An Outline of Song of Songs - by C.A. Coates
This paper is somewhat lengthy - however, easy to read and expresses a depth of spiritual sensitivity to the mind and language of the Holy Spirit which is sure to greatly appeal to every true lover of Jesus Christ [Editor].
The Song of Songs is a book for the heart. It is a choice part of the Holy Scriptures, and has ever appealed to the affections of those who love our Lord Jesus Christ. Its voice was probably never more needed than it is today, for nearly all the influences of modern life combine to hinder the development of such emotions as find expression in this book, and to chill them even after they have been awakened. Our Lord's words are true of the present time: "Because lawlessness shall prevail, the love of the most shall grow cold" (Matthew 24:12). May God be graciously pleased to use it to stimulate holy affections in the hearts of His saints! The reader will please notice that quotations from Scripture are, throughout this book, from the New Translation by J. N. Darby.
This book does not bring before us the first movements of the work of God in the soul. The first exercises of a creature who has sinned against God are in the conscience. Conviction of sin and repentance must have their place; the answer to Job's question, "How can man be just with God?" must be found. The forgiveness of sins and justification in Christ are great necessities. But these primary questions are not raised in this book; they are supposed to have been raised, and settled in a divine way. And the very way in which these moral questions have been settled for those who believe on the Lord Jesus Christ has given us the knowledge of God as moving according to His own nature, that is in love. "God commends his love to us, in that, we being still sinners, Christ has died for us". There was an immense depth of need on our part, but on God's part a movement of love in that Christ, His beloved Son, has died for us. In the light of this we make the wondrous discovery that God is love, and, that being so, He can only be satisfied with love on the part of His loved creature. God is known to us as set forth in a blessed Man, His beloved Son, who in love has gone into death for us, and who is now, as risen and exalted, the King of glory. A Divine Person is brought before us in this book as The King, as the true Solomon who is, typically, the King of glory. But the Spirit of God, who has brought out His glory in many and varied ways throughout the Holy Scriptures, engages our hearts with Him in this incomparable book as a Lover. He is seen here as manifesting His love to those who appreciate it, and to whom it is more precious than all else. He is God's Anointed; all divine and kingly rights are His; but He is known here as a personal Lover, and as having come into Manhood to be appreciated and responded to in ardent affection.
The inspired title of this book, The Song of Songs, indicates its surpassing excellence, in contrast with the "vanity of vanities" which could alone be experienced in the world "under the sun".Solomon's songs were "a thousand and five"; he was conversant with every subject of song, as he was with all trees and living creatures (1 Kings 4:32-34), but this song has been selected as of greater value than all the others. No subject could be greater or sweeter than the love of Christ, and those responsive movements which it awakens in the hearts of those who know it. To have the personal enjoyment of the love of Christ transcends all other joys. The principle of selection marks the whole of Scripture; not everything that saints, or servants of God, or even the Son of God, said or did, has been recorded, but all that was adequate to make known the mind and heart of God. And this song has been selected by the Spirit of God as of supreme worth because it delineates in a figurative way the affections that are in the heart of Christ towards His own, and the affections which have place in their hearts towards Him.
The love of Christ is a precious reality. The Spirit would never allow us to lose sight of His greatness and majesty -- He is the King, the supreme One, in this book -- but He would impress our hearts with a sweet and tender sense of His love. He was once here in humiliation and suffering and death for us, and He has now gone on high as the exalted and glorified One; He is "the Lord of glory", but He loves each one of us with a real and personal love. We can ask with confidence, "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? ... But in all these things we more than conquer through him that has loved us" (Romans 8:35-37). God would put the assurance of that in our hearts by His Spirit. Then Paul could say, "For the love of the Christ constrains us, having judged this: that one died for all, then all have died; and he died for all, that they who live should no longer live to themselves, but to him who died for them and has been raised" (2 Corinthians 5:14-15). As held in the embrace of the love of Christ we arrive at the judgment that it is due to Him that we should live to Him, not only in service but in affection. This is not a matter of mere sentiment, but of sober and considered judgment; it is a well weighed and deliberate conviction. And we should approach "The Song of Songs" in the light of this. The theme of the "Song" is such a consciousness of the love of Christ that the heart lives to Him. We shall find, indeed, that there are deviations from that blessed state, which have to be the subject of movements of recovery, but the true normal state of heart, as presented in the first section of the book, is one of full and glowing response to His known love, and of restfulness and rapture in that love.
We all profess to have the light of the love of Christ, and I trust there is a real, even if feeble, sense of it in our hearts. Now it would be strange if we knew about the love of Christ, and did not desire to have some personal token of it! The Song begins with this. "Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth". There is desire for the direct and personal expression of His love, some evidence of it that shall be, like the name written on the white stone (Revelation 2:17), known only to the one who receives it. Such an intimacy is to be sought and enjoyed in reality. It is an experience corresponding with the Lord's own words in John 14:21: "He that loves me shall be loved by my Father, and I will love him and will manifest myself to him". One feels humbled by the consciousness that one knows so little of personal intimacy with Christ. Such men as John and Paul knew what it was to be in nearness to Him with not a shade of reserve to cloud the consciousness of His love, and thousands of saints through the centuries have known it in their measure, and it is open to us to know it too. If we have to own that we have not known much of it in the past, it is open to us now if we have hearts to appreciate it.
The tokens of His love are asked for on the ground that they are valued. "For thy love is better than wine". When His love is valued more than all earthly or natural joys its manifestations will be given, If that is our estimation of it we shall get "the kisses of his mouth". Orpah kissed Naomi but left her, and Jonathan kissed David but parted from him. Those were farewell kisses, but the Lord's kisses are the pledge of a faithful and unchanging love.
There is a nearness to Him in His circumstances in the first section of this book, ending at the seventh verse of chapter 2, that does not appear in the rest of the book. "The king hath brought me into his chambers" (chapter 1: 4);"while the king is at his table" (chapter 1: 12);"He hath brought me to the house of wine" (chapter 2: 4). We find in this section a satisfaction and restfulness in nearness to Him which is not found later on. The experiences that follow are more varied, more mixed in character, and they he in different scenes. They are all deeply instructive, but they do not come up to what we have in the first section. I believe we have in the first section the love of Christ in its preciousness and satisfying power, as known, if we may so say, in His circumstances; and the affections of His own are seen as in full appreciation of, and response to, His love. So that the mutual relations between Christ and His loved ones are pictured here as in normal, or spiritual, conditions. The spouse is here marked by pure, unflagging, and fervent affection, and she is seen as occupying the best place which the King's love could give her in His own chambers and at His table. The affectionate relations between them are normal, and just what they should be to satisfy love. In the rest of the book there are experiences and exercises which are consequent upon a different state of things. From chapter 2: 8 to 3: 3, the spouse is not seen in His chambers, but as found in conditions where He has to seek her, or where she has to seek Him, and there are evidences of waning affection on her part, from which she has to be recovered through experiences which are not happy. This is seen also in chapter 5: 2 - 8. In those parts of the book desire is more prominent than satisfaction. But the first section brings before us in, a figurative way normal and spiritual conditions. It is God's way to begin by setting forth things according to the height and perfection of His own thoughts, though He may afterwards have to shew us how prone we are to deviate from them. The Psalms often begin by giving the goal to be reached, and then describe the way which may have to be traversed in order to reach it. What a height of blessing is brought before us in Ephesians 1 and 2 and yet He has afterwards to tell us not to steal, or tell lies, or use filthy language! But God loves to begin at the full height of His own thoughts; there is power and leverage in them to elevate us, and to preserve us from defection. Chapter 1 - 2: 7 is suggestive of first love. As we know the love of Christ, and respond to it, and love one another as He has loved us, there is love which is fist in quality, and not merely in time; it is a quality of love which cannot be surpassed. If we see what is spiritual, and normal according to God's mind, we have a divine standard by which defection or departure can be judged and adjusted.
There are reasons given in verse 3 why the virgins love Him. His ointments savour sweetly, and His Name is an ointment poured forth. I think verse 3 is perhaps the most important verse in the book, as giving the secret of the love for Christ which is found in virgin hearts, that is, hearts uncorrupted by the influences of the world. Such hearts can appreciate the sweet savour of His ointments, and the fragrance of His Name. It is to be noted that this is the only mention of His Name in the book. How often is it found in Scripture that the key hangs, as might be said, at the door; the first few verses of a book give a clue to its contents. His Name is something more than His kingly office, something more than all the graces and moral perfections which were manifest in Him; it is Himself -- His personal renown and greatness. We may admire different qualities in a friend, but it is the Person to whom they attach whom we love. His Name conveys all that He is in Himself, and if we do not know who He is we cannot rightly estimate the qualities and features and excellencies which may be seen in Him, and on which this book dwells with such a wealth and variety of figurative detail.
The Gospel of Matthew corresponds with the Song of Songs, for it presents Christ as the King, and His moral perfections are delineated there, particularly in the Beatitudes, but before the Evangelist speaks of Him as the King, or of His moral beauty and worth, he brings before us His Name. His Name is greater than any office which He fills; it is greater than the human excellencies and graces which shone forth in Him. It gives lustre, and character, and fragrance to every perfection that was seen in Him. "Thou shalt call his name Jesus" -- Jehovah the Saviour -- "for he shall save his people" -- Jehovah's people -- "from their sins" (Matthew 1:21). Then again, "They shall call his name Emmanuel, which is, being interpreted, God with us" (verse 23). The Evangelists tell us what He did, and what He said, but it is who He is that gives fragrance to it all. Think of the Almighty, the I AM, the Jehovah of the Old Testament coming into Manhood, and doing the acts and speaking the words recorded in the Gospels!That is the amazing reality. "Thy name is an ointment poured forth: therefore do the virgins love thee". There was a fragrance of God present in grace in all His movements, and in every circumstance, and it was discerned by hearts purified by faith. His acts and His words would prompt us to ask, who is He? What is His Name? He is Jehovah, Emmanuel, before whom seraphim covered their faces, "And one called to the other and said, Holy, holy, holy is Jehovah of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory" (Isaiah 6:1-3). His Name gives infinite divine fragrance to all that He said and did. His ointments savoured sweetly to the woman of Luke 7, and to the Syrophenician of Mark 7. It is said in the latter case that He entered into a house and would not have anyone know it. But, it is added, "he could not be hid". There was a heart there that scented the fragrance of His ointments, even though He might be, as it were, hiding Himself from her. God had visited His people in grace, in forgiveness, in delivering power, and the ointment was "poured forth"; its fragrance was wafted abroad, and lovers were attracted by it. Every human grace was there of gentleness, kindness, meek ness, lowliness, forbearance, but what gave richest and sweetest fragrance to it all was that it was "a life divine below". The King in Psalm 14 is addressed as "O God". Then He is seen as anointed in Manhood, with fragrant odours on all His garments. If the King of Psalm 45 and the Song of Songs were merely Man He would have no title to attract or claim the love of all virgin hearts, but as Emmanuel He is entitled to a love which would be purely idolatrous if bestowed upon a creature. The quality of that love is supremely elevated because of the greatness of the Person loved. It is a reverential adoring affection that never loses the sense of who He is.
The thought of ointments and fragrant spices and sweet odours suggested in this book and in other parts of Scripture as connected with Christ, and also with His saints, reminds us that the sense of smell has its spiritual counterpart as well as the other senses. There are characteristics of Christ which can only be appreciated in this way; they are not to be discerned by seeing or hearing or feeling or tasting, but by scent. This is a distinct quality of spiritual apprehension clearly recognised in Scripture. It is said of the Lord in Isaiah 11:3 "And his delight (literally scent: see margin of New Translation) will be in the fear of Jehovah", There was an ability with Him to perceive the odour of all that was in accord with the fear of Jehovah; He pursued that as a dog will follow up the scent of his master. It is most important that we should have this spiritual faculty unimpaired. As natural men we had keen perceptions of what was agreeable to us; we followed up the scent of things that appealed to us. Now we have this faculty in a renewed way by the grace and work of God, and it is also developed under His disciplinary ways. For we are told of Moab that he "hath been at ease from his youth, and hath settled on his lees; he hath not been emptied from vessel to vessel, neither hath he gone into captivity: therefore his taste hath remained in him, and his scent is not changed" (Jeremiah 48:11). It is a calamity not to have our scent changed, to have no ability to perceive the sweet odour of those ointments whose savour is so attractive to virgin hearts. "The virgins" are marked by capacity to discern the precious fragrance of Christ, and it causes them to love Him. It is hearts uncorrupted by the world whose affections are awakened and moved in this way; they can scent the sweetness and fragrance of the Beloved. Mary of Bethany had scented it, and it called forth in response the devotion expressed by her costly ointment being put upon His feet, It indicated her appreciation of His ointments, and the love awakened by them in her heart. The greatness of the Person of Christ, the holy fragrance of His Name, is perceived by a capacity given of God, but which is found as "chaste virgin" conditions are maintained. As we are preserved in simplicity as to Christ (2 Corinthians 11:2-3) we perceive that He is entitled to affections such as are due to God alone, but which He attracts to Himself by the grace and love revealed in Him as Man.
The second and third verses are the basis of the book. They shew that the Lord has pleasure in giving personal tokens of His love, and that His love is better than all earthly or natural joy. They also shew what a supreme claim He has to the affections of His own, and how He presents Himself in wondrous grace so as to win the love of virgin hearts. All this will be as true for the Jewish remnant as it is for us, and it is as true for us as it will be for them.
The effect of this is that there is desire to be drawn after Him. "Draw me, we will run after thee!" And sooner has she said this than she can add, "The king hath brought me into his chambers". She is there in the most intimate nearness at once. We see here in figure how the Lord will act where there are virgin affections set upon Himself, and uncorrupted by the influences of the world. He would bring us at once to the assembly as His guest-chamber, or, we might say, His bride-chamber, where our occupation is to be glad and rejoice in Him, and to remember (or celebrate) His love more than wine. We see here how quickly the most intimate privileges that love can desirer are accorded to those who are prepared to appreciate them. Upright love finds a short cut to assembly privilege. It is said of the virgins, "They love thee uprightly" (verse 4). There are no mixed motives in their hearts. They are such as Paul had in his mind when he said, "Grace with all them that love our Lord Jesus Christ in incorruption" (Ephesians 6:24). To such the enjoyment of the love of Christ in His assembly is freely accorded, and this is the highest point contemplated in the Song. It may be that the experiences of many of us correspond more with what comes later in the book, but it is good to see the normal activities of love, and there is no divine reason why the youngest believer should not move according to them, and have the joy that is spoken of here. God's way would be to bring us at once under the influence of the love of Christ, and to keep us under that influence all the time.
The "daughters of Jerusalem" form, in this Song, a class by themselves. They represent lovers of Christ, for they pave His palanquin with love (chapter 3: 10); but they are on less intimate terms with Him, and less intelligent in the thoughts of His love, than is suitable to the spouse, But they are interested persons, and they are repeatedly addressed by the spouse with reference to her Beloved, and in several instances they speak to her, or about her. It is important, and deeply interesting, to see that affection for Christ has its gradations. It would be a mistake to suppose that all saints love the Lord with equal fervour. Indeed the Lord speaks of one as having loved "much", and He refers to another as loving "little". Then the different figures used of the saints in the New Testament suggest different measures or qualities of love, The assembly is spoken of as the bride or the wife of Christ, but other figures are used which are less intimate. We may think of the saints as "sons of the bride-chamber", or as virgins who go forth to meet the Bridegroom, or as espoused as a chaste virgin to Christ, but the love which characterises those relations is not quite that of the bride or wife.
In Revelation 22:17 the bride is identified with the Spirit in saying, Come. That is, I believe, the only instance in the New Testament of the bride's voice being heard. That one word, "Come", sums up all her desire. But then there is a further word. "And let him that hears say, Come". It indicates that there may be believers whose hearts are not yet in concert with the Spirit and the bride. They have not the expectant fervour of affection, or the full response to Christ which marks the bride. But they are near enough to hear what she says, and they are called upon to say, Come! The Spirit will not leave them silent; He incites them to join the bride in saying, Come! The one who hears has not the same spring of affection as the bride, though, as having an ear, he is evidently a true saint. And this is almost exactly the position of the "daughters of Jerusalem" in the Song. They have ears to hear what the spouse says, and she is free to speak to them of her exercises, and of the beauties of the King, and they are affected by what she says, so that the last word which they say to her about the Beloved is, "We will seek him with thee" (chapter 6: 1). The result of what she had said about Him was that they came into accord with her.
