THE MINISTRY OF HOME  or "Brief Expository Lectures on Divine Truth"
by Octavius Winslow

The Church of God a Garden

"Awake, O north wind; and come, south wind; blow upon my garden, that the spices thereof may flow out." Song of Solomon 4:16.

  The fact cannot fail to have impressed the mind of the most cursory reader of the Bible, to how great an extent the emblematic character of its teaching prevails. The kingdom of nature, rich and exhaustless in its mine of imagery, is made to illustrate, in some of its most important truths, the higher kingdom of grace, while both do homage to their one Creator and Lord. Thus does the Holy Spirit, in condescension to our finite and fallen minds, naturalize, as it were, things that are spiritual, and humanize, as it were, things that are Divine. The great central fact of the Gospel, around which all other doctrines cluster- the Incarnation of the Son of God- supplies the most sublime and most impressive evidence and illustration of this truth.
  The Bible is replete with imagery drawn from landscape scenery, designed to set forth spiritual truth. Our present subject supplies us with an eminent example of this. The Church of God is presented to us in the text under the similitude of a Garden, upon whose sacred plants a two-fold life-giving and fertilizing influence is invoked. "Awake, O north wind; and come, you south; blow upon my garden, that the spices thereof may flow out."
  There are other instances in which similar imagery is used descriptive of the same truth. Speaking of the Church, the Prophet says: "I will sing to my well beloved a song of my beloved touching his vineyard. My well beloved has a vineyard in a very fruitful hill. The vineyard of the Lord of Hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah His pleasant plant." Again, "In that day sing you unto her, a vineyard of red wine. I the Lord do keep it; I will water it every moment: lest any hurt it, I will keep it night and day." And employing a corresponding image the Apostle addressing the saints reminds them, "You are God's husbandry." Thus the Church of God, composed of the one election of grace, is set forth under the similitude of a Garden.
  The passage we are about to expound is rich and precious in its spiritual instruction, and will awaken in many an experimental heart a deep, fervent response. It is the prayer of the Church appealing to her loved Lord. Conscious of her mournful declension, thirsting for spiritual quickening, longing for a gracious, restoring visit from Christ, she directs to Him her earnest and fervent prayer. What an evidence have we here of the deathless nature of real grace in the regenerate soul!  The garden of the soul may suffer from a long and withering drought; the plants may droop, the flowers may fade, the fruit may wither, and the whole growth for a while seem stunted; nevertheless, the gracious soul is, in its worst and lowest spiritual state, infinitely better than the graceless soul in its highest and most prosperous carnal condition.
  It may at times be low water with the Christian's soul. Christ withdrawn, evidences shaded, hope obscured, and joy depressed. Nevertheless, there is the water- the indwelling water of life that never dies, but springs up into eternal life;  and although the tide may ebb, leaving the soul for a season barren and exposed, it will yet return in refulgent and flowing waves, and all shall once more be sunshine and song.
  We now turn to the text. It suggests three things for our contemplation: The Garden- the Invocation- the Fruitfulness. The Church of God is represented as a garden. "My garden." It is of the utmost importance that we have Scriptural and correct views of the Church of Christ. The views of many are the opposite of this. Some idolize the Church, and place it above Christ; others ignore it almost entirely. Forgetting that it is the "light of the world, "the "salt of the earth," the "pillar and ground of the truth," they would throw down its walls, upheave its foundations, and virtually efface its very existence; while others, assigning to it a place, conceding to it a power, and investing it with an authority which belong, not to the Church which is the Body, but to Christ, who is the Head, would exalt it above Christ Himself. Guided by the similitude of the passage, let us endeavor to learn what the Holy Spirit would teach us concerning the true nature and properties of Christ's Church, both in its collective and individual capacity.
