious fruit! There should be no limits to our longings after fruitfulness. "Herein is My Father glorified, that you bear much fruit. So shall you be My disciples." May we be fragrant flowers, as those blooming in Eden's garden! May we be trees of righteousness richly laden with the choicest produce!
Means for this end are largely within our reach. Let us seek the enriching seed of the heavenly Word. May we capture heaven with the force of prayer! May our dwellings be under the ripening rays of the Sun of righteousness!
12. "Before I realized it, my desire set me among the royal chariots of Amminadab."
We are suddenly met with a rapturous exclamation. Without too curiously seeking to connect it with the context, we see in it the experience, which sometimes overpowers the soul with joy. Who has not known such blissful moments! Light suddenly breaks in. Extraordinary energy invigorates the heart. The wings are expanded for rapid flight. Earth is left. The soul seems wafted to the heaven of heavens. Jesus appears with fresh discoveries of His redeeming love. Our names are seen written in bright colors on His heart and on His hands. The celestial portals seem to open wide; a glimpse is obtained of the blessedness within, and a taste is given of the joys which are at God's right hand for evermore. The consummation is apparently realized. Earth vanishes to immeasurable distance. Celestial heights are reached. Deliverance from sin and Satan are joyfully grasped. The feeling rushes in. This is heaven. Eternity is secure. If such anticipations have been occasionally granted, may they quicken the longings for the never-ending attainment!
Such joyous flight is in rapidity like the motion of some well-known charioteer. This rapture was given in wondrous measure to the enchanted Paul. Behold the record, "I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago (whether in the body I cannot tell, or whether out of the body I cannot tell--God knows) such an one caught up to the third heaven. And I knew such a man (whether in the body, or out of the body I cannot tell--God knows) how that He was caught up into Paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter." Let it be noted that such wondrous revelations are only given as a mark of most especial grace, and let us, also, perceive what amazing fruits the hand of faith may sometimes pluck.
6:13. "Return, return, O Shulamite; return, return, that we may look upon you. What will you see in the Shulamite? As it were the company of two armies."
The Church receives a new name. It is a pleasing thought, that this title seems to intimate that she is a citizen of Salem, the capital of the Prince of peace. It thus transports us to the happy time when the Bride shall appear, as the "new Jerusalem coming down from God out of heaven prepared as a bride adorned for her husband." Oh! blissful day. Oh! happy company. On that morn may we appear as true Shulamites! The address, also, is couched in terms of importunity. The cry is redoubled, "Return, return." We marvel at this condescending love.
The believer often has to traverse dark days on earth. Restraint of prayer--neglect of appointed means--dallying with the distracting pleasures of the world--indifference and sloth betray departure from the Lord. Such sad strayings quench refreshing joy and peace. May the Spirit at such periods prompt the cry, "Return, return. Without You life is a dreary wilderness."
This, however, is not the truth of the passage now before us. We rather hear the blessed Jesus deploring the absence of the straying soul, and tenderly calling her to come back. How gracious--how encouraging is this evidence, that Jesus desires His people never to wander from Him! Sweet is the exhortation, "Abide in Me, and I in you." The Savior should be the Church's home. Believers dwell in God, and God in them. Hence in the multitude of tender mercies, the call to return is an assurance of His desire for the closest union. "Return, O backsliding Israel, says the Lord, and I will not cause my anger to fall upon you for I am merciful, says the Lord, and I will not keep anger forever."
Let the thought of the gracious welcome quicken the returning steps of each backsliding child. Let not the voice be heard in vain, "O Israel, return unto the Lord your God--for you have fallen by your iniquity."
Steps may have wandered far in the downward path. But still we are not beyond the limits of return. Wide may be the barrier, but it is not impassable. We are thus taught that we cannot fathom the oceans of His love.
Marvelous, also, is the reason here adjoined--"Return, return, that we may look upon you." We are bid to look to Jesus; and to see Him is Salvation. We are exhorted to pursue our heavenward path, laying aside every weight--looking off to Jesus the author and finisher of faith. Happy are the eyes which never weary in this blissful gaze! But here we are told of the heavenly Bridegroom's desire to look upon the Church.
If the sight of believers on earth, so full of imperfection, can be regarded with complacency, what must the sight be in heaven, where all are transformed into the glorious likeness of the Son of God! "Beloved, now are we the sons of God--but it does not yet appear what we shall be. But we know that when He shall appear, we shall be like Him--for we shall see Him as He is."
Now the believer's heart is as a battle-field, in which contending armies engage. The 'old man' wounded and dying still shows much power to maintain a conflict. The 'new man' wrestles for the victory. The flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary, the one to the other. The Shulamite is a company of two armies. She fights the good fight of faith. The victory, the triumph, and the crown will soon be won. Then all struggle--all conflict shall be forever ended.