It is to be doubted whether there are very many whose hearts are in the full responsive affection to Christ that is proper to His spouse, but it is a mercy to be even "daughters of Jerusalem", who have ears to hear what the spouse says, and who are affected by what she says. One may say that the first question raised by reading the Song of Songs would be, Am I a lover of Christ? And if I can answer uprightly that I am, the next question raised would be, What kind of a lover am I? Do I love much or little? Is the quality of my love that which suits the spouse, or is it such as might be found in daughters of Jerusalem? Can I speak to Him directly as having bridal affection in my heart? Or am I one of those who only hear, perhaps with some measure of true appreciation, what others say to Him, or about Him? These are questions which are definitely suggested by Scripture, and it is wholesome to face them. While we must ever bear in mind that it is God's thought to bring us to the fullest and highest quality of love that will minister joy to the heart of Christ. He is worthy of the full affection which His spouse can give Him; it is indeed, due to Him that He should have it, though it may be that such an affection has not yet been developed or matured in our hearts. We have been called, according to love's blessed purpose, to be part of the bride, but we have to be brought by the Spirit's work into the affections and intelligence of the bride before this wondrous relation to Christ means much to us. It would be sad to know that we were of the bride, and yet not be concerned about the state of heart that is suitable to the bride. The work of God would ever be to intensify our affection for Christ, and to elevate it in quality, so that, in the true devotion of the bride, we might say, Come!
John, in the bosom of the Lord, would represent the nearness of intimacy and confidence that is proper to the bride, while Peter was more in the position of a daughter of Jerusalem. He had to make a sign to the one who was nearer than himself, and he got mediately what John got immediately from the Lord. To be espoused to Christ is not the same as being united to Him. Until a relationship is entered upon there cannot be the affections proper to it. J. B. S. constantly brought before us that God's intent was to bring us to the consciousness of union; his ministry always led to that point. We should progress more rapidly if we were more responsive to the love of Christ in the measure in which we already know it.
The book of Ruth shews how one can be brought from a place of distance into the blessedness of union. Boas became everything to Ruth that her heart desired, and she became all to him that he desired. But, as we notice in reading that book, Ruth was attracted in the first place by what she saw of God in Naomi. She was drawn by the features she discerned in one who was deeply humbled under the government and discipline of God. And that corresponds with the way the spouse speaks of herself to the daughters of Jerusalem: "I am black, but comely".
The Lord is deeply concerned about the state of our affections, and the quality of our love for Him. One might have the love of a forgiven sinner (Luke 7) without having affections suitable to the bride. The Lord knows better than we do how much we love Him, and He knows the quality of our love as well as its strength. He felt the waning affection of the assembly in Ephesus, notwithstanding their works and labour and endurance, and much faithfulness, and even suffering for His Name's sake.
In addressing the daughters of Jerusalem the spouse speaks in a different strain from that which she had employed in addressing the King. She is now speaking to those who are not, in the same place of nearness to Him as herself, and who have not the same intelligence. And she speaks to them, not exactly of the state of her affections, but of the condition in which she appears before their eyes. It is the present condition and circumstances of the spouse described to persons who are interested, but who have not the spiritual intelligence of the spouse, and who need to understand what they see. Such an explanation would not be given to careless persons; it is not offered to the world, but to "daughters of Jerusalem".
I would suggest that in saying, "I am black, but comely", she is not referring to her condition by nature, but to the character and effect of God's dealings with her. Along with the sweet ministry of the love of Christ to our hearts there are ways of God which have the effect of reducing and humbling us in our condition here. And the one is as essential as the other. Nothing is more marked in Scripture than the humbling character of God's ways with those whom He blesses. The remnant in a coming day will go through very deep exercise, as we may learn from the Psalms and other parts of Scripture, but a comeliness that is acceptable to God will be developed through that exercise. The "princess" in the Lamentations is disciplined under the government of God in view of moral formation that will make her suitable to be the spouse of the Song. She has been under the "burning heat" (James 1:11) which withers what is of the flesh. So the spouse in saying, "I am black" is conscious that the dealings of God have left their humbling mark on her, and that others can see it also. All the ways of God tend to make us little in our own eyes, and often in the eyes of others also, but they promote the formation of spiritual features. Chastening yields afterwards the peaceful fruit of righteousness, and spiritual comeliness is the result. In that way blackness and comeliness go together -- the tents of Kedar and the curtains of Solomon. To the natural eye to be black would be to be unattractive, but features of moral beauty are secured by the process which reduces us naturally.
Paul in writing his first epistle to the Corinthians does not enlarge upon his personal exercises. They were hardly then in a condition to appreciate them. Hut when he wrote the second epistle he gave great prominence to the severe discipline which he had gone through. See chapters 4, 6, 12. It had all tended to make him unattractive naturally, and to reduce him, but in result spiritual features came into expression, The light affliction worked in surpassing measure an eternal weight of glory. And what humbled him before others as well as in his own eyes was really a spiritual gain. It was all very much in the spirit of "I am black, but comely". His adversary could say that his presence in the body was weak, and his speech naught, but in weakness the power of the Christ dwelt upon him. And he could commend the Galatians that they did not slight nor reject with contempt his temptation which was in his flesh, but that they had received him as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus. If the blackness was there, and might have been a cause of contempt, the comeliness was there also, and it attracted their hearts as being the beauty of God's Anointed, "as Christ Jesus". God's disciplinary and governmental ways are reducing and humbling, but they displace that which is not suitable to the bride, and they make for spiritual comeliness. The features of the bride are developed under conditions of that kind, so that, it is made manifest that her comeliness is of a spiritual order; it is of the grace and power of Christ.
I doubt whether such qualities as subjection, meekness and lowliness are ever developed without souls going through much discipline. I understand that the word for meekness in Hebrew is the same word as is used for being afflicted, which would suggest that meekness is acquired under affliction, and it is very "comely" in saints. Moses was the meekest man, but it had taken many years of discipline to bring it about. The comeliness and beauty which mark the bride are the result, on one side, of the influence of the love of Christ, and on the other they are the effect of the disciplinary ways of God. What reduces us, and makes us unimportant in our own eyes, makes room for the grace of Christ.
We have been told that a pearl is formed as the result of a bit of something getting into the shell of the oyster which is a source of trial, but the activities which its presence produces result in it being covered by a beautiful substance. The graces of Christ as seen in the saints are developed as the fruit of many exercises brought about as we learn humbling lessons under the hand of God."The curtains of Solomon" would be needlework of a very fine order, the product of skill patiently exercised. If, on the one hand, we are taken into favour in the Beloved, it is also true, on the other, that the moral beauty of saints has to be acquired through the diligent working out of spiritual exercises. We cannot put it on like a coat, for it consists in what we are inwardly through spiritual formation. It is not merely an outward conduct that is without reproach before the world, or in the eyes of the brethren, but a beauty attaching to the hidden man of the heart which is acceptable in the eyes of the true Solomon. No one judges of moral beauty so accurately as He does.
Then "My mother's children were angry with me" brings out another character of exercise through which the spouse has had to pass, and this is specially painful as being on the part of her kindred. It is surprising in one way, but it is true, that the desire to be near the Lord, and to enjoy His love, often calls forth bitter feeling on the part of true believers. No heresy has been more spoken against than a practical desire on the part of saints to be in separation to the Lord.
Persons may pass from one sect to another without much feeling being aroused, but if the true affections of the spouse begin to be manifested, and there is a desire to be wholly for the Lord's pleasure, in separation from all that is not of Himself, her "mother's children" become angry. They would have her to be occupied in keeping vineyards which yield something for them rather than in keeping her own vineyard wholly for His pleasure. Indeed, almost any manner of so-called Christian work is thought to be more useful and necessary than to keep our own vineyard exclusively for the pleasure of Christ. The separate path and the holy associations that are suitable to the spouse will never commend themselves to the carnal mind. We ought not to expect the approval of the unspiritual, though we should be desirous to have the commendation of the spiritual. If spiritual persons disapprove of our course it is a serious exercise; it is most likely, in such a case, that we are wrong.
It is as one disciplined by faithful love, and conscious, too, of diverting influences at work, that the spouse turns again to the One whom her soul loves. But she turns to Him now in shepherd character. She recognises that He has a flock which He feeds, and to which He gives rest, and to be with Him and His flock is her great desire. She does not wish to be roving beside the flocks of His companions. She has not succumbed to the efforts of her mother's children to hinder or divert her, and she now turns to her eternal Lover that He may tell her how to distinguish between His flock and the flocks of His companions. Her heart perceives a more subtle danger. It is not now a question of those who are in manifest opposition to Him, or to her; the flocks are not looked at here as the flocks of bad men, or even of men who are His rivals; they are the flocks of His companions. She has a fine sense of discrimination. Some might feel that to he beside the flocks of His companions was a good place, and quite near enough! How many are content to be beside the flock of some earnest and devoted servant of Christ. That is a good place surely, but it is clearly suggested by the enquiry of the spouse that there is a better place. Her exercise was not to miss the best that was available. For her there is only one flock that is supremely attractive, and that is the flock which He tends and leads and feeds. Do we covet to know the precious reality of a place where He feeds His flock, and makes it to rest? Do we in our hearts know how to contrast that with the flocks of His companions! Or have we thought that they are all really alike, and that there is little or nothing to choose between them? To the heart of the spouse to be roving beside the flocks of His companions would be to miss His company, and His leading and feeding. To her this would be great loss, and she felt assured that it would he a loss from which His love would shield her. Even His companions may become a distraction from Himself, and, however excellent they may be, they are to be shunned if they detain us from that unique place where He feeds His flock, and makes it to rest. We have noticed that the bride's enquiry in verse 7 is as to where the royal Shepherd feeds His flock. She has a sense of how that place surpasses in excellence the flocks of His companions; she desires to be exclusively for Him, and to be near to Him where His direct and personal shepherd care can be known. Down to this point she has been the speaker, and she has given expression to affections and desires which indicate the state of her heart as towards Him. She is marked off from all others by the fervour and intensity of her soul's love for Him. So that she has truly the character in His estimation of being "fairest among women". It is a feature in this book which we do well to notice that the King does not speak of the beauty which He sees in her until it has manifested itself. It is her capacity to appreciate His excellence and peerless worth that makes her attractive to Him. And His expressions of love follow upon the expression of hers. The love of Christ a s presented in this book is not a sovereign love which flows out of its own fulness irrespective of the condition or moral state of the object loved, but it is a discriminating love which is attracted by lovable features in its object. Such is the love of Christ for the assembly; He can say, "Behold thou art fair, my love"; "For sweet is thy voice, and thy countenance is comely" (chapter 1: 15; 2: 14). The woman in Luke 7 as being repentant, and attracted by the forgiving grace she had perceived in her blessed Creditor, and loving Him much, had features very comely in His eyes, though hers was the moral beauty of a forgiven sinner rather than that proper to the bride. The features of the bride are seen more clearly, in a typical way, in Abigail who was "of good understanding, and of a beautiful countenance", and of whom David could say, "Blessed be thy discernment" (1 Samuel 25). There was that in her which was worthy of David's love; and the Spirit would indicate that the remnant typified in the spouse of the Song has features which call forth the love of Christ, and the assembly, too, has such features. One has no difficulty in seeking to apply the language of the Song to saints of the assembly, because the love of Christ as known by the assembly is certainly not less than His love as the remnant will know it, nor should our response to it be less fervent than theirs. And I have no doubt this book was intended by the Holy Spirit, to have special value for us, as setting forth in a striking way the affections which are proper to saints who know the love of Christ, and as shewing what those who have such affections are in the estimation of His love. We must add, too, that it warns us of influences that tend to imperil the purity and fervour of our affections, and this is often much needed. I believe that Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus because they had lovable features, and that John had such features also, so that he was specially "the disciple whom Jesus loved". All such features are developed as we appreciate Christ and His love.
The shepherd character in which the Lord is seen here carries our thoughts to John 10. We have not here the thought of His standing between us and the foe, but of His feeding His flock and making it to rest. He does, indeed, in faithful love meet the wolf, but He does so because He will have His flock not only in security but in perfect satisfaction and repose. He came that His sheep "might have life, and might have it abundantly"; He gives them life eternal. The "green pastures" and "still waters" of Psalm 23:2 shew where He leads and feeds His flock, and His lovers seek to be found there. Why should we turn aside, even to the flocks of His companions, when perfect satisfaction can be found where He feeds His flock? It is certain that the true satisfaction of His lovers cannot be found anywhere else. If He sees that we desire to be there He will bid us "Go thy way forth by the footsteps of the flock". He intimates that there is a need for movement, and also of discernment as to what are "the footsteps of the flock", for we may gather from this answer that the footsteps of the flock indicate where the Shepherd is.Where the sheep are moving under His direction and leading it can be perceived by those who in affection desire to know where He feeds His flock. The footsteps of the flock in John 10 were led out of the Jewish fold, and the Shepherd will never lead His sheep into anything that has the character of a fold. It is now "one flock, one shepherd". The Hebrew believers were called to "go forth to him without the camp" (Hebrews 13:13), and in the midst of a profession that is largely characterised by unrighteousness the Shepherd leads "in paths of righteousness for his name's sake".
He says, "My sheep hear my voice"; they are marked by the spirit of obedience, but it is obedience that involves movement "they follow me". If we See persons withdrawing from iniquity, separating themselves from vessels to dishonour, and pursuing righteousness, faith, love, peace, with those that call upon the Lord out of a pure heart, we may be assured that we see some of the footsteps of the flock. But it is such as have the characteristics of the "fairest among women" who can discern those footsteps. We have noticed that she could discriminate between His flock and the flocks even of His companions. It needs spirituality to do this. The Shepherd would not tell us to go forth by the footsteps of the flock, and then leave us in uncertainty as to what those footsteps are. There is always sufficient evidence to make this manifest, but it needs spiritual discernment. Sometimes we may see saints going together up to a certain point, and then parting company and going different ways. Such a breach raises seriously a question as to where "the footsteps of the flock" really are. The truth itself would not divide saints; it would ever tend to unify them. Poor could we think that the One who said, "There shall be one flock, one shepherd", would lead His sheep in divergent paths. If what should be "one flock" divides there must be some influence at work other than His leading. But it is "the spiritual" who "discerns all things"; therefore it must be our first concern to see that we are spiritual ourselves. There are no marks by which, we can find where the Shepherd feeds His flock without having our own eyes anointed with eye-salve. But one thing is certain, that the footsteps of the flock are in the paths of righteousness; the flock is composed of those who love the Lord and keep His commandments. And the food supply is a great test; where the Shepherd feeds His flock there will be no lack. A great many people today know where there is spiritual food to be had, but for one reason or another they do not go there; this becomes really a test of love.
Then the "fairest among women" has a flock too, which He tells her to feed beside the shepherds' booths. She has taken character from the One whom her soul loves, and is engaged in the same kind of service of love. And "the shepherds' booths" would suggest that those who love Him become, in their measure, shepherds also, and care for His flock. Peter was one who did so, having learned his own weakness, and the tender grace and care of the Shepherd for himself.
To go forth by the footsteps of the flock requires not only affection, but energy and power to overcome hostile influences. And this is set forth in the military figure to which He now compares His love. She is like "a steed in Pharaoh's chariots" (verse 9). If pure affections are to be preserved there must be power to meet what is adverse. God gives strength to the horse, so that he goes forth without fear to meet the armed host (see Job 39:19-25). In a coming day the Lord Jesus Christ will come forth on a white horse to judge and make war in righteousness, and the armies which are in heaven will follow Him upon white horses, clad in white, pure, fine linen (Revelation 19:11-14). This is anticipated as the saints go forth in moral power to overcome what is adverse to God and to His Anointed. To move in the paths of righteousness involves conflict, but there is power for it as saints are "strong in the Lord, and in the might of his strength" (Ephesians 6:10). "A steed in Pharaoh's chariots" would obviously refer to what people speak of as the church militant. In this character it is most important that we should rightly express the One on whose behalf we go forth to war. A steed in Pharaoh's chariots would be so adorned as to give a right impression of the wealth and power of Pharaoh. So that for conflict we need to "put on the panoply of God", and then the enemy's power will be met in such a way that divine strength is brought into evidence and not human weakness. We have known beloved servants of God who have had to face much conflict, but it brought out their spiritual strength, and victories were won. Paul was a great warrior in the Lord's host, and he has told us the kind of weapons he used, and how effective they were. "We do not war according to flesh. For the arms of our warfare are not fleshly, but powerful according to God to the overthrow of strongholds; overthrowing reasonings and every high thing that lifts itself up against the knowledge of God, and leading captive every thought into the obedience of the Christ" (2 Corinthians 10:3-5). The spouse is referred to more than once in this book as going forth in battle array. She is "terrible as troops with banners" (chapter 6: 4, 10). If we are not prepared to meet our spiritual foes in this militant character we shall inevitably surrender something that is due to Christ, and something that is essential to the preservation of purity in our affections.