  A garden is a chosen and choice spot- so is the Church of God. Election- free, unconditional, holy election- is inseparable from the people of God. Engraved as with the point of a diamond is this precious truth upon every page of the Church's history. The language of the inspired penman is unmistakable. "You are a chosen generation." "Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father." "According as He has chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world." "I have chosen you out of the world." "Knowing brethren beloved your election of God." Such is the harmonious teaching of God's Word on this point.
  The Church of God is a living and lasting monument of His electing love. Those who are taught this truth by the Spirit- and by the Spirit alone can it be received in the love of it- find it a sweetly comforting, heart-humbling, and soul-sanctifying doctrine. Chosen that we should be holy, they find in it the strongest motive to conformity to the image of God. Elected by an act of sovereign grace, they find it in their experience a most emptying, humbling, truth, ever keeping them in the dust of self-abasement before the Lord.
  Take comfort and hope from this truth, poor sin-distressed, guilt-burdened soul; for all whom the Father loved, the Savior died; and all for whom the Savior died, the Spirit inclines, and draws, and makes willing to come to Christ poor, and empty, and lost- to be saved wholly, freely and entirely to be saved by Him. So long as Jesus stands ready to save- as able to save poor sinners as He is willing, and as willing as He is able- hesitate not to accept Him, believe in Him and be saved.
  Your broken heart for sin, your humbling sense of vileness and unworthiness, your renunciation of the works of the law, and the deep felt need you have of Christ to justify you, constitute some of the strongest proofs of God's electing love towards you. These are signs and marks of grace. All the Lord's trees of righteousness, all the flowers of His garden reflect these divine hues, and breathe this sacred perfume-  all smite upon the breast and cry- "God be merciful to me a sinner!"
  Another truth grows out of this. The Lord's people, like a garden, are an enclosed and separate people. No two communities are more essentially separate and dissimilar than the Church and the world. The great effort of Satan has ever been to annihilate this distinction, and thus to break down the wall of separation between Christ's kingdom and his own; and, alas! many false religious professors have in this been his most zealous and efficient allies. But Christ has left not a shade of doubt resting upon this truth- namely, the unearthliness of His Church, the unworldliness of His people. How emphatic and conclusive His memorable declaration- "My kingdom is not of this world: if My kingdom were of this world, then would My servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is My kingdom not from hence." Thus, how clear the nature, constitution, and government of Christ's Church as propounded by its sole Head and Legislator.
  With this corresponds the preceptive teaching of His Apostles- "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him." "Be not conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind." "Wherefore, come out from among them, and be separate, says the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing." What need do we have of clearer or more solemn teaching? Can we as professors of Christ unite a compliance of this holy precept with an unholy conformity to the world? Can we be said to "Come out from among them, touching not the unclean thing," and yet give our personal and practical countenance to the theater, the opera, the concert, and the card table- the dance, the turf, and the novel- or any one of the sinful pleasures, frivolous gaities and vain recreations essentially and professedly of the world?
  Impossible! The Lord's garden is a separate enclosure. Its true plants are transplants, taken out of the world into the Church, henceforth to be a "chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people, that they should show forth the praises of Him, who has called them out of darkness into His marvellous light." "I have chosen you," says the Lord of the vineyard, "out of the world." Such is the wide and essential demarcation of the Church of God and the world, and such the baneful effects of attempting their amalgamation, I feel that too great stress cannot be laid upon the importance of absolute separation of the Lord's people from the unclean thing.
  The question is not, how far you may go into the world and not be worldly; nor is it to be decided by the immediate and sensible effect of worldly amusements upon your feelings. A professing Christian may indulge in certain worldly gaities, or employments of questionable propriety, without being conscious of any immediate injury received, and then vainly imagine that he has derived no hurt to himself, whatever it may be with others.