The gifts in Ephesians 4:8-12 are presented as being the fruit of the military prowess of Christ. "Having ascended up on high, he has led captivity captive, and has given gifts to men". The gifts are the token and proof that Christ is victorious, and in a moral sense nothing can stand before them. Apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers move in the power of Christ victorious and ascended, and the work of the ministry goes on, and is effective, in the face of all that is adverse. Souls are converted, and the body of Christ is edified, and this in the very presence of every hostile power.
There is great danger of manifesting what is of the flesh when we are engaged in conflict if we are not with God in it. And to do so gives the enemy an advantage. It is important to note what has been referred to in connection with the armies in heaven. They are "clad in white, pure, fine linen", and such raiment as this, in a figurative sense, is suitable to those who fight the Lord's battles now. So the spouse as compared to "a steed in Pharaoh's chariots" has comeliness and ornaments (see verses 10, 11) in which gold and silver are prominent, which represent what is divine in character and according to grace. We get such a word as, "In meekness setting right those who oppose" (2 Timothy 2:25). Even in conflict we are to be adorned with qualities that are worthy of God, and of the Lord. In "We will make thee bead-rows of gold with studs of silver" there may be a suggestion of activities on the part of the Father and the Holy Spirit as well as of Christ, bringing about gracious adornments which are a testimony to what God is even at a time when His people are in spiritual warfare. The enemy has to be met, but he is met in a way that bears witness to the true character of God, and to the grace of the dispensation.
In verse 12 we pass into other surroundings. It is not now the Shepherd and His flock, nor preparedness for conflict, but we find ourselves in the royal palace where "the king is at his table".Scripture has given us a great impression of the abundance with which Solomon's table was furnished. "And Solomon's provision for one day was thirty measures of fine flour, and sixty measures of meal, ten fatted oxen, and twenty oxen out of the pastures, and a hundred sheep, besides harts, and gazelles, and fallow deer, and fatted fowl". This wealthy provision was made "for king Solomon, and for all who came to king Solomon's table" (1 Kings 4:22-23,27). "The food of his table" was one of the things which deeply affected the Queen of Sheba (1 Kings 10). And here "the king is at his table"; not only is there a wealthy provision, but all is graced by His presence; He is there to personally entertain His guests. The most wondrous things are made available to satisfy "all the desire" (Deuteronomy 12:20) of our souls. The fine flour and the meal provided for Solomon's table would typify the Lord Jesus as found here in perfect, holy Manhood, like the fine flour of the oblation in Leviticus 2. And the different animals would speak of Him as having gone into death that He might become food for us, and the substance of our communion together, There would be something of peace-offering character about these animals, though not regarded quite as offered to God on the altar, but rather as the food of the King's table. The death of Christ has wondrous sacrificial value Godward, but it is also "spiritual food" for saints, in partaking of which we have communion together. "The Lord's table" signifies what He provides to be the subject of the communion of His saints. It carries with it the thought of communion in all that His death has made available for us. The man of the world has no taste for the things on that table, for they are all of a spiritual order, but they are most attractive to the lovers of the Lord Jesus.
But what is before us here is that "the king is at his table", and the spouse's appreciation of Him as seated at such a table. It is Himself that she has before her. The rich furnishing of His table is directly connected with the One whose table it is; it is He who engages every heart. It is not blessings, or the satisfaction of soul desires, or even the communion of those who sit at the table, but the fact that "the king is at his table", that causes her spikenard to send forth its fragrance. The blessing and the communion are very sweet, but it is when He gets His place in our hearts in relation to if all that the fragrance is sent forth. It is not only that we have a cup and a table that are wholly different in character from every other cup and table, but they have to our hearts a most powerful appeal as being "THE LORD'S cup" and "THE LORD'S table". The fellowship never gets its true and exalted character until our hearts connect it livingly with Him. He presides at His table, and administrates His bounty there; it is a large and wide thought. When we apprehend the Lord as in that position our spikenard sends forth its fragrance. This would not be confined to the times when the saints are convened in assembly, though it might be specially realised as thus together. But it would seem to be an apprehension of the Lord as having His place in relation to all that constitutes the christian fellowship. His distinguished and pre-eminent place in relation to it all engages the heart, and this causes fragrance to be sent forth. The assembly's "spikenard" is the holy fragrance of Christ sent forth from myriads of hearts as they apprehend and appreciate His glorious place as supreme in the administration of all that fruit of divine love which constitutes today the substance of the communion of saints. He could not be thus known without intense desire being awakened to assemble with those who likewise know Him. The apprehension of HIS place in relation to the fellowship binds our hearts together as apart from all that is of the world, and this is true all the time, and not only when together in meetings. But this precious bond manifests its reality by saints assembling themselves together whenever opportunity affords, and particularly to eat the Lord's supper.
The King at His table indicates the supremacy of the Lord in administering to His loved ones, as their common portion and joy, all that He has brought in through becoming Man and going into death. How could we affectionately apprehend Him thus without the fragrance of His Name and Person going forth from our hearts?
Solomon's table will have its antitype in the King's table at which His disciples will eat and drink in His kingdom (Luke 22: 30), but there is that which answers to it at the present time. The Lord's table is contrasted in 1 Corinthians 10 with the table of demons. It conveys the thought of a communion which is spiritually satisfying, and which is in marked contrast with everything in the world which appeals to the lusts of men. It is furnished with spiritual good as established in Christ, and made available for us through His death. As partakers of the Lord's table we participate in a joy and satisfaction that lies completely outside the whole course of things in the world. The saints are thus unified in mind and affection as having spiritual joys in common, and they are separated by the character of their joys from this present evil world. People who have interests in common, even in the world, delight to come together, and there is no bond there that is comparable to the bond which links together those who are partakers of the Lord's table.
But what is prominent in this Scripture is not the wealth of the provision on the King's table, nor the communion of those who partake of it, but the wonderful Person whose table it is. To see Him in relation to it, as supreme in the administration of divine wealth of blessing, awakens deep appreciation in the hearts of those who love Him, so that their spikenard sends forth its fragrance, as the woman's did when she broke her alabaster flask of costly nard, and poured it out upon Him. If we see Him thus how jealous shall we be about having any links or associations with what is under the influence of evil! It will lead us to seek to maintain holy conditions. He is not yet publicly at His table in His kingdom, but in the affections of His saints He is known as having a table now of which they are partakers. The Song refers to a knowledge of Him, and an intimacy with Him in affection, which may be enjoyed before the kingdom is publicly manifested. It does not refer to millennial conditions, but to intimacies which will be entered into by the remnant before the Lord actually appears. It describes what may be known spiritually before He comes, and hence the experiences are in close analogy with what is open to His lovers today. So the book ends with, "Haste, my beloved"! His coming is still the great object of desire. But in the meantime as being partakers of His table we participate spiritually in things which will be introduced publicly when He comes.
"Thou dost make us taste the blessing
Soon to fill a world of bliss".
There is power in this to separate us entirely from this present evil world, and to secure our affections for Him who is at His table. This would prepare us to eat His supper rightly and affectionately.
Verse 13 is more intimate and personal than verse 12. "A bundle of myrrh is my beloved unto me; he shall pass the night between my breasts". The King at His table is a more general thought, but "a bundle of myrrh" between the breasts indicates how He is cherished in the privacy of personal affection. He lies in the affections of His bride, in all the fragrance of His suffering love, through the night of His reproach and rejection here, This represents the state of heart in which His supper would be truly appreciated. "Myrrh" is connected in Scripture with a suffering Christ. Wine mingled with myrrh was offered to Him at the place of His crucifixion (Mark 15:23), and Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes to prepare His body for burial (John 19:29).
I am sure we need to cherish more the affectionate appreciation of a suffering Christ -- suffering as moving in a way of infinite love. We may often hear of Him, and even speak of Him thus, but how we need to open our bosom, as it were, to cherish Him more ardently in this precious character! Nothing else will subdue and soften like this. No public or administrative glory which He has, or will have, could touch and move the heart like the sorrows which His love has endured, and through which it has expressed itself to us. Those who know Him as King of glory in the millennial day will never forget that His kingly title was once written on the cross. Nothing would so rebuke and displace every thought of self-will or self-pleasing as the contemplation of a suffering Christ. It has an effect more profound and subduing than anything else.
The Lord's supper is for the remembrance of Him as the One who suffered in love to reach an end which could be reached in no other way. His body was devoted, at all cost of suffering, to the will of God, and to the saints, the assembly, and to Israel. And His blood was poured out, His life given, that divine love might be known. His love to each individual saint, and to the assembly, is known by what He suffered in the devotion of His love. Contemplating the greatness of the blessings He has secured, or the glory into which He has entered, does not so deeply touch the heart as to ponder the way of suffering love which He has traversed. The blessings secured are infinitely great, but deeper and sweeter is the love that suffered to secure them. How it will touch the hearts of the remnant of Israel, after going through accumulated and almost overwhelming sufferings themselves under the government of God, to find that their Messiah -- God's Anointed -- has identified Himself in love with their suffering position! In love He has borne their griefs and carried their sorrows as well as being wounded for their transgressions. That Emmanuel, Jehovah the Saviour, the righteous One should suffer in love to secure His people for blessing, and for association with Himself is most deeply touching. That it should be said of Him, "Himself took our infirmities, and bore our diseases" (Matthew 8:17) is in blessed keeping with His ways of old, concerning which it is written, "In all their affliction he was afflicted" (Isaiah 63:9). How the Spirit of Christ has enlarged upon this precious theme! Pointing out and testifying before of the sufferings which belonged to Christ! When that testimony is received, through God's gracious working in the suffering remnant, how they will love their long-rejected Messiah! He will become their Beloved, and He will lie as a bundle of myrrh between their breasts. The day will not yet have dawned, it will be still night for them as it is now for us; but through the night He will be cherished in their hearts as a priceless and fragrant Treasure.
But is He not known to us in the same fragrance of suffering love! Do we not know and love Him as the "Man of sorrows"? Has He not for our sakes become poor, and made known the intensity of His love by giving His body and pouring out His precious blood for us? Has He not sorrowed and suffered also, that He might be able to sympathise with us in sorrow and suffering? Even as to bodily infirmities He bore in His spirit the full weight of all that He removed by His power, It was part of the suffering way which His love took. But how sweet to remember that He went that way that He might bring us into the moat intimate association with Himself. The spouse has a sense of this, and it leads her to cherish Him as a bundle of myrrh between her breasts. She is consciously near to Him, and has a deep sense that His love has suffered immeasurably that He might have her there. It is not only that He has made atonement; He has done that perfectly, and she knows it, and is in the peace of knowing it. But He has suffered that she might have the nearest and most intimate place of association with Him, and that she might know and enjoy His love in that place.
It is the privilege of the saints as they eat the Lord's supper to call Him to mind as the One who went even into death that we might know His love in the most intimate way. He did bear our sins, blessed be His Name, but if we are thinking of that we are not occupied with what was before His heart when He did so. He went that way that He might have us for Himself, and for the pleasure of God, in the eternal nearness of known love. The spouse has entered into this, and appreciated it, so that she can cherish the thought of His suffering love in relation to its own blessed thoughts.He went that way that she might become possessed of Him, and that He might possess her, for her complete satisfaction and for His.
What a comfort to the heart of Christ that the sufferings of His love should be cherished between our breasts all through the night of His absence and rejection here! Indeed, His suffering love will have a place throughout eternity in the hearts of the redeemed.
"With Thee in garments white,
Lord Jesus, we shall walk;
And spotless in that heavenly light,
Of all Thy sufferings talk".
The bundle of myrrh will never lose its fragrance When the night is passed He will be cherished still, and through God's eternal day.
It is good to think of the Lord's suffering love, not from our side as needy sinners, but from His side in relation to all the thoughts of divine love. It is from that aide that it is contemplated by the bride. His love went a certain way that it might reach a certain end, and that end was that we might be in the most intimate nearness to Him in His own circumstances, if we may so say, where love has its unhindered flow without a thought of sins or sin to divert from Him. The passover typified how by the death of Christ God would take His people out of the world to be for His pleasure. It was the way of His love, for "When Israel was a child then I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son" (Hosea 11:1). But redemption for God's pleasure was through the suffering of the Lamb, It was effected by suffering love, that in result love might be restful in the full blessing of its objects. The Lamb was manifested that love's eternal purpose might be carried out. See 1 Peter 1:19-21.
In eating the Lord's supper we call to mind the One who went to such depths that He might bring about, what was before the heart of God and before His own heart. That was, that we should know His love and the love of God, and appreciate it, and reciprocate it, as brought into the most blessed nearness to Him. I am sure the Spirit of God would lead us to that side of things as we think of Christ as a bundle of myrrh between the breasts of those who love Him. If He brings these precious realities before ns let us ponder them, and pray over them, that all this may be more truly known as experimental in our souls. To cherish Christ's suffering love would prepare us for suffering here. We should not look for honour or ease in a scene where we are called to be companions of a suffering Christ.
Verse 14 brings before us another precious thought. "My beloved is unto me a cluster of henna-flowers in the vineyards of Engedi". I understand that women in the East carry these flowers as an adornment. Cherishing the Lord as known in suffering love -- as we call Him to mind in His supper -- would prepare us to carry Him as our distinguishing ornament here. We should go out from His supper feeling that we have no other adornment; nor do we want any other. We do not want to be adorned in an outward way for the world, but to express Christ for the delight of the heart of God. "In that day there shall be a sprout of Jehovah for beauty and glory, and the fruit of the earth for excellency and for ornament for those that are escaped of Israel" Isaiah 4:2). Another kindred passage is "In that day will Jehovah of hosts be for a crown of glory, and for a diadem of beauty, unto the remnant of his people" (Isaiah 28:6). The only decoration that we have in a spiritual sense is to carry a little bit of Christ and bring it into evidence. I believe Christ as "a cluster of henna-flowers" is what comes into evidence publicly as the result of having Him secretly between our breasts as the "bundle of myrrh". Paul's earnest expectation and hope was that Christ might be magnified in his body, If I can in deed, or word, or spirit give expression to some feature of Christ instead of displaying what is of the flesh or nature I am truly ornamented in a divine sense. And we shall only be truly happy as we do so. If I bring myself into evidence I am only sowing seeds of sorrow. But the henna-flowers are found in the vineyards. As Christ is brought into evidence there is true spiritual joy.
Then in verse 15 the King speaks again -- a response called forth by the utterances of the spouse in verses 12 - 14. We have noticed before that in this book He does not express His love until she has expressed hers. It is not the gospel side of things; it is not, "We love because he first loved us", but rather, "I love them that love me". Affectionate features appear in the spouse, spiritual features, and then He answers in a way that shews how He appreciates what He sees in her. So He says here, "Behold, thou art fair, my love; behold, thou art fair: thine eyes are doves". The first time He spoke it was to direct her way to "the footsteps of the flock", and to shew that He took account of her as having ability to face every foe. But now it is what she is to Him. She is "fair", and the particular feature of her fairness which He mentions is that her eyes are doves. She has spiritual perceptions, and that makes her very attractive to Him. She has given expression to the place which her Beloved has in her heart, and it is this which makes her so fair in His eyes. Our beauty under the eye of Christ consists in our appreciation of Him. It is that which marks His saints off from all others. "He says to them, But ye, who do ye say that I am? And Simon Peter answering said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God" (Matthew 16:15-16). It was this, we know, that called forth His special blessing; it was the fruit of a revelation which His Father had made. It evidenced that Peter was a bit of spiritual material for His assembly.
In answer to the King's brief but precious utterance in verse 15 the spouse responds in the language of verses 16, 17 and verse 1 of chapter 2. Her conditions and circumstances are those of most intimate nearness, though what she says directly of Him is in few words: "Behold thou art fair, my beloved, yea, pleasant". She does not enlarge upon His manifold perfections in speaking to Him, though she does afterwards in speaking to others about Him. It is striking that her language is more restrained when she is speaking to Him in the enjoyment of nearness and intimacy in suited conditions than when she has lost His company. She is more effusive, we might say, when she has less joy. I dare say there is something in this that our hearts may know how to interpret!
He is "fair" and "pleasant", and her heart is filled with what she shares with Him. "Our bed", "our houses", "our rafters". There is restfulness with Him in suitable conditions -- a nearness of association which is not found after the first section of the book, In chapter 3: 1 she speaks of "my bed", and in chapter 5 she is evidently on her bed, but how different is her condition there from what it is when she can say "our bed" I In chapter 3: 7 we read of "his couch, Solomon's own", but there is no hint of any one sharing it with Him. But here she can say "our bed is green"; it is typically a restful association with Him here -- for green is the colour that beautifies the earth -- rather than what is distinctively heavenly. It suggests a restfulness of intimacy and mutual affection enjoyed within a house where "beams" and "rafters" are suitable to association with Him. They are "our beams", "our rafters". The fact that the cedar and the cypress were used in building the temple conveys the thought that these trees represent what is suitable to God. We should gather from 1 Kings 4:33 that the cedar is pre-eminent among the trees; it is marked in other scriptures by excellence and goodliness. The cypress is contrasted with the thorn in Isaiah 4:13 as characterising millennial conditions, and in Isaiah 60:13 it appears as part of the beauty and glory of Jehovah's sanctuary. So that beams and rafters of cedar and cypress would indicate that intimacy with Christ can only be enjoyed under conditions that are morally elevated and excellent, and that are in keeping with God's holiness and glory. Everything is upheld in a manner that is worthy of the Beloved and of His cherished bride. It is under such conditions that the mutual affections of Christ and His saints can be restfully enjoyed.
It is as in such associations as these that she can say, "I am a narcissus of Sharon, a lily of the valleys". She is conscious that there is nothing in her to disturb the restfulness of His love. She has the beauty that could be set forth in the choicest of flowers. She is consciously divested of all deformity and unsuitability. She has all beauty in the appreciation of Him, for He lives in her affections and is her beauty. Christ is everything for divine delight, and if He dwells in our hearts by faith His beauty and worth is ours. Peter says, "To you therefore who believe is the preciousness" (1 Peter 2:7). All the preciousness of Christ is to us that we may be consciously enriched by it, invested with it. There is thus no disparity between Christ and the bride, for He is her glory, joy and beauty; she possesses no other beauty, nor desires any other. The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has graced us in the Beloved, He has brought us in His boundless favour to know His Beloved, and to hold Him in our affections as the One in whom we are graced. No perfection of beauty or purity is lacking there, and the bride, with her heart filled with it, can say, "I am a narcissus of Sharon, a lily of the valleys".
It may be noticed that the utterances of the King to the spouse throughout this book are with a view to produce certain movements on her part. He tells her what she is in His eyes that she may move in concert with Him. When no movement is called for His utterances are very brief. From verse 16 of chapter 1, to verse 7 of chapter 2, she is with Him in intimacy and restfulness. His love is known rend enjoyed, and the section closes with the expression of her desire that nothing may disturb the restfulness of His love. In such restful conditions He does not need to say much, and it is very blessed when this is the case. To the fathers in 1 John 2 very little is said. The young men and the babes need exhortation, but to the fathers it is only said that they have "known him that is from the beginning". This First section of the Song presents a spiritual state so blessed that the Lord does not need to cay much. He can rejoice over His saints, and rest -- or be silent -- in His love (Zephaniah 3:17). Being made to sit down together in the heavenlies is a restful position, and what is brought before us in this part of the Song is a "favoured hour" when no movement is called for. He can rest in His love, and she can rest in His love, and the only thing to be guarded against is any movement that would disturb the rest of love, The King says little in such conditions. He conveys in few words what she is in His sight she is fair as having spiritual perceptions -- her eyes are doves -- and she is marked by beautiful contrast with the daughters around her. "As the lily among thorns" she is seen in harmlessness, simplicity, and irreproachableness in the midst of a crooked and perverted generation (Philippians 2:16). There is no description here in detail, such as we find further on in the book, of different features of her beauty in His eyes. That comes in, as it would appear, to move her, to stimulate her affections into activity, that she may be drawn into concert with Him by the impelling influence of His thoughts of love. But here He does not dwell on detailed features of her beauty, but her general characteristic. She is the lily among thorns; she is in moral contrast with all her surroundings. He adds no more: His words, though few, give her heart to know that He is content with her; she is what He can delight in; no more is needed.
We rejoice to think of the Lord's activities, but there is something even more precious than His active love, and that is His restful love. His activities are called forth very often by deficiencies or defects on our side, but the rest of His love is secured as things are complacent to Him.
The King did not need to say much to one who could use the language of verses 3 - 6. He is in her eyes pre-eminent and beyond compare. He is "as the apple-tree among the trees of the wood". It should be most likely the citron-tree -- an evergreen with lovely foliage which bears golden coloured fruit of fine fragrance. It is a tree of pre-eminent beauty, and thus a fitting figure of Him who is fairer than the sons of men. It is indeed most blessed when Christ stands out before us in His personal distinctiveness, and in the words of Psalm 14 the heart wells forth with a good matter, and we can say what we have composed touching the King, How incomparable is His worth as God's elect One in whom His soul delights, His Anointed! God would have us to be able to say what He is in our estimation. We remember how the Lord said, "Who do ye say that I am? And Peter answering said, The Christ of God" (Luke 9:20). Here the spouse loves to say what He is in Himself, and what He has become to her. Grace has been poured into His lips, and He has become to us the expression of all that is in the heart of God in grace towards men.
We were first truly awakened under that Tree. See chapter 8: 5. What a moment when we opened our eyes to find ourselves under the shadow of Christ! This is the origin of every one who has affection for Christ suited to His bride and spouse. Our mother has brought us forth under the Apple-tree. Paul has told us that Jerusalem above is our mother (Galatians 4:26). God set up the system of law upon the earth, but it was not productive. Whatever was productive for God found its origin in His promises. But now God has set up a new system of heavenly grace, and that system is a joyful mother of children. It brings forth that which responds affectionately to God and to Christ. What is bridal in character has its origin there. We are not children of a system which genders to bondage, but of a system which is marked by liberty. The very origin of the bride is of grace and of divine calling. God has called us in Christ's grace. It is Of God's favour alone that we have realised the place that Christ has on God's part towards us. We know, and are fully assured, that as to God's relations to us, and ours to God, it is no question now of law, or even promises, or anything conditional in any way, but of CHRIST. The moment we bring in any principle that is connected with ourselves we have fallen from grace, and Christ profits us nothing. There is no restfulness save as under His shadow; still less could there be rapture. How unmixed and unadulterated is the joy of knowing that all that Christ is is ours; the favourableness of God in its full extent is there It is all of grace that we have been awakened to see it. This is not exactly the side of man's ruined state being met, though it is met perfectly, but of the heart being awakened to see the blessedness of what is set forth in Christ. Grace as a subsisting principle was not known until Christ came. Grace and truth are really one thing, and it subsists through Jesus Christ (John 1:17). God is favourable to men, and His favour is in supremacy, and this is being made known in testimony. Grace is not in supremacy in the world, but principles of law and government. But grace is in supremacy in the Person of Christ as enthroned in heaven, and there are those here who appreciate and love Him because they are children of Jerusalem above. We have been awakened and brought forth to appreciate Christ. We sometimes say of one that he is an awakened soul, meaning that he is in exercise about his sins or about himself, and that he is conscious that he needs justification or deliverance. But to be awakened in the sense of chapter 8: 5 of the Song is to have one's eyes opened to see the surpassing excellence of Christ, and to love Him. That is the true beginning of what gives pleasure to God. There is something brought forth that is a delight to the heart of Christ.
It is remarkable in this book that the spouse never thinks of having to establish any title to be where she is. It is all His doing. "The king hath brought me", "He hath brought me" (chapters 1: 4; 2: 4). Is Christ precious to you? is His fruit sweet to your taste? Then you need no other title. The fact that He is desired and appreciated proves that one has been brought forth as a child of Jerusalem above.
If the language of Song of songs 2:3-6 is prophetically that of the remnant who will be "bought from the earth", and from men, as first-fruits to God and to the Lamb, it surely does not go beyond what may be taken up by saints of the assembly now. Such affections have their seat in the assembly now; we may love Christ with intense fervour now as they will in their day. These utterances set forth affections which are only found at the present time in the assembly. I have no doubt the Spirit of God intended this book to have a profound effect upon us now, in giving us divine and spiritual impressions as to the love which is in the heart of Christ towards His saints, and as to their love for Him. Israel in the millennium will be the earthly bride Hosea 2:16,19), but before that day there will be a remnant who will know the love of their Messiah, and will respond to it, while He is yet publicly rejected. The character of their knowledge of Him, and of their affections, is thus very similar to that which is found now in saints of the assembly. Israel will be in that day the "little sister" who has no breasts. Her affections are as yet undeveloped, but there will be a bride who can say that her breasts are like towers. Her affections are developed under the known love of Christ. Such affections are in the assembly today; that is to say, the work of the Spirit is to produce and maintain them, It is ours, like the remnant, to know a suffering Christ, and to love Him, and to "follow the Lamb wheresoever it goes". There is a surpassing excellence about the bridal relations in which the assembly stands to Christ; but the Spirit would use the Song of Songs to stimulate in our hearts affections which are suitable to relations of that character. We may see in the household at Bethany a lovely picture of the affections which the Lord found in a remnant when He was here, and which He will find again when the assembly period is over, but such affections are only to be found in saints of the assembly now. How happy would it be if they were in full flow in all our hearts!
There are many precious divine thoughts brought out in the Old Testament in connection with Israel which are now secured in relation to the assembly. The covenant, the kingdom, the flock, the priesthood, the house, the temple, the bride, sonship, even the thought of an assembly of God, are not new thoughts, nor are they limited to those who form the assembly of God today. They all have their place in relation to that assembly now; they are secured there, but they will all be secured in Israel in another day. The one thing in which the assembly is unique is that it is the body of Christ; no other family, heavenly or earthly, ever had, or ever will have, that place. But all the thoughts of God which we have referred to, and which were brought out afore-time, have been made good in saints of the assembly. They now form part of the spiritual wealth which resides in the assembly; the assembly is now the treasury in which are stored all the rich thoughts of God. So the affections which are expressed in the Song have their present seat in saints of the assembly. In viewing things thus we do not take away anything that is peculiar to the assembly but we enrich it by bringing into it every precious thought of God. It is a great help to see that every divine thought that came out in former times is brought to fruition in a spiritual sense at the present time. The all-various wisdom of God is thus made known through the assembly. Every divine thought centres there.
"In his shadow have I rapture and sit down; and his fruit is sweet to my taste". Every thought of divine favour for men is secured in Christ and expressed in Him. His fruit is all that comes to us from God through Him. Romans 5 gives us a wonderful cluster of His fruit -- peace, favour, hope of glory, salvation, reconciliation, ability to boast in God as having received the free gift in grace and the abundance of grace, the free gift of righteousness, and grace reigning through righteousness to eternal life! We have but to sit down and eat His precious fruit. Rapture is found in His shadow. The thought of His "shadow" suggests protection from influences that would otherwise beat down upon us like the burning heat of the sun. The influences of the present day are all contrary to the enjoyment of rapture and rest. But under the shadow of Christ every desire may be satisfied, the heart may be in perfect repose, and know all that is conveyed in the word "rapture".
Then being brought to the "house of wine" is clearly suggestive of sharing with Him in His joys. John presents this to us, and he introduces the Son of God as manifesting forth His glory by turning water into wine. It is in John that we read of fulness of joy. "The house of wine" and the banner of love are wonderful figures for the Spirit of God to use, but they are not exaggerated or over-drawn figures. They express just what is divinely and spiritually true and real. And it is even conveyed to us that the conscious enjoyments of divine love may be so great as to be almost insupportable. A feeling that special support is needed to sustain us in presence of the known and enjoyed love of Christ is a truly spiritual feeling. It is possible to have such an overpowering sense of the love of Christ that we need to be sustained and refreshed even to bear it. Daniel had to be strengthened as a man greatly beloved that he might bear communications from God (Daniel 10:18-19). But the spouse in the Song looks for sustenance and refreshment that she may be equal to bearing the exceedingly blessed character of the love that embraces her. The enjoyment is so great that she feels it to be insupportable without a special strengthening. Alas! we are probably more often sick because we are not enjoying His love, like the bride in chapter 5: 8. But here there is the most intimate nearness of affection. "His left hand is under my head, and his right hand doth embrace me". She is in His embrace, and her only desire is to be supported in enjoyment. How happy to be in such a case! No exercises present in the heart save those which are produced by a sense of the overpowering character of the love of Christ! The Spirit of God brings it before us as an experience that may be realised.
The most casual reader would notice that there is a change of scene and circumstances in verse 8. The voice of the Beloved is known and heard, and His activities in love are perceived, but the spouse has not His company. The Song teaches us to distinguish between things that differ in regard to love's enjoyments. There is love on both sides here, for she says, "My beloved" repeatedly, and He says, "My love", but they are not together. His activities are occasioned by the fact that they are not together. She is within and He is without. A wall and windows and a lattice are between them. He moves with the utmost activity, for He comes "leaping upon the mountains, skipping upon the hills. My beloved is like a gazelle or a young hart". But He moves thus swiftly because she is not with Him, and His love would call her forth from where she was dwelling to move with Him in a region where all was attractive to Him, and the beauty of which He describes to her to allure her forth to join Him in it.
In the first section of the book the spouse is seen in the King's chambers, and in His house of wine; yea, she is in His very embrace. It sets forth the closest intimacy, and enjoyment of the love of Christ in all its preciousness according to divine thoughts. But the lovers of Christ -- whether in time past, or in time present, or in time yet future -- do not always know or enjoy love's full privilege. And a great part of this most precious book is occupied in shewing how He acts and how He speaks in order to assure His loved ones of the place they have in His thoughts, that they may come into that enjoyment of His love which is normal. The book takes account of conditions on the part of true lovers of Christ which are not in accord with His mind, and shews how He would correct those conditions, either by the attractiveness of Himself and of what may be enjoyed in His company, or by the unhappy consequences which follow upon apathy or lack of response to Him.
It is not intimated here that the spouse is in sinful or unbecoming surroundings, but she is not where He is. She is in winter quarters, if we may so say, when she might be abroad enjoying the wealth of spring in His company. This raises a question as to where we really are in our souls? God does provide "winter quarters" for His saints. What I mean by that is He cares for us providentially in all our circumstances here; He safeguards us from evil, and makes us to prove in a thousand ways that His loving-kindness endureth for ever. The assembly viewed in the 1 Corinthians aspect may also be regarded as winter quarters; we are comforted and succoured and preserved there in view of the cold and hostile elements around us here. But behind all that there are precious activities of the love of Christ going on, and His voice is calling those whom He loves to come with Him into a spiritual region which is altogether beyond the cold and storms of winter. The spring, with its flowers and song and its abounding evidence of life, speaks of a region which can be entered upon in company with Christ. He knows that region, for He has entered it Himself as the Risen One, and He would have His own to enjoy it with Him.
The remnant in a coming day will have a place prepared of God where they will be protected and find mercy during the most bitter winter that this world has ever known, and for their sakes the days of tribulation will be shortened. But this chapter intimates that the Lord will draw near to them in active love to call them into the joy of what has sprung forth in resurrection power in Himself. The "everlasting covenant" and "the sure mercies of David" are made good in a risen Messiah. (Compare Isaiah 4:3 with Acts 13:34). the Millennial day will be brought in by a risen and exalted and heavenly Christ, and everything which will mark that day is secured in Him before it is brought in publicly. The flowers and the singing and the fruitfulness and fragrance of which He speaks in verses 12, 13 are manifestly not millennial conditions as actually present in a public way, but they speak of conditions which can be entered into and enjoyed in company with Christ before they are manifested in the world. They are conditions which are to be known spiritually, and which may therefore be altogether missed as to present enjoyment if the call of love meets with no response. The application of this to ourselves is as obvious as it is searching. Are we content to remain in winter quarters when we might go forth at the Lord's call to know the joys of a divine spring-time?
The inspired title of Psalm 22 tells us that it is "Upon Aijeleth-Shahar"; that is, "according to the hind of the morning". This conveys that after passing through the sorrows and sufferings connected with His being the Sin-offering, Christ would come forth in the morning of resurrection in the activities of love. We see this in a very blessed way in the closing chapters of the Gospels. On the side of the risen Saviour it is "a morning without clouds"; the winter is indeed past. The saints can now be viewed as clothed with beauty and glory apart from any works of their own, for God has been glorified in the death of Christ, and Christ is now their acceptance. "The time of singing is come" (See Psalm 22:22), and "the voice of the turtle-dove" would seem to speak of the mutual affections which find expression amongst those who have a risen Christ as their joy and bond.