  But, has no injury in reality been received? Has no evil influence been exerted upon the spirituality of an easily susceptible and finely-fibered soul? Has not the spirit of devotion been killed, the heart estranged from God, the mind secularized, and all the sweet, holy impressions of religion seriously impaired? Thus the matter is not to be decided by feeling. The question can only be determined by inquiry into the nature, tendencies, and results of scenes enacted at a theater- of sentiments promulgated in an romance novel- of frivolities indulged in at a ball, upon a soul on whom the solemn vows of holy consecration to God are sealed. Thus the spiritual injury of worldly conformity to a professing Christian is often in a way of which he is the least conscious. His only safe and  consistent path is one of marked and decided separation- combating with the faith that overcomes the world, and crucifying it by the cross upon which it crucified his Lord and Master.
  And yet, as Christians, we must not forget that we have a holy and solemn mission to the world. As the "light of the world," we are to illumine it; as the "salt of the earth," we are to purify it; as the "pillar and ground of the truth," we are to "contend earnestly for the faith once delivered unto the saints." As true loyalists, we are to maintain the crown rights of Jesus. As members of His body, we are to vindicate His Divine Headship. As graciously saved by His Atonement, we are to testify to the vicarious nature of His sufferings and death. As His disciples we are to confess Him, to take up His cross and follow Him. As His professing servants, we are to bear the torch-light of His Gospel into all lands, wafting the fragrance of His name and the music of His love upon the wings of every wind, and upon the crest of every billow. Love to Christ, attachment to His truth, loyalty to His cause, binds us to obedience, devotion, consecration, and, if need be, to suffering and death, as "plants of His own right hand planting, that He may be glorified." Of what moment, then, that we be holy and consistent in our walk and conversation in and before the world! The eyes of the ungodly are upon us- watching, waiting, hoping for our fall. Let our holy living, let our Christ-like spirit, be a daily, hourly, solemn protest against the wickedness, heartlessness, and emptiness of this ungodly world.
  The unity of Christ's Church is strikingly illustrated by the similitude of a "garden." A garden is a spot single and complete in itself; in which there exists in all its essential landscape features, the most perfect harmony of character and design. Such is the great truth the similitude illustrates in reference to the Church of God. It is a Divine and sacred unity. The body of Christ is one. "My beloved is ONE." The unity of the Church is not accidental, dependent upon a sameness of polity, or assimilation of worship, or identity of nations. The unity of the Church is essential and indivisible. Nothing can destroy the natural, inherent properties of it. Divided it may be, dismembered and isolated, but the essential elements themselves must ever maintain their original and indestructible character.
  Thus is it with the Church of God. It is essentially one. There may be different communions, known among men by various human titles, but the Elect Church of God is essentially one Family, one Flock, one Body. No accident can touch the essential unity of the Church. Different forms of Church government and modes of Christian worship may exist, but fail to touch the spiritual life, to dislodge the one indwelling Spirit, or to impair the vital union with Christ the One Head, in which consists the essential union of all the Lord's people- the "Church of God which He has purchased with His own blood."
   How clearly the Apostle presents this interesting truth in his letter to the Ephesian saints. "There is one body, and one Spirit, even as you are called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all." Evidence, my reader, your oneness to Christ by a manifested love and fellowship with His people. He has given us this test- "By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love one to another." By the same evidence we are personally assured of our spiritual life, "We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren." Let it be our earnest endeavor, forgetting our denominational distinctions- which in God's sight are but human inventions- to "keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace;" every where, and on all occasions, cultivating and enjoying the "communion of saints," as we hope to enjoy it in its plenitude and perfection in the world of glory.
  God binds all His children in the one Parental heart, and sad were the spectacle of alienation from, or unholy strife with, any of those who repose with us upon that Father's bosom. Thus every tree of righteousness in the Lord's garden is of His own right hand planting; and surely among those who dwell under His shadow, and who derive their fruit from their mutual engrafting into the same Living Vine, and are refreshed and fertilized by the showers of the same Divine Spirit, love, forbearance, confidence, and sympathy should exist and increase more and more. Do all in your power to manifest and promote the visible unity of Christ's Church! The benediction of the "peace-maker" will then be yours.