The Lord Jesus moves with all the agility of "the hind of the morning" to call us forth to see things which are now spiritually present, and which He would have us to look upon in company with Him. We have a place here providentially which is ordered of God, and for which we may be truly thankful, but there is a possibility of settling down in providential circumstances in such a way as to be detained from responding to the call of Christ's love, and moving with Him into the wide expanse of spiritual realities to which He calls us forth. We all have a providential house of some kind, and a shelter "in the clefts of the rock" or "in the covert of the precipice", but to be sheltered and preserved in the midst of evils here -- valuable as it is -- comes far short of what the love of Christ desires for us. He would have us with Him as to the precious thoughts of divine love which have been secured in Himself, and He would have our countenances to be lighted up with the joy of these thoughts, and our voices heard in speaking of them to Him. The Beloved calls the attention of His spouse in this chapter to an attractive scene outside the bounds of the enclosed place where she is found. He calls her forth to see and to hear the present result of the working of God.
We may see what answers to this in the Lord's ways with the two going to Emmaus (Luke 24). It was truly "winter" with them; not one flower of hope remained to cheer them, for He had been crucified of whom they "had hoped that he was the one who is about to redeem Israel". But see how He stood behind their wall, and looked in through their windows. Not shewing Himself openly to them but, as we might say in the language of this chapter, "glancing through the lattice". Yet not leaving them until He had given them a very distinct impression that the winter was past, and that spring-time had truly arrived in His own blessed Person as risen. How promptly, too, did they respond, leaving at once their own circumstances and conditions that they might move with Him relative to those new and spiritual conditions which had been placed before them in Himself!
In Mary Magdalene (John 20) we see another who was in "winter" conditions; she was affectionately concerned about her Beloved as dead. But He glanced through the lattice at her, and caused her to hear the voice of her Beloved calling her forth into a new region of life out of death. The spring-time of resurrection had come, and He would have her to share its joys with Him, and also to communicate them to His brethren.
Do we understand that the Lord is calling us forth from the conditions and circumstances in which we find ourselves as in the world to know in a spiritual way a scene of life? We are told in John 10 that "it was winter", but the Lord said, "I am come that they might have life, and might have it abundantly"; He spoke of Himself as giving life eternal to His sheep. A divine spring-time was present to His heart, and He would have it to be present to the hearts of His loved ones In passing into that region we do not lose anything that we may have acquired through the exercises of the "winter", for "the fig-tree melloweth her winter figs". We are disciplined in winter conditions, but the fruit of that discipline is mellowed in the genial warmth of spring. It all contributes to life in a truly spiritual sense. And "the vines in bloom" give fragrant promise of fulness of joy.
But, though the spouse recognises that it is the voice of her Beloved that she hears, and her heart must needs own how attractive is the spring-time which He describes, she does not respond to His call of love. And this would account for His last word being a warning to "take the foxes, the little foxes that spoil the vineyards". Little things come in to counteract the power of His voice, and to hinder the spiritual joy of those whom He loves. How many "little foxes" there are! Things that seem too small to do much harm, and yet their effect is spiritually disastrous! It is not only things which can be recognised as being worldly that spoil the vineyards, but a thousand and one things which may be right in their place, but which are of the natural order. Friendships on natural or social lines, domestic occupations, business, even activities in service, may all become "little foxes". Their effect may only be realised when the heart becomes aware that its joy has gone, and that other things have ruled rather than the voice of the Beloved.
The scene before us here is in mournful contrast with what has engaged us in the first section of the book. But perhaps it reveals the true inward condition of many hearts. Here is one who truly I loves Him. She rejoices to say, "My beloved is mine, and I am his". She knows that He feeds His flock among the lilies. She knows that He is coming again, when the day will dawn and the shadows flee away. But she does not respond to His present call of love! He has to go away without her, and yet she calls after Him as He goes. "Turn (or return), my beloved". She wants Him to come back to her, though she was not prepared to go with Him! I believe it is often like that with us. Spiritual affections are there, and there is light as to where the Lord feeds His flock, and the thought of His coming has a place in the heart, and there is desire to have Him near as a comfort. And yet, with all this, there may be a lack of preparedness to go with Him in spirit into that scene of life to which His love invites us. And, for the time, He becomes lost to us as to present enjoyment. We have preferred to remain in our own house rather than to go with Him.
We may even, after such a call of love, go to bed as in chapter 3: 1. This implies a deliberate settling down in our own circumstances. You may ask, Is it possible for a true lover of Christ to behave like that? Yes, it is, or we should not have it thus strikingly brought before us in the Holy Scriptures. And do not our hearts know how possible it is? And yet, so strange and complex are the workings of the heart, there is a seeking Him even on the bed which is the evidence of how His call of love has been disregarded. It was an unlikely -- we might say, an impossible -- place to seek Him with any hope of success, but she says twice over, "I sought him". She has to add sorrowfully, "But I found him not". It is to be noticed that this period of fruitless seeking is not a very brief one, for she says, "in the nights I sought him" shewing that this experience extended over some time. But such an experience is the governmental consequence of neglecting the voice of the Beloved, and being found where His love would never have had us to be. It is because we have not responded to His seeking that He does not now respond to ours. The whole position is abnormal, and He would have us to feel that it is so. As long as we remain on our bed we shall never find Him. One may manifest a considerable degree of indifference to His love in the way of being reluctant to move with Him, and yet there may be a desire that He should be with as in our conditions, and give us the comfort of His love there. I am afraid that there is much seeking of the Lord that is not of higher quality than that, and we cannot wonder if it is fruitless. His love is very sensitive, and He also considers with infinite wisdom what our love needs in the way of correction, that it may be purified from elements that are neither worthy of Him nor of His spouse.
The first evidence of true revival is when she says, "I will rise now, and go about the city; in the streets and in the broadways will I seek him whom my sod loveth". How different this from being in His chambers, and in His house of wine! Still it shews that she is arousing herself to increased diligence of heart, and this is something. But the streets and broadways of the city were not the place to find Him. She has again to say, "I sought him, but I found him not". Her love, not being regulated by His voice and leading, and moved by its own sense of loss rather than by the constraint of His love, brought her into circumstances which were quite unsuitable to His spouse. The watchmen that went about the city found her. A woman abroad at night was not orderly, whatever her motives might be, and she came under the scrutiny of the watchmen as being in a questionable position. In normal conditions they would never have found her; it was their business to keep a lookout for evil-doers and enemies -- for those who would disturb the peace of the city. The very fact that she came under their notice at all was a reproach and rebuke to her. They did not at this time say or do anything to her, but she was found by them as one who was not enjoying the company and support of her Beloved. Her question, "Have ye seen him whom my soul loveth?" exposed her to them as one who had lost Him. Distance between the heart and Christ exposes itself to those who have a watchman's eye in many and obvious ways, though true love may be there. It is a serious matter when those who are responsible for the maintenance of order amongst the people of God have their attention called to us. However little they might say or do, the mere fact that one had come under their notice would be a deep exercise to a tender conscience. If our ways are such that godly persons are concerned about us, that should be enough to bring home to us that there is something unsuitable. They ought not to need to use severe measures with us.Indeed, I do not think the watchmen would ever be severe the first time they find us. It is later in the book, and following upon continued disregard of the most touching appeal of love, that the watchmen use severe measures. See chapter 5. The sharper forms of discipline are reserved for those who refuse to benefit by milder admonition. To be found by the watchmen is a warning that should be heeded.
The scripture before us would suggest that the Beloved had taken account of the fact that there was some revival in the heart of the spouse, and He would graciously answer it, after allowing her in His faithfulness to experience the painful result of her lukewarmness towards Him. It would also suggest that being found by the watchmen had not been without some effect. For she says, "Scarcely had I passed from them, when I found him whom my soul loveth". It is a peculiarly gracious act of His love when the sense of nearness, and of conscious possession of Him, is restored after being lost through lack of response to His love. It gives a deep and tender sense of the fidelity of His love which is enhanced by the conviction that it has not been appreciated or answered to in any right degree on our side. There is an intensity and vigour about her affections now which has not appeared before. "I held him, and would not let him go, until I had brought him into my mother's house, and into the chamber of her that conceived me".In the first section of the book it is He who brings her into His chambers. This is the most intimate place of nearness to Him, and it corresponds with His thoughts in regard to her, But in that connection there is not quite the call for energy on her side. And it is to be noted that through her lack of response to Him, and all the exercises and experiences which were occasioned thereby, there is developed an energy to hold Him which has not marked her before. We can pass through no exercise more humbling than that which is occasioned by the discovery that we have been unresponsive to the love of Christ. This goes far deeper into the real condition of the heart than any outward failure. No breakdown in the walk could be so serious in the estimation of a true lover of Christ as a state of heart unresponsive to Him. But the distress of losing Him thus, the anguish of heart passed through in those dark nights when He is sought without being found, result, through the overruling of almighty divine love, in the development of an energy of apprehension which was not present before.
And all that we know of Him, and possess of Him, is recognised more deeply than before to be purely of sovereign favour and mercy. I take it that this is the force of her bringing Him into her mother's house. The spouse has derived her very origin from the system of divine grace; Jerusalem above is her mother; and in bringing Him into her mother's house she indicates that she holds and possesses Him now in a true sense of grace. She has learned herself, and the possibilities that attach to her affections -- untrustworthy even when true -- and she is now fully conscious that she can only possess Him as a matter of absolute grace.
We have noticed that in the second section of this book -- that is from chapter 2: 8 down to chapter 3: 5 -- there are experiences on the part of the spouse which are humbling. She loses the King's company through a lack of response to Him, and she has to seek Him, and for a considerable period she does not find Him. She comes under the notice of the watchmen, but, in result, after a painful experience she finds Him and brings Him into her mother's house. She gets a very deep sense that all is of grace. Her very lack of response to Him, and His favour in giving Himself back to her after her failure gives her a profound sense that all is of grace. I suppose we have all to go through experiences that bring that home to us. We have a sense in a general kind of way that all is of grace; we were brought forth under that principle, and we acknowledge it as being the only principle of blessing, but we have often to go through experiences that make it a very real thing to us that no merit or deserving attaches to us. And the Lord uses an experience like that to develop an energy of affection in our souls that may not, have been there before. So we find in the cud of this section that there is an energy in the spouse -- she holds Him and will not let Him go -- that has not been manifested before, we might say that has not been called for before.
It has pleased God in His wisdom to give us valuable instruction in this form. Each of these first two sections ends with a charge that her Love is not to be disturbed. That is a normal exercise; when we are in the enjoyment of nearness and intimacy with the Lord, the dominant desire of the heart is that nothing shall interfere with it. I suppose we have all known moments of happiness in which we have felt a real dread lest anything should come in that would disturb it. That is a normal exercise of love.
In returning to a sense that all is of pure grace we get revival, and the third section in the book, from chapter 3: 6 down to chapter 5: 1, is a history of revival. And therefore in this section there is no failure contemplated in the spouse, and the King expresses His appreciation of her beauty in detail, which He had not done before.
The lessons we learn in connection with actual failure in walk are not nearly so searching and humbling as those which arise from the inward discovery that our hearts have failed to respond to the love of Christ, The one is external and perhaps more public, but the other arises from the consciousness of a decline which is only known to ourselves and to the Lover of our souls. Such is the exercise of the second section of this book. There is decline in her affections. It comes into evidence, but the real secret is decline within: that is where all decline begins. In addressing Ephesus in the Revelation, the Lord says, You have not failed outwardly; you are a beautiful assembly; you are preserving order, you are faithful, you are doing everything right outwardly, but you have left your first love. He raises an exercise of very fine texture. I suppose we all know it well; the sorrow of feeling that our hearts are not as responsive to the love of Christ as they might be -- as they ought to be! But then that very exercise is used to intensify the energy of our souls to be possessed of Him; the spouse lays hold of Him and will not let Him go. She has more energy now than when she was sitting under His shadow. How wonderful God's ways are! And she gets the sense that all is of grace. So she brings Him into her mother's house. That is where she was born, under the system of grace. Now she brings Him there; it is as much as to say, I have found out enough about my own heart to be convinced that all must be of grace. A beautiful picture, and we all know how to interpret it; every believer has the key to it in his or her own history.
Through special divine favour the apostles were preserved, so that there is nothing to shew that they ever declined in affection for the Lord. They were preserved by the special grace of the Lord, but as soon as the responsible history of the church began symptoms of decline became manifest.
What happened in regard to Israel has happened in regard to the church. But there will be revival for Israel, and there is now revival for the church. "Come and let us return unto Jehovah: for he hath torn, ad he will heal us; he hath smitten, and he will bind us up. After two days will he revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, and we shall live before his face; and we shall know, -- we shall follow on to know Jehovah; his going forth is assured as the morning dawn; and he will come unto us as the rain, as the latter rain which watereth the earth" (Hosea 6:1-3). We are living in a time of revival; the greatest revival that ever was is going on now, and it ought to be a time of revival with every one of us. It is characteristic of the time, and what causes revival is a sense of grace. A sense of failure on our side but of grace on the divine side. The Reformation was brought about that way; there was a great sense of the failure of the church, but a renewed sense of grace, so that people began to wake up to the character of the dispensation, to know that all was of grace, and by faith. And there was a return to grace in the revival of the last century; it was brought about by a deep sense of failure in the church, but a return to grace -- a return to the thoughts of God. The thoughts of God are thoughts of grace; we come back to our mother's house -- and we hold Christ there; and then there is true revival.
I believe that, as a matter of fact, we being what we are, we only learn grace in proportion to our sense of the weakness and failure that is with us. It is an extraordinary thing that God uses our very weakness to strengthen us. It is very precious; do not you think Peter clung to the Lord ever after his experience of his own weakness in a way that he had never done before? Peter was a true lover and in one sense he did cling to the Lord, but he did not cling tight enough! But ever after, when he had Found out his own weakness, how he must have clung to the Lord with great tenacity! We want that tenacity of love to hold Him and not let Him go. We cannot get on a moment without Him; we must hold Him fast. Being affectionately possessed of Him is the secret of revival.
This is a very happy section of the book because there is no failure in it, all is of grace, and the thoughts of the love of Christ concerning His spouse come into fuller expression than before. His object in it all is that she may come with Him in response to His love, and we see a greater response here than in the section that precedes or the one that follows. It indicates a time of revival when He gets something of what His heart looks for. Revival would be a meaningless word if there had not been decline. Revival means that there has been a low state, but now there has been a lifting up, a restoration to the proper activities of love.
Now we get a wonderful unfolding of divine thoughts. We see the saints according to grace. In verse 6 that is what comes before us; and then we see certain things connected with Solomon -- that is, typically, Christ -- His couch, and His chariot or palanquin, and His crown -- indicating the way in which the affections of His people are able to regard Him. This is all the fruit of grace.As having returned to a true appreciation of Christ the full fruit of grace can appear. This does not say that there may not be decline from it again, because there is in the next section. After the most blessed revival we may come down again, and yet the Lord in His faithful love can use that to teach us something that we need to learn.
The spouse is seen here as coming up from the wilderness. The wilderness is the place where grace is learned. God redeemed His people out of Egypt, and bore them on eagles' wings, and brought them to Himself. Their time in the wilderness on the divine side was a time of the learning of grace. What an education in grace they got there! Not only God's ways in grace in relation to what came out in them -- though these were wonderful indeed -- but how He identified them with His tabernacle, the whole glorious system of which was founded upon the grace of redemption.
It is noticeable that we do not get here any description of the personal features of the spouse, nor of the detail of her beauty such as we get later on in chapters 4 and 7, but she is described as coming up out of the wilderness "like pillars of smoke". That is, she is invested with a fragrance that has been brought out under the action of fire. "Smoke" clearly indicates that. She is "like pillars of smoke, perfumed with myrrh and frankincense, with all powders of the merchant".
From Exodus 25 God's people were privileged to learn His grace in connection with the system that He set up in their midst. He set up a wonderful system typical of Christ and of glory, and one of the most characteristic features of that system was the ascending of the smoke from the altar. "Pillars of smoke" would have some reference, I think, to the sweet-odour offerings -- the burnt-offering, the oblation, the peace-offering, also the frankincense and other fragrant spices which were continually sending up their fragrance from the altars. They all spoke of sweet odour and precious fragrance that was brought out by the action of fire; they spoke of the death of Christ in its sweet odour aspect. God's intent in having fragrant odour brought before Him on the brazen altar and on the golden altar was that His people were to be identified with it, and it was to be identified with them. That was the divine thought. And here the spouse is viewed as coming up from the wilderness, and bringing nothing with her but the sweet fragrance of Christ.
Viewed according to the thoughts of grace that is how the saints come out of the wilderness. They come out with no evidence of anything but that they are identified in the mind of God, and in the grace of God, with all the sweet odour that came out under the action of fire when Christ went into death. It is not here that He died to remove what was offensive. We may find that aspect of His death in the Psalms and in the Prophets, but we must not expect to find it in the Song of Songs. Here it is His death in its sweet fragrance -- a perfection of obedience and devotedness that stood every test, and that, under the action of fire, yielded the odour of full satisfaction and delight to God, and this in order that the saints might be identified with its fragrance and value eternally. All is theirs as free gift in grace.
How good to remember that it is that or nothing! We cannot really have any mixture. As to acceptance and fragrance, it is, and must be, wholly Christ. The assembly is that glorious company which is at the present time invested with all the worth of Christ's precious offering of Himself. It is our privilege to come up from the wilderness carrying nothing with us but the sweet odour of Christ. It is so actually when a saint departs to be with Him. There may be a complication of exercises down to the last moment of the believer's history here, but one second after the saint has departed nothing remains but Christ, and what is of Christ. How precious to think of it! But then the joy of it need not be deferred until the moment of departure. It is to be known now as our acceptance through grace. We are blessed now according to the thoughts of the love of God, and the love of God has come out in the wonderful fact that Christ has died for us. The result of this is that we are bound up with the fragrance that ascended when He went into death. That is how we come out of the wilderness.
The spouse comes up out of the wilderness twice in this book. She comes up here in all the fragrance that arises from the altar. But in the eighth chapter she comes up leaning upon her Beloved; she has His priestly support. These are two things that are made known to us in the wilderness -- the altar, the death of Christ in all its amazing results for time and eternity; and the Priest for succour and support. We are not only in the fragrance of the death of Christ, but we have a living Priest to lean upon who can conduct us into everything that is the fruit of divine love and divine purpose. How blessed to come up out of the wilderness thus!
In an atmosphere of love we do not dwell on what has been removed, but on all that has been brought in, and that makes an immense difference. God would have us to apprehend the death of Christ in its sweet savour. Then we shall understand the "pillars of smoke". The thoughts of grace are infinitely great. People say often of God's great thoughts that they are not up to them! But that is not the real difficulty. What they need to see is that we are so utterly ruined in Adam that nothing but the death of Christ will meet the case. He has died to remove what we were, but also to bring in the fragrance of all that He is, that we may come up in all its value and acceptability. We cannot get lower than the death of Christ; it is the true measure of our state and need; but through that death grace sets us up in the fragrance of the myrrh and frankincense and all powders of the merchant.
Ephesians is a wonderful epistle of grace; it is filled with the actings and fruit of grace. "The glory of his grace", "the riches of his grace", "the surpassing riches of his grace". When we come into the region of grace it is just a question of Christ and nothing but Christ. To abide there is to be supremely happy.
When we have seen the spouse in that character the Spirit goes on to speak, in verses 7 - 11, of Christ as the Object of His peoples' affections. The spouse, as such, does not appear in these verses, though they form a preface to wonderful utterances of the King's love to her in chapter 4. The things before us here are peculiarly His own. His couch, His palanquin, and His crown are things which pertain to Christ, and they raise the question as to how we stand affectionately in relation to them. Grace, truly received, would put us in affectionate relation to His couch, His palanquin, and His crown.
The speaker in verses 6 - 11 is not made known. The speaker is hidden so that our attention may be concentrated on what is spoken. I do not doubt that it is the voice of the Spirit apart from the other speakers whose utterances are brought before us in the Song. It is a striking parenthesis in the book.
The first thing we are called to contemplate is Solomon's couch. It is His resting place by night, and it is seen here as surrounded by a bodyguard of the mighty of Israel. It indicates that Christ has a place where He can rest securely down here in the presence of all that is hostile through the night. We know well that He has a place of rest on high; Jehovah has said to Him, "Sit at my right hand, until I put thine enemies as footstool of thy feet" (Psalm 110:1). We have not to guard Him there; no hostile power can come near Him there; but He has a place down here where He has to be defended by faithful men who are experts in war. His resting place here is guarded by faithful affections. There are those who are prepared to bear the brunt of any attack upon Him. We often think of Him as protecting us, and where should we be without His protection? But here it is another side, and the fact that His couch is guarded "because of alarm in the nights" shews that the present time is in view, and not millennial conditions. It is in the presence of foes, and in the time of espousals; the marriage has not come yet. It applies peculiarly to the present time. Purity in the affections towards Christ, and fidelity to Him in the face of all that is adverse, can only be maintained in a militant spirit. We are to stand, sword in hand, to meet any alarm in the night.
Think of the Lord entrusting Himself to the guardianship of His faithful lovers! He has a place here where He is defended from every hostile attack. What honour is put upon the assembly as having such a sacred trust! Everything that is of value to God will be surrendered if we do not defend the Person of Christ. That is the thought connected with His couch. His Person is to be defended at all cost; every assault of the enemy is to be met with unflinching courage, and "the mighty of Israel" are to be prepared to bear the brunt of the conflict if anything threatens His Person. The Person of Christ is the priceless treasure of the assembly, and every attack of the enemy is in some way against it. It is good to think that there are thousands of saints on earth at the present moment who would rather die than give way to any influence that is contrary to the truth of His Person. The real test of a standing or falling church is how she acts in relation to the Person of Christ. We are here to defend Him at all cost, and mighty men come to light in doing so.
There never was a time when the enemy was more busy raising alarm in the night. On all hands the truth of Christ's Person is being assailed, and He is being unclothed of the glory that attaches to Him, We have to stand shoulder to shoulder, sword in hand, against it all. We may be sure that as the enemy tries to rob Him of His glory, the Spirit of God will ever be lifting up a standard by magnifying and increasing that glory in the estimation of those who love Him. I trust we all covet to have the honour from God of being permitted to defend Him in a scene and at a time when He is the object of attack. This is the attitude of every faithful lover.
"King Solomon made himself a palanquin of the wood of Lebanon. Its pillars he made of silver, its support of gold, its seat of purple; the midst thereof was paved with love by the daughters of Jerusalem". This would clearly set forth the Lord as providing for His own movements amongst His people. It is to be noted that He does not provide a chariot, which would run upon wheels, but a palanquin, which is carried by its bearers. The Lord's movements, as thus typified, are not independent of His saints; He moves as carried by their affectionate fidelity. It reminds us of how the ark was carried by the Kohathites in all its movements, and of how sad was the result when the divine order was departed from. The Lord is not quiescent at the present time; He moves amongst His people, but not independently of their affections and service. If we recognise that there are movements of the Lord it becomes of great importance to discern them, and to give our whole-hearted support to them. The character and style of His movements are set forth figuratively in the palanquin which King Solomon made, and by considering it we learn how to distinguish His movements from merely human activities. We learn, too, that to bear such a palanquin, and the One who rides in it, is a service of most exalted character. For the bearers would surely be required to correspond in apparel and dignity with what they carry. All the movements of Christ are of a character which is worthy of Him. The cedars and cypresses of Lebanon had a great place in the building of the temple, and it is said of the city of Jehovah in a coming day, "The glory of Lebanon shall come unto thee, the cypress, pine, and box-tree together, to beautify the place of my sanctuary" (Isaiah 9:13). So that "the wood of Lebanon" is a figure of what has excellence and elevation, and of what has exalted character morally. The movements of Christ ever have that character; there can never be anything low or mean about them, never anything that is on the level of the natural or carnal man. And those who carry Him have to be in keeping with that. Paul calls attention, particularly in 2 Corinthians, to the fact that he was personally in correspondence with the ministry which he carried. His teaching was in Christ, but his ways were also in Christ, and Timothy was on the same line because Paul could say that Timothy being amongst them would remind them of his ways in Christ. What we say often fails to have weight because we are personally not in accord with it. When that is the case we are not really giving support to the movements of Christ. He moves according to the elevation of His own great and holy thoughts.
Then "its pillars he made of silver". The grace of redemption will never fail to accompany and adorn the present movements of Christ. He never forgets what has been effected by His own precious death; His movements always bring into view the value and result of redemption; He ever regards His people in that light. If there are movements that proceed on the line that those who belong to Christ are still of the world, or are in the flesh, or under law, we may be sure that they are not the movement's of Christ. His people can never be to Him other than redeemed ones, taken out of the world to be for the pleasure of God in the power and value of His own death. This will ever be made prominent as He moves amongst His saints. The full and precious character of that redemption which has been effected through His blood, and which subsists in the power of His Person, will be ever made increasingly glorious as His royal progress continues. It is an unfailing accompaniment of His movements.
Then if the "pillars" of the palanquin are of silver its "support" is of gold. There are features of divine glory and love about the movements of Christ; they are all in keeping with the new covenant which is marked by surpassing and subsisting glory (see 2 Corinthians 3). If attention is called to things which are purely of God -- things which are the outcome of His love, and according to His purpose -- we may feel assured that the Lord is in movement. His glory is that He is the Mediator of the new covenant, and the Image of God, When He is hailed as Blessed, because coming in the Name of Jehovah, how happy will be the portion of those who carry Him, and of those who behold Him! In a coming day His royal glory will be borne in testimony by His faithful remnant, and His movements will be again, as they were in the days of His flesh, amongst those "beloved on account of the fathers". But now He is in movement in all His glory, known in a spiritual way, amongst His loved saints of the assembly. May we know how to carry Him thus for His pleasure!
This involves entire personal subjection to His authority as Lord, the thought of which is conveyed figuratively by the seat of His palanquin being "of purple". In mockery the soldiers put a crown and a purple robe on Him, but the "purple" in a true and divine sense marks all His movements. They always preserve His authority and call for subjection. The Lord's movements are often criticised as if men could pass a judgment on them, but they represent His authority, and they cannot be disregarded with impunity. Only those who are purposed in heart to maintain the rights of Christ, and to be subject to His authority as Lord, can carry Him suitably.
Then, finally, "The midst thereof was paved with love by the daughters of Jerusalem". The Lord delights to have the affections of His people with Him in all His movements; indeed He will not move without those affections. The true "daughters of Jerusalem" find pleasure in furnishing a pavement of love; they anticipate what is required, like the woman who "beforehand" anointed His body for burial, or like those who went before Him and strewed their garments on the way as He entered Jerusalem as Zion's King. He loves to have His way prepared, and His palanquin paved with love. I believe that whenever the Lord is about to move, He touches the hearts of His saints in a peculiar way so that there is a pavement provided; they make ready for His movements. How highly favoured are those who have the honour to serve Him thus! Think of the remnant in Luke 1-2 in connection with His coming into the world! and that other remnant in Acts 1 who awaited the promise of the Father! Their affections made ready for His movements; the pavement of love was there. And so will it be in connection with that great movement when He will descend from heaven to catch up His saints to meet Him in the air! The affections of His bride will be so active that all will be in readiness for Him. Even then He will move as borne upon His people's love, in response to the bridal call for Him to "Come"! And if it is so in relation to His greatest and most wondrous movements, we may be sure it is so in relation to His spiritual movements amongst His saints from time to time. I believe the pavement of love has ever to be furnished, and the "daughters of Jerusalem" have the peculiar favour of being allowed to furnish it. Would not all our hearts covet to serve His pleasure in this way? Who would wish to be unprepared and unsympathetic with His movements?Through distance from Him it is sadly possible to regard His movements with distrust, and to miss the happiness of being in accord with them. May it rather be that our hearts, as spiritually alert, may know how to provide the pavement of love, so that all is ready on our part for His next movement, whatever it may be!
In chapter 6: 12 there is a somewhat similar thought. He can say, "My soul set me upon the chariots of my willing people". But there the thought is of how easily and quickly His people's affections will move to carry Him; they will be "chariots" whose wheels will run swiftly. But His "palanquin" rather suggests that each is prepared to bear in personal labour the burden involved in giving support to His movements. The "chariots" would speak of the alacrity of love on the part of a willing people, but the "palanquin" would impress upon us that to support His movements there must be a "labour of love" to which we have to put our shoulders.
The Lord will move in love and glory amongst His people to the end, and He would have us identified with His movements, SO that in moving HC has the comfort of knowing that our affections are in accord with Him. He is not at all minded to move without us. What dignity and honour, as well as sweet privilege of love, does this confer upon us! In moving He presents Himself amongst His people; He gives prominence to certain things; He brings in what is needed to give colour and character to His testimony at any particular time. It is good that we should provide a pavement of love for Him, and be ready to carry Him in all His movements.
Then in verse 11 the "daughters of Zion" are called to go forth to behold king Solomon crowned in the day of His espousals. "Daughters of Jerusalem" would be, I think, a more general term, as indicating those brought forth by grace, but "daughters of Zion" would suggest the principle of sovereignty as giving a special place, like that accorded to the 144,000 in Revelatin 14. To be born in Zion implies special and sovereign favour. (Psalm 87) I cannot but regard it as special favour to be called to go forth to see the true King Solomon as crowned by His mother in the day of His espousals. This is a view of Christ which is very distinctive and precious. For the crown here is not the crown of the kingdom, not the crown of millennial glory, but the glory which attaches to Him as pledged in faithful love to His spouse, It is not that the marriage is consummated, but the gladness of His heart is great in being espoused to His bride. What a day it will be when His mother Israel understands the joy of His love in entering into a bond with an elect company given to Him by His Father to be His spouse! A day is coming when she will crown Him as having this joy. And at the present time His saints may take up a three-fold privilege which is suggested by this verse. It may be ours in one aspect to crown Him; in another aspect to behold Him crowned; and in a third and most blessed aspect to know that we form part of that chaste virgin to whom He is espoused in changeless love.
God would have us to enter into "the gladness of his heart". It is not our side that is presented here, but the joy of Christ in being espoused -- a joy which He has at the present moment. It means much to Him. When Paul speaks of the saints as being espoused as a chaste virgin to Christ he is thinking of their being suitable to Him. But here it is His side, and it is a peculiar divine favour to be called to behold Him thus. I think we should be intensely interested not only in what may be regarded as the general blessings of divine grace, but in the specialities which love delights to confer. Manifestations are specialities; they are not granted to all believers, but given under certain conditions as special favour. And it is peculiar favour to know the present joy of Christ in being espoused to His bride. This glory being His, He will ever be faithful to the bond He has entered into. He is definitely pledged and committed, and His affections move without restraint towards those whom He loves, and with whom it is His joy to stand in a bond that can never be severed.
It may be noticed that we do not get any detailed description of her beauty in His eyes until after this, nor is she actually called the spouse until the next chapter. But the espousals having been celebrated He is now free to speak and act towards her according to the engagement into which He has entered. It is an immense privilege to contemplate Him as crowned in this peculiar and affectionate way. It is a very precious view of Christ.
In the first five verses of this chapter the King speaks to His spouse of her fairness. He delights to do so because every feature of it -- and there are seven features particularly mentioned here -- is the product of grace. He loves to make her conscious that she has beauty in His eyes. As under grace and its teaching certain features are developed in the saints which are most attractive to Christ. The grace of God brings beautiful features into evidence. We appreciate them when we see them, but the Lord appreciates them far more than we do; they are most attractive to Him.Nothing that is of nature comes into this; the most amiable traits of natural character have no place or part in the beauty of the bride. Her beauty is divinely conferred, and it has only been acquired through the setting aside by the power of grace of what attached to us by nature. It is clear that in speaking thus to His loved one the Lord has not in mind what we were according to the flesh, but what we are by the grace of God. The beauty which He describes is real and subsisting; He would riot say what was not true, nor call that beautiful which was really ugly. But His eye rests with complacent delight on every feature which is the product of grace. Grace, when truly received, is never unproductive; it effects moral transformation; it brings about features in its subjects which are beautiful under the eye of Christ. We remarked before that in this section of the book there is return, after a period of decline, to a sense of grace, and it is therefore in keeping that the saints should be viewed according to what they are by the grace of God. Paul could say, "By God's grace I am what I am", and even as to his abundant labour he said, "But not I, but the grace of God which was with me" (1 Corinthians 15:10). Every subject of grace has beautiful features. When it could be said of Saul of Tarsus, "Behold he is praying" it was a beautiful trait; it spoke of transformation -- subjection and dependence instead of violent self-will and enmity. It made him attractive to Christ, and also to Ananias when he heard of it. The grace of God teaches us that "having denied impiety and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, and justly, and piously in the present course of things" (Titus 2:12). These are features which have great moral beauty. When Gentiles at Antioch believed and turned to the Lord, Barnabas was sent to see what was going on, and we are told that he saw the grace of God (Acts 11:23). He saw it in its manifest fruits in the young converts, and it made him rejoice. It is beauty created under grace that is described, in a figurative way, in the language of the verses before us This scripture is intended to direct our attention to features which are attractive to Christ, so that we may seek in every way to further them, and have them fully developed in us. The features which are delightful to Christ all correspond with Himself; they are derived from Him.