  The similitude of the text strikingly illustrates the sovereign grace exhibited in the salvation of God's people. A garden partakes originally of the same nature and is intrinsically of the same soil as that from which it was reclaimed. Nothing but the skill and pains and culture of the owner and husbandman have made it to differ from the wilderness by which it is surrounded. How impressively the Apostle puts this truth: "You has He quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins; wherein in time past you walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now works in the children of disobedience: among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others." And then He traces up the grace that has made us to differ from what we once were, and from what the ungodly world now is, to the "great love with which God, who is rich in mercy, has loved us."
  Thus, then, nothing but free and sovereign grace has made us what we are. All human boasting, fleshly pride, and self-exaltation is laid at the feet of Jesus, and upon His head the crown shall flourish. Thus the Church of God, in its moral relation to the world, becomes what Goshen was to Egypt- a place of light in the midst of darkness, of plenty in the midst of famine, of rest and repose in the midst of toil and weariness.
  What infinite wisdom, what marvellous grace are seen in the planting by God of such a garden as the Church, in the midst of such a world as ours! This is the only holy place, this the only fertile enclosure, this the only sun-light spot in this vast wilderness of sin, barrenness, and woe. O what a privilege to be the lowliest plant growing, the obscurest flower blooming, within this divine and spiritual garden.
"Lord, it is a pleasant thing to stand
In gardens planted by Your hand;
Let me within Your courts be seen,
Like a young cedar, fresh and green.
"There grow Your saints in faith and love,
Blest with Your influence from above;
Not Lebanon, with all its trees,
Yields such a lovely sight as these."
  As in a garden there is a great variety of flowers, so in the Church of Christ. All believers have not the same measure of grace, all have not the same strength of faith, nor have all the same degree of fruitfulness. The Apostle speaks of "babes," "little children," "young men," and "fathers" in the Church; therefore let not one Christian be set against another; let there be no disparaging comparisons, no unholy envyings, no disdainful neglects. What has made one believer to differ from another, but the sovereignty of the Lord of the vineyard? Rather should the saints of God cultivate towards each other love, forbearance, and humility. The strong should assist the weak, the advanced should encourage the halting, the joyful should cheer the sad; those of soaring wing should teach to fly the newly fledged, and those who are strong should bear the burden of the burdened; while the faithful and persevering should seek out, restore, and bring back to the fold those who had wandered far away. "We then who are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let every one of us please his neighbor for his good to edification; for even Christ pleased not Himself." Thus much for the garden.
  We now turn to the prayer, "Awake, O north wind; and come, south wind; blow upon my garden, that the spices thereof may flow out." It is, doubtless, the invitation of the Church. Sensible of deadness, drought, and barrenness, she earnestly uplifts her prayer to Christ, desiring quickening, renewing, refreshing. Christ has command of the winds. "What manner of Man is this, that even the winds and the waves obey Him!" Such is Christ now. There are TWO OPPOSITE WINDS spoken of in the passage. First, the north wind- cold, keen, and cutting. Sometimes the north wind is emblematic of the deepening law-work in the soul, which often marks a later stage of the Christian's experience. If his earliest conviction of sin is light and superficial, in a more advanced stage of his spiritual journey he is led into deeper discoveries of his heart's sinfulness.
  The ploughshare of the Word is inserted, the surface turned up, the fallow ground broken, and the Christian is led to see more of the deep depravity and sinfulness of his nature. O how cold and keen is now the "north wind" of the Spirit thus blowing upon the garden of his soul! Paul's seventh chapter of Romans was written after his conversion- certainly not before. And who can read and study that remarkable and instructive chapter of his personal experience, and not learn how chill and piercing and humbling the blast of the north wind may be sweeping across the quickened soul of the man of God, long after he had found refuge in Jesus, the Hiding Place.