The first of these features is ability for spiritual perception; her eyes are doves behind her veil. This is a feature which is hidden from the world; men cannot take account of it; she veils it from their view; but it is a chief beauty in the eyes of Christ. How acceptable to the Lord in the days of His flesh were those who gave evidence of having ability to see in a spiritual sense! Those to whom He could day, "Blessed are your eyes because they see"! Such ability could not be apart from new birth, for the Lord said, "Except anyone be born anew he cannot see the kingdom of God". The operation of God in new birth, and the presence of the Spirit, are necessary if our eyes are to be dove's. "And ye have the unction from the holy one, and ye know all things" (1 John 2:20); "The spiritual discerns all things" (1 Corinthians are scriptures which occur to one in connection with the eyes of the bride. When the Lord said to His disciples, "But ye, who do ye say that I am?" (Matthew 16:15). He was giving them opportunity to skew what perception they had, and when Simon Peter answered, "Thou art the Christ; the Son of the living God". He pronounced him "Blessed" as a subject of His Father's grace. Dove-like vision was there, and it had great beauty in His eyes.
It is well to remember that we should not have had eyes at all, in any spiritual sense, if the Lord had not given us sight. "Jehovah openeth the eyes of the blind" (Psalm 146:8). It was expressly written of the day of the Messiah that the eyes of the blind should see (Isaiah 29:18; Isaiah 35:6; Isaiah 42:7), and the ancient rabbis were right in saying that this was a miracle reserved for the Messiah alone to perform. He did not give the power to do it to His disciples.
"To open their eyes" in Paul's commission does not mean quite that Paul could give men sight, but that he was sent to put the truth of the position so clearly before them that their blood would be entirely on their own heads if they did not turn to the light and to God. But many blind received sight when the Lord was here; seven of them are specially brought before our notice in the Gospels. They illustrate that precious work of divine grace by which ability is given for spiritual perception.
Do we always consider that our spiritual vision is for the pleasure of Christ? Our spiritual apprehensions are not for display before men, to attract attention to ourselves; they are "behind thy veil". It would be good if we regarded every accession of light, every enlarged view of Christ, every increase in the knowledge of God, as conferred that we might be more pleasurable to Christ.It might not always be His will that we should speak to others of what He has given us to perceive. He may sometimes say, as He did to the two blind men, "See let no man know it" (Matthew 9:27-31). The "veil" suggests a certain reservation, in contrast to publicity; the eyes as "behind thy veil" would indicate a spiritual beauty that is not uncovered to everybody; it is held as that which is for Christ. He will know how to utilise it for service perhaps at some time, but, it remains veiled until He pleases. Paul had wonderful revelations and visions as caught up into paradise, but he kept them behind the veil for fourteen years. A reserve of this kind, which might be brought out for the servant's own glory, but which is veiled until it is necessary to bring it out for Christ's glory, is peculiarly pleasurable to Him. May we be more concerned to have perceptions and apprehensions that are valued in our hearts because of the pleasure which our having them gives to Christ!Surely every lover of Christ would like to have spiritual vision that would give delight to Him. So that if we listen to ministry, or read, we have this before us, and not the thought of mere knowledge that puffs up. Every truly spiritual perception of Christ and of the truth is part of the bridal beauty which is attractive to Him, and He would have us to know that it is so. Even when we ourselves see souls acquiring new apprehensions of Christ, or desiring to see Him more clearly and fully, it gives us genuine pleasure, and that is the love of Christ in His saints leading them to appreciate what He appreciates. What pleasure the Lord had in seeing the progress of the man whose eyes He opened! (John 9). Every new perception the man got, I think we may say, gave the Lord more pleasure than it gave the man himself.
"Thy hair is as a flock of goats, on the slopes of mount Gilead". This second feature of the bride is peculiarly a womanly glory. "But woman, if she have long hair, it is glory to her; for the long hair is given to her in lieu of s veil" (1 Corinthians 11:15). Nature itself teaches that it is the woman's glory to be veiled as being in the subject place; her glory is to be in the place of one who has a head. This is the true glory of the assembly; she is subjected to the Christ in His blessed relation to her as Head. This kind of subjection is not brought about by a sense of duty, but by love and reverence. The assembly does not merely feel that she ought to be subject to Christ, but she loves to be. She is conscious that no other relation to Him is suitable, and that to be in it is her true glory, and an essential feature of her beauty in His eyes. I do not doubt that this is set forth figuratively in the hair of the spouse; it constitutes a prominent feature of her attractiveness in the eyes of the King.
Hair, as in Nazariteship, carries with it also the thought of consecration. "He hath consecrated himself to Jehovah, he shall be holy; he shall let the locks of the hair of his head grow". And we read of "the hair of the head of his consecration" (Numbers 6:5,18). How beautiful in the eyes of Christ is this feature! As constrained by His love we no longer live to ourselves but to Him. "For both if we should live, it is to the Lord we live; and if we should die, it is to the Lord we die: both if we should live then, and if we should die, we are the Lord's" (Romans 14:8). Spiritual perceptions governing the heart would lead to consecration; it is the normal fruit of grace, and it is a peculiar glory to be thus distinguished in the sight of our eternal Lover.
In the descriptions given in this book of the spouse and of Him who is her Beloved, certain of her or of His features are mentioned which are then compared with other things. It would appear that the features are figurative while the comparisons are symbolical. For example, the "head" would be figurative of intelligence, but if it is said to be "like Carmel" a comparison is instituted which is of a symbolical nature and indicates the character of the intelligence. Another example may be given from another part of Scripture. We read, "And his feet like fine brass, as burning in a furnace" (Revelation 1:15). His "feet" are figurative of His movements, but when we are told that they are "like fine brass, as burning in a furnace" this is symbolical language. It is of the nature of a figure that it is comparatively easily understood; a child would understand that the feet represent how one moves. But a symbol requires more mature consideration: the language of symbols has to be learned from their use in Scripture, and by divine teaching. Any simple person would know that a door or gate indicated the way into something, and might mean access or exclusion according as it was open or shut. This is the language of figure. But if we read that the doors of the temple were of olive-wood, carved with cherubim and palm-trees and half-open flowers, and overlaid with gold, this is the language of symbol, into which we have to be initiated before we can understand it. So if we read that Jerusalem's gates are of carbuncles, and that the twelve gates of the heavenly city are twelve pearls, these are symbolical statements. There is no natural resemblance between a gate and a pearl: such a description has to be understood symbolically. There may, or there may not, be some kind of natural correspondence between a figure and the symbols which are used in connection with it. Very often there is none; but whether there is or not the symbols have their own significance. This applies to the interpretation of all Scripture symbols; a symbol in every case adds something to the figure which in itself it would not have. It will be helpful to bear this in mind as we look at the comparisons and similitudes which we shall meet with in the Song of Songs.
For the spiritual understanding of such language, as used by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, we have to get away from material or literal thoughts, and seek to gather the moral ideas which are presented in a symbolical way. I do not say that we can always interpret them aright; for there is real difficulty in many of the figures and symbols. We need the Lord to give us understanding, and He does not fail those who seek Him. And if we do not know, it is a very safe and wholesome thing to admit our ignorance.
The hair of the spouse being "as a flock of goats, on the slopes of mount Gilead" connects the thoughts of unity, and an exceedingly favourable position, with the features attaching to hair in Scripture. True subjection and consecration on the part of individual saints will inevitably bring them into unity. It will bring about a collective state of things which will have true "flock" character. The "flock" is a precious designation of the saints viewed collectively, because it conveys the thought that not only has each individual a place under direct Shepherd care, but that all move together under one control. This is the practical evidence that we are beautified under the eye of Christ with that true glory of which the hair is a figure. Subjection to Christ as Head will secure unity. This is not agreeing to differ, but moving together without a divergent thought because all have one Head.
Subjection to one Shepherd, as knowing and confiding in His love, will lead to our being found in most favourable pasture. "The slopes of mount Gilead" would indicate this. (See Jeremiah 1:19; Micah 7:14). If we are not enjoying rich pasture, or not moving in unity with our brethren in the enjoyment of it, the question arises whether grace has been allowed to bring about in us those features of spiritual beauty and glory which are set forth in the hair of the spouse?
The frequent use of the goat as a sin-offering suggests that, the saints viewed as "a flock of goats" are regarded as being in holy separation from everything that was judged in the death of Christ.We shall not otherwise move in unity as one flock, nor shall we feed in green pastures. If we have really apprehended Christ in Sin-offering character we are under obligation to maintain, through grace, a holiness that is in keeping with it.
The next feature brought before us in the King's description of the spouse is her teeth, and this would set forth ability to avail oneself of spiritual food, for it is by the teeth that food is masticated.Under grace we acquire ability to feed, and this is attractive to the Lord. He furnishes food supply in abundance, but His pleasure is found in seeing us able to make use of it. There are many forms of spiritual food typified by the passover lamb, by manna, flesh, corn, bread, etc., but unless we have ability to feed on them they do not sustain or strengthen us.
The comparison instituted here: "Thy teeth are like a flock of shorn sheep, which go up from the washing; which have all borne twins, and none is barren among them" -- would suggest to us the conditions which accompany spiritual ability to feed. "Sheep" represent those who are partakers of the divine nature. If we are to feed on Christ -- and all spiritual food is Christ in some form -- there must be a nature suitable to appropriate such food, and to grow by it. If there is not something morally kindred to Christ in the soul there is nothing which can possibly feed on Him. Those born of incorruptible seed are evidenced by the desire which they have for that which is nourishing and strengthening in a spiritual sense. (See 1 Peter 1:23 - 2:3). There is correspondence between the food and the one who feeds, so that the one is suited to the other, The natural man cannot feed on Christ; there is nothing in him to which such food appeals.
Then the sheep here are shorn; their nature has been in activity, and has yielded something at personal cost for the One to whom they belong. We may not always think so, but it is a fact that ability to feed depends to a large extent on what we have yielded. If I find that I get nothing out of my reading of Scripture, or out of ministry that is evidently food for others, it is time to ask whether the grace of God has had its way in producing something for His praise, or for the comfort of His people? The more we yield the more we shall be able to appropriate as food. If there has been nothing produced, the grace of God has been received in vain. It could not be absolutely so in anyone born of incorruptible seed, but a small yield often accounts for small capability to feed.Of course if we do not feed we cannot expect to yield wool, so that it works both ways. The normal course is that as nourished by grace we produce something for God; then fresh supplies of grace are forthcoming, and there is a further yield. But if we are unproductive there will be little or no ability for spiritual appropriation. The principle comes out in Hebrews 6:7, the rain comes down, useful herbs are produced, and then, consequent upon this yield, there is further blessing from God.
Wool is the natural product of a sheep's life, but it is grown to be yielded under shearing. How everything was yielded, even life itself, by our blessed Lord, and this without opening His mouth in complaint! And Peter tells us that He has left US a Model that we should follow in His steps. AS we pursue this line there will be no lack of ability to enjoy spiritual food.
Then there is a further thought of the sheep going up "from the washing". Many wonder why they do not get more at the meetings, or in private reading, but the secret is that they do not come up from the washing. "The washing of water by the word" is for cleansing from all that is unsuitable to Christ or uncomely in His sheep. If we do not submit ourselves to this sanctifying and purifying process our ability to feed will be seriously impaired.
Finally, these sheep are presented as marked by fruitfulness; all have borne twins and none is barren. It would be good for every believer to desire to bring at least two souls to Christ; it might well be a distinct object with each one of us. Think of the increase of the flock for Him! Andrew first found his own brother Simon and led him to Jesus. I do not believe the Lord would have any of us to be barren in relation to the increase of the flock. And if there were more fruitfulness of this kind there would be more real ability to enjoy spiritual food.
The word is never more precious to us than when we have had the joy of bringing other hearts to know its value, whether they be strangers to grace or believers.
If the "teeth" of the spouse represent, as we have seen, ability to take in food, her "lips" convey the thought of what comes out in expression. What comes out of our lips rightly takes character from what we have appropriated as food. The life that is sustained by spiritual food will be expressed by comely speech. "Thy lips are like a thread of scarlet, and thy speech is comely". As the inward man is nourished the saints are formed after Christ, and the lips become a channel of expression; they indicate what is within. "The good man, out of the good treasure of his heart, brings forth good; and the wicked man out of the wicked, brings forth what is wicked; for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks" (Luke 6:45). The possession of teeth implies a certain maturity of power to appropriate; it does not accompany infancy. Spiritually it would indicate that one is skilled in the word of righteousness, and habituated to distinguishing good and evil. One is not occupied with what is elementary, such as those first principles which were brought out in Judaism, but one has gone on to appropriate the full grace that is known in a risen and heavenly Christ. (See Hebrews 5:12 - 6:3). As thus nourished the lips give expression to the grace that is known within. Nothing is a more practical token of how far grace rules us than the way we speak.
Every feature of the bride really comes out of Christ; Eve was taken out of Adam. If we think of His lips, what grace was poured into them and flowed from them! Now his bride is to be what Eve was for Adam -- His like, or counterpart. There is to be no occasion when grace may be absent from our speech, for we read, "Let your word he always with grace, seasoned with salt" (Colossians 4:6). The salt is to be there as seasoning, for grace is never unfaithful or unholy, but "always with grace". "Let no corrupt word go out of your mouth, but if there be any good one for needful edification, that it may give grace to those that hear it" (Ephesians 4:29). How beautiful is such it feature as this in the eyes of Christ! The comeliness of the bride is of a most practical character; it is made up of moral and spiritual traits which give pleasure to the heart of Christ.
There was a time when we said, "Our lips are our own: who is lord over us?" (Psalm 12:4). But that time came to an end when we confessed with our mouths Jesus as Lord. This really meant that we had sanctified the Lord, the Christ, in our hearts, and as a result we sanctified Him on our lips. I look upon the "thread of scarlet" as suggesting that, for "scarlet" speaks of His kingly rights (see Matthew 27:28,29). When Rahab put the "line of scarlet thread" in her window it was symbolical of the fact that she had owned the rights of Jehovah, and had come under His authority as known in grace. If our lips, have confessed Jesus as Lord they are dedicated, and all that comes out of them henceforth is to be in keeping with that confession. We can never again say that our lips are our own, or that we have no lord over us. All that we say is now to be the evidence that we have a Lord, and that our lips are for His pleasure and service and praise. Then they will be "like a thread of scarlet".
The fact that our lips have been used for an elevated and spiritual purpose renders it most unsuitable that they should ever give expression to what is of the flesh. James will not allow that it is right that blessing and cursing should go out of the same mouth. So that if my lips have blessed the Lord or the Father what I say to men or to the brethren must be in keeping with that. The highest use to which the lips are put is to be the standard by which all their utterances are to be governed. The continual influence of grace would maintain this; if we get away from that influence we shall be sure to express what we are naturally, and this is nothing to be proud of! The Lord's lips were very beautiful in all that they expressed. "Behold, I have not withheld my lips, Jehovah thou knowest. I have not hidden thy righteousness within my heart; I have declared thy faithfulness and thy salvation; I have not concealed thy loving-kindness and thy truth from the great congregation" (Psalm 40:9-10). His lips were "like a thread of scarlet", ever speaking in faithfulness to God and in grace to men. What delight to God did His lips give! And it may be ours, through grace, to give pleasure_ to Him by the way we speak, The thought of pleasing the One who loves us, and whom we love, might well be a mighty and perpetual influence in our hearts.May we render to Him, as Israel will in a coming day, "the calves of our lips"! (Hosea 14:2).
The "temples", or cheeks, of the spouse are the next features mentioned, and they are said to be "as a piece of a pomegranate ... behind thy veil". They would represent what is prominent, and what would, perhaps, most attract attention if it were exposed to view. But the most distinct evidences of vigorous spiritual life -- the ruddy glow of the pomegranate on the cheeks -- are "behind thy veil". The truest signs of inward spiritual life are for the eye of Divine Persons alone. Their true character and comeliness are gone the moment they are done to attract the eye of men. Much of the fruit of grace comes only under the view of Christ and of His Father. It is not for display, at any rate at the present time.
I would illustrate this part of the beauty of the spouse by referring to the Lord's words in Matthew 6 as to the alms, or righteousness of His disciples, and their prayers and fastings (see Matthew 6:1-18). These are very clear evidences of vitality and moral comeliness, but they are to be "behind thy veil". The true measure of our spiritual vitality is known only to Divine Persons, and it is a very distinct characteristic of the spouse that she does not wish to be unveiled before men. She is content that her beauty should be known to her Beloved alone.