  Be not astonished, then, O believer, if the Lord is dealing so with you now. This more pungent conviction of sin, this opening of a new chamber of imagery in your heart, this deeper insertion of the plough of God's Word in your soul, but evidences the truth of your Christianity, proves the reality of your grace; and while it shows you more thoroughly the blackness of your heart, unveils more deeply the love of Christ's.
  The "north wind" is also an emblem of the afflictive dispensations of God in the believer's history, by which soul-fruitfulness is promoted. And O how cold and wintry often this blast!  What tender buds it nips, what precious blossoms it blasts, what beauteous flowers it slays of creature good, of earth's treasures! How the cold north wind blew over the garden of good old Jacob, when bereavement and famine overtook him! How wintry the blast over David's garden when Absalom proved a traitor, and would have been a parricide and regicide! How nipping the blast across the domestic garden of Naomi when she exclaimed, "Call me not Naomi, call me Mara: for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went out full, and the Lord has brought me home again empty!" How terribly withering the north wind that rushed athwart the garden of Job, when by one blast, children, and wealth, and herds, and health, were swept from him, and he was left like the scathed oak of the forest!
  But O! how fruitful did all these afflicted saints by this very process become! How the garden of the soul revived, freshened, and blossomed! How real; luxuriant, and golden became the fruits of righteousness in those who were exercised thereby! Shrink not then, beloved, from the cold north wind of God's holy, loving, though trying dispensations. Welcome the influence, however unkindly it may seem to come, which promotes your growth in grace, deepens the Lord's work in your soul, endears the Savior to your heart, makes sin more hateful, holiness more longed for, and advances your fitness for glory. O precious and welcome blast, concealing beneath its cold, sweeping wing, blessings so holy and precious as these!
"Trials must and will befall
But with humble faith to see
Love inscribed upon them all,
This is happiness to me."
"God in Israel sows the seeds
Of affliction, pain, and toil;
These spring up, and choke the weeds
Which would else overspread the soil."
"Trials make the promise sweet,
Trials give new life to prayer,
Trials bring me to His feet,
Lay me low, and keep me there!"
  And WHO sends and tempers this north wind? Even Him of whom it is said- "He stays His rough wind in the day of His east wind." Even Him of whom it is written- "And You shall be a Hiding Place from the wind and Covert from the tempest." Jesus controls the winds: He rides upon their wing, makes them subservient to His will, employs them as instruments of accomplishing His purposes of love. And as the north wind scatters the clouds, purifies the air, and checks the too rapid and luxuriant growth of the plants, so the Spirit's deeper conviction of sin and God's afflictive dealings tend but to promote the well-being of the plants of grace which Christ in His garden on earth is preparing for His garden in heaven. Shrink not, then, from the cold, cutting breath of the north wind, my reader, since Jesus sends it, and Jesus controls it, and Jesus employs it, and Jesus will stay its roughness and hide you within His pierced and sheltering side.
  But there is also an invitation to the south wind. "Come south wind and blow upon my garden." The South wind- warm, balmy, and fertilizing. Such is another operation of the Holy Spirit, diverse from the preceding, and yet equally promotive of the believer's spiritual fruitfulness. The south wind is emblematic of the "love of God shed abroad in our heart by the Holy Spirit which He has given unto us." O how warming, how vivifying, and how fructifying God's love in the soul. Truly it is as the south wind, breathing sweet odors, balmy in its influence, thawing and warming the frozen soul, bringing with it fruitful showers that make the flowers to spring up, and the plants to grow.
  How promotive of our fruitfulness is the love of Jesus moving us to holy and unreserved evangelical obedience. "The love of Christ constrains us;" and when love enlarges the heart we run the way of the Lord's commandments, in the keeping of which we find a great reward. Seek earnestly this "south wind" to blow upon the garden of your soul. Let love be the great influential motive of all you do for the Lord. Let all that springs from the flesh- all that is self-seeking, self-pleasing, self-exalting be dislodged from your doings and your ends, by the love of Christ alone constraining you. Come, O south wind of a Savior's warm, fertilizing, and precious love, and blow upon the garden of my soul!
  And what is the holy RESULT of the north and south wind breathing in sweet unison upon the soul?  This is the end- "That the spices thereof may flow out." The true believer desires to be fruitful: he knows that from Christ his fruit is found: he remembers the words of Jesus- "As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abide in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me." And now his earnest desire is to rest in Christ- to live upon Christ- to draw large supplies of grace from Christ- to be assured of his union with Christ- and by looking in faith to Christ continually, so to bring forth "much fruit" to the glory of God the Father.
  O how fragrant now the fruitful soul! It is "as the smell of a field which the Lord has blessed." Now the SPICES- the GRACES OF THE SPIRIT, the FRUITS OF HOLINESS flow forth, to the praise and delight of the heavenly Gardener!  They flow forth in all their plenitude, richness, and fragrance, and Jesus comes into His garden and eats the pleasant fruit.
  Look well to the condition of your soul! What ever else is neglected, allow no neglect here. Your spiritual state infinitely outweighs every other consideration. Nothing demands more incessant watchfulness- pruning, weeding, irrigation- since nothing is so susceptible of decay, as the garden of the soul. Guard against the world's blight, the canker-worm of covetousness, the nipping frost of carnal-association, and the withering heat of religious professional excitement, lest the lamentation of old should again be heard- "They made me the keeper of the vineyard, but My Own Vineyard have I not kept."
  The moment the discovery is made of dulness and decay send up the earnest prayer- "Awake, O north wind, and come, south wind, and blow upon my garden!" Cultivate this sacred enclosure with sleepless care and divinely-taught skill, that Jesus, your Beloved, may often love to come into His garden and eat His pleasant fruits.
  Remember how precious and delightful this garden is to Christ- that it cost Him His life to ransom and reclaim. Seek, in earnest prayer to the Holy Spirit, much of His divine, quickening influence. So seek to please Him in your Christ exalting walk- careful not to grieve His love, or restrain His influences- that He may breathe His gentle gales, and unseal His warm springs of grace to make your soul fruitful and fragrant. Then shall "the Lord guide you continually, and satisfy your soul in drought, and make fat your bones; and you shall be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not." The sacred poet's graphic picture will then be realized in you-
"We are a garden walled around,
Chosen and made peculiar ground;
A little spot, enclosed by grace
Out of the world's wide wilderness.
"Like trees of myrrh and spice we stand,
Planted by God the Father's hand,
And all His springs in Zion flow
To make this young plantation grow.
"Awake, O heavenly wind! and come,
Blow on this garden of perfume;
Spirit divine descend, and breathe
A gracious gale on plants beneath.
"Make our best spices flow abroad,
To entertain our Savior God;
And faith and love and joy appear,
And every grace be active here."
  And when the Lord and Keeper of the vineyard shall come into His garden to gather His lilies, when the pale reaper invades the Church and gathers from it its greatest ornaments, or enters the domestic garden and breaks the stem of its loveliest and fondest flower- remember that He has taken but what was His own, transplanting it to the paradise above, to bloom and breathe its fragrance in immortal youth and beauty!
  Do not say that they are lost. Faith can see them even now. Their spirits are with the Lord, and their bodies, resting in the dust, shall, at His personal appearing, be raised in incorruption, glory, and power; for this mortal shall put on immortality, and death shall be then swallowed up in victory. "The Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first; then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words."
"Oh what a garden will be seen,
When all the flowers of grace
Appear in everlasting green,
Before the Planter's face!"
"No more exposed to burning skies,
Or winter's piercing cold;
What never-dying sweets will rise
From every opening fold!"
"No lack of sun or shower above
To make the flowers decline;
Fountains of life and beams of love,
Forever spring and shine."
"No more they need the quickening air,
Or gently rising dew;
Unspeakable their beauties are,
And yet forever new."
"Christ is their Shade, and Christ their Sun
 Among them walks the King!
Whose presence is eternal noon;
His smile, eternal spring!"