Our righteousness -- the word includes alms-giving but also many other things that are right for a saint to do -- is not to be "before men, to be seen of them". It is not to be made a show of; otherwise its comeliness before the Father would be lost. Much prayer becomes the saints, but it is to be "in secret"; the "chamber" and the shut door are very essential. Of course there is fellowship in prayer amongst saints, but it is not well to make a show of it before men; religious flesh could take pride in that. Then fasting has a very real place in spiritual life -- the refusal of what is legitimate in view of more entire devotedness to the Lord. But this would not be talked of, or written about; it would rather be veiled from human eyes. The King is here expressing His appreciation of His spouse in her veiled condition. As in His chambers she would not be veiled to Him, but outside and to other eyes she is veiled, and her being so adds to her beauty before Him. People speak sometimes of "taking the veil" in an outward and material way, which is all worthless, but it is very necessary for the saints to do it spiritually. The effect of grace would be to develop features that are a secret between our souls and the Lord. This would entirely preserve us from every form of religious hypocrisy. It would give us true beauty in the eyes of the Beloved; the hidden life of devotion to Him is very precious in His sight.
There is, of course, another side, brought before us also in the Lord's words, "Let your light thus shine before men, so that they may see your upright works, and glorify your Father who is in the heavens". This is the public side connected with testimony. Whatever light we have from God is intended to shine; it is not to be obscured. But this is not to bring ourselves into evidence; indeed it will not glorify us to do it, it will cost us something, but our Father will be glorified.
It might be said at this point that there is a good deal of correspondence between the features of the spouse as seen in the Song of Songs and the moral beauties of saints as described in the sermon on the mount. The former presents the effect of the influence of Christ and of heaven in the souls of men in highly poetic and figurative language; the latter brings that effect before us in plain statement.The figurative language of the Song can only be rightly interpreted by those who are characterised by genuine and practical piety, and by true and fervent love for Christ.
"Thy neck is like the tower of David, built for an armoury: a thousand bucklers hang thereon, all shields of mighty men". The "neck" in Scripture would seem to indicate where the strength of purpose lies. We often read of men being stiff-necked, and having hardened necks. The purpose of man is always naturally to carry out his own will. God can put a providential yoke on man's neck to hinder him from doing all that he would like to do, but the purpose of man is always to effect something for himself, for his own pleasure or glory. But when grace comes in and produces its blessed effect, purpose takes an altogether different form. When, through grace, the yoke of Christ is taken up there is complete transformation. Never was this more clearly seen than in the case of Saul of Tarsus. If ever there was a man whose neck was an iron sinew (Isaiah 48:4) it was he. But mercy reached him from the glory and subdued him. When he said, "What shall I do, Lord"? he had really taken the yoke of Christ upon his neck, and from that moment he was set in purpose to know God's will and to do it.
"The tower of David" reminds us that David was typical of Christ as the man after God's heart, who would do all His will (Acts 13:22). What a triumph of grace that instead of the will of man dominating, and manifesting itself in stiffneckedness Godward, the neck should become "like the tower of David"! There is a fixed purpose now to stand immovably against every influence that is hostile to the will of God. Paul said to the Corinthians, "So then, my beloved brethren, be firm, immovable". He could speak of Timothy being thoroughly acquainted with his "purpose", and he could say, "I am set for the defence of the glad tidings". We see in him one whose neck was "like the tower of David". He knew what the will of God was as established in Christ, and he was set to defend it in a scene where every influence was hostile to it. Such a feature is a part of the beauty of the bride upon which her Beloved can dwell with delight. When Priscilla and Aquila staked their own neck for Paul's life, they were manifestly set for the defence of God's testimony. The tower of David, with its thousand bucklers, "all shields of mighty men", would speak of many standing together in a defensive attitude. It would correspond with what Paul says of the Philippian saints: "Ye have me in your hearts, and that both in my bonds and in the defence and confirmation of the glad tidings ye are all participators in my grace" (Philippians 1:7). It is a true assembly feature, and a part of the fairness of His spouse which makes her attractive to His love. "A thousand bucklers" would suggest that no point is left exposed; the testimony of God is maintained as against every foe, and in all its features. No better illustration of a neck like the tower of David could be found than Stephen. He faced with immovable purpose the whole council -- all that was great and honoured in Israel -- and he maintained defensively all that was essential to the testimony of God at the moment. If his face even to his adversaries was as the face of an angel, how fair he must have been in the eyes of the One who looked down upon him from the glory! We can understand the Lord saying to him, and to all who, even in the very smallest degree, resemble him, "Behold, thou art fair, my love; behold, thou art fair".
If we have that feature which is set forth by a neck "like the tower of David" our affections will be preserved. Spiritual affections are very precious to the Lord, and they are the last feature of His spouse to be described. "Thy two breasts are like two fawns, twins of a gazelle, which feed among the lilies". The "two breasts" speak of affections that are in even balance. Grace governing the heart would secure this; the one who loves God would love his brother also; and there would be no partialities as to the truth, no attaching ourselves to one aspect of the truth in such a way as to lose interest in the whole circle of truth. We are apt to get one-sided. The Lord would not have some to be all for the gospel, and others all for the assembly; as to our affections, He would have us all equally interested in both, whatever might be our personal service. Unbalanced affections are really a deformity because they are not the "counterpart" of the affections of Christ, and we should covet correspondence with Him in all things, and particularly in our affections. We may be sure that His heart would delight in this.
The "two fawns, twins of a gazelle" set forth symbolically the tenderness and sensitiveness of spiritual affections. These are timid creatures, sensitive to any molestation, and ready to flee from it on swift foot. The Lord would have us to cultivate and exhibit affections that, are delicately sensitive, that are quickly alarmed by the approach of anything that is of the world or the flesh or the devil. This holy sensitiveness can only be preserved as it is nourished upon appropriate food. The garbage of the world is fatal to it. The fawns "feed among the lilies". This, as we have seen, is where He feeds His flock (chapter 2: 16; 6: 3). If the spouse is herself a "lily among thorns" her affections must feed in conditions that correspond with her own true character. How refined the purity of such a feeding-place! A place where one is surrounded by a beauty and glory that has been directly conferred by God. Where all is in contrast to the thorns around, and is marked by harmlessness, simplicity, and irreproachableness (see Philippians 2:12-16). In such conditions spiritual affections can be suitably nourished.They are conditions which do not pertain to the world nor to nature; they belong to a sphere where all is the product of grace.
The Lord would have His saints to know that, as having spiritual features -- the product of grace -- they have a beauty that is attractive to Him. There is no self-exaltation in knowing this, for every saint is deeply conscious that it is the fruit of the death of Christ, and of the presence and working of the Holy Spirit. It is the result, too, of many humbling exercises by which we have learned to judge what is of the flesh, and to be freed, in some measure, from what we were naturally. Every feature that we have according to grace has moral beauty, and God would encourage and stimulate us to cultivate features that are attractive to Christ because they correspond with Himself. Spiritual features need to be developed and matured, for none of us could think for a moment that the features of the bride were fully formed in us. But whether they are formed little or much they are the only features which attract the love of Christ,. And He speaks of His delight in them so that we may cultivate and further them by all possible means. And the bride never has before her as the goal of her desires anything less than to be absolutely like Christ so as to be His counterpart. The youngest believer may profitably say to himself every morning, and a hundred times through the day, "God has taken me up in His grace to make me like Christ; therefore anything that is not like Christ is unworthy of me". The beauty of the bride is developed by the refusal of features that are not in correspondence with Christ, and the better we know Him the more power will there be to do this.
When the day dawns and the shadows flee away all the saints will be like Christ; they will all bear the image of the heavenly One. If we have that before us we shall want to get as many impressions of Him as are possible now. And I think this is what is conveyed by the spouse saying that she would get to "the mountain of myrrh, and to the hill of frankincense". She would like to gather up more of His fragrance, and to be found on holy elevations where she would be free from all other influences. She would familiarise herself more with the rich odours that have disclosed themselves in Him. This is the effect of learning from Him His thoughts in regard to her.
"The mountain of myrrh" speaks of the love of Christ as expressed in suffering even unto death. It was at Golgotha that they offered Him wine mingled with myrrh, and Nicodemus brought myrrh and aloes to bind up with His body for burial. No blessings conferred, no glory that can be brought in, give such an impression of Christ as the contemplation of Him as suffering in His love. A suffering Messiah touches the heart of those who love Him in a deeper way than a glorified One. As the glorious King He "will deliver the needy who crieth, and the afflicted, who hath no helper" (Psalm 72). But how will the needy and afflicted be moved when they understand that "in all their affliction he was afflicted"! When they are constrained to say, "Surely he hath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows"! There is not a sorrow in the human heart which He has not made His own, and this in the willing devotion of love! All sorrow and suffering was concentrated on Him -- the Man of sorrows. When the Passover in the upper room and Gethsemane and Calvary become to the remnant "the mountain of myrrh" how they will love their Messiah as known in the unparalleled suffering of His love! But we are privileged to come to that mountain before they do.
When the day dawns and the shadows flee away we shall come out with Christ and like Him, and in the meantime He would have us to be acquiring impressions of Him that will bring us more and more into correspondence with Him through the Spirit's work. "The mountain of myrrh and the hill of frankincense" speak of what the Lord would have us to know now in the assembly. The eating of the Lord's supper is what brings us together in assembly character. We thus find ourselves in a spot where the fragrance abounds; we come to such an expression of His love in its greatness that it may well be spoken of as "the mountain of myrrh". The loaf and the cup ever bring it before us. He came in flesh that He might have a body in which His love could be expressed -- a love that no suffering stayed. The flesh and blood of Christ have become the great witnesses of divine love. His love suffered all through in innumerable ways, but the climax of all was that He gave Himself. Each individual saint can say, He "has loved me, and given himself for me", and He has given Himself for the assembly. The only way to think rightly of the blessing of the individual saint, or of the place and privilege of the assembly, is to see it all as the outcome and fruit of the death of Christ.
If the body and blood of Christ have been given for us in love who can measure the immensity of the result? It puts everything on a new and divine footing. If we want to understand the character of present blessing we must pass over into the great thoughts of divine love, we must think of what God has purposed, of what the Father would have for His own pleasure. It is all eternally secured through the death of Christ; and its greatness is according to the preciousness of that which has secured it; it is in a full way for God's delight. If we eat the Lord's supper in true self-judgment we have not to think of ourselves in any other way than as the subjects of infinite love, and as those who are blessed according to the thoughts of that love.
Then there is "the hill of frankincense", which would set forth the intercession of Christ. The thoughts of the Father for His own are all cherished in the heart of the Son, and He has taken them up in an intercessory way, as we may see in John 17. He knows in full measure the value of His own death, and all its fruits, and His saints are ever on His heart as those who have their place and portion according to the thoughts of divine love. What an elevation is this! Yet it is certain that if Christ thinks of His own, and intercedes for them, it must be in accord with the place which His own death has secured for them. He must think of them according to the lofty thoughts of His own and the Father's love. The precious stones in the breast-plate of the high priest represented the tribes of Israel as seen in the lustre and beauty of divine thoughts, and not as marked by weakness and failure.
Nothing is of true assembly character that does not recognise the value and result of the death of Christ,. Nothing has place there but what corresponds with the thoughts concerning His saints which are in the heart of Christ. As Head He would delight to bring us into all that is in His heart Godward in priestly and intercessory love. "The mountain of myrrh and the hill of frankincense" set forth in a figurative way the elevation which our souls may reach spiritually as we contemplate the love of Christ as expressed in death, and as expressed in the precious and holy thoughts of His heart told out to God and the Father. We get outside the region of human thoughts there. What could be more blessed? Divine love known, its precious thoughts unfolded, and all seen as secured eternally through the suffering love of Christ, and as now cherished in His heart for us. And we may realise this in spiritual power before the day dawns and the shadows flee away. Would it not be bound to have the effect of bringing about increased correspondence with Christ -- an enlarged development and maturing of bridal features and beauty? I believe that was the Lord's intent in instituting His supper. The features of the bride are present in germ in every one who has the Spirit, just as all the faculties of the man are in the babe, but they have to be developed, and the Lord provides what is necessary for their development.
Viewing the spouse as having got to the mountain of myrrh and the hill of frankincense the heart of her Beloved goes out to her with intense affection. "Thou art all fair, my love; and there is no spot in thee". How our glorious Head delights to view us as those who have taken up our place in all the fragrance of Himself and of His death! If we hold the Head we shall think of ourselves as He thinks of us. We shall be able to move with Him. The four mountains mentioned here -- Lebanon, Amanah, Senir and Hermon -- represent an elevation of spiritual blessing from which we can look out in company with Christ upon the wondrous results of His having become through death the mountain of myrrh. His twice-repeated "with me" shows how His love would have us to move and to look at things as He moves and as He looks at them. He would have us in conscious association with Him in our spiritual outlook. All is the fruit of the love in which He suffered and gave Himself for us, and hence it is supreme blessedness according to the height of God's thoughts. Alas! we often stop short of divine thoughts, but why should we? If blessed at all on the principle of grace we must be blessed according to the heart of God, and according to Christ, and in a way that makes manifest the value of His death. There is no assumption in taking up the place which divine grace and love has given us; it is the truest humility to do so, and it glorifies God.
The four mountains are suggestive of the elevated position which the saints are called to occupy according to God's purpose and grace. Saints of the assembly are called to blessing in the highest possible region. (See Ephesians 1,2). We know the Lord Jesus Christ as the One who has said, "I ascend". He has gone to the greatest possible elevation, and we are blessed in Him. The whole work of grace has this in view; it was in the mind of God from eternity, and therefore also from the outset of His ways with us. If we have understood spiritually what it is to come up from the wilderness according to chapter 3: 6, and to get to the mountain of myrrh and the hill of frankincense according to chapter 4: 6, we shall not be surprised to learn that we are called to lofty heights of blessing and favour. May our hearts truly respond to the love in which He says, "Come with me"!
Each time we eat the Lord's supper is intended to give us a new impression of "the mountain of myrrh". It is a pity to think of it as something we have often done before. It should never be to our hearts a repetition of past privileges; we should look for a new impression of Christ and of divine love each time. Fresh acquisitions of holy fragrance are always possible, for it is a "mountain" of which we have only compassed a small part as yet. Such is the greatness of Christ, and of His fragrant love disclosed in death, that there is always more to know and to treasure in our hearts. Thus shall we be more and more prepared to give place to Him as Head, and to move with Him in the high region of divine thoughts and the purposes of divine love.
"The lions' dens" and "the mountains of the leopards" are brought in at this point, I believe, to shew that the high and precious thoughts of divine love have their place even in presence of malignant powers of evil. If saints are able to move with Christ in the most elevated regions of spiritual blessing, while great evil powers still exist and are active, it is clear evidence of the triumph of Christ, and of the deliverance which He effects for His loved ones. The thoughts of God are secured in blessing notwithstanding all the power of the enemy; His saints are found in moral and spiritual beauty in spite of the "lions" and the "leopards". If we think of the remnant, whose history of affection for the Messiah is found in this book, we may recall that they will be on earth when the dragon will have been cast out of heaven, and will have great rage knowing he has but a short time (Revelation 12). The beast "like to a leopardess" will have risen out of the sea, and the other beast -- the antichrist -- will be there also (Revelation 13). But in spite of all this the spouse will be there; she will be "all fair" under the eye of Christ; and she will be able to move with Him in the high region of divine thoughts. The concentrated power of evil will be unable to countervail the working of divine power in infinite grace and love.
Today every artifice of the devil is being put in activity, evil principalities and authorities are present, universal lords of darkness, and spiritual power of wickedness in the heavenlies (Ephesians 6). But in spite of all this there are on earth those who have features of bridal beauty, those who know and appreciate the love of Christ, and who respond to Him in holy affections. Grace is securing, even at such a time as this, its own blessed triumph, All is the fruit of the worth and victory of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the evidence of the reality of the work of God in His saints.
It is noticeable that there is increasing warmth and intensity of affection in the words addressed by the Beloved to His spouse. In the first five verses of the chapter His words make her conscious of how fair she is in His sight, and the effect of this is that she goes to "the mountain of myrrh, and the hill of frankincense" that she may get further and fuller impressions of Him. Then He calls her to move with Him from elevated regions which set forth the height of divine thoughts. She is coming now into closer correspondence with Him, and thus becoming increasingly attractive to Him. As spiritual development proceeds there is an enlargement of that in which the love of Christ can be complacent. It should be a concern with us to yield Him increasing pleasure, that His love may be more and more drawn out to us. As we continue in the grace of God (Acts 13:43), and in the faith (Acts 14:22), it will inevitably be so. We shall be formed by grace in the appreciation of Christ, and in response to Him, and it will be suitable for Him to convey to us the expression of His love in a more intense way.
"Thou hast ravished my heart, my sister, my spouse; thou hast ravished my heart with one of thine eyes, with one chain of thy neck". This is the language of fervent love, but it is not exaggerated; it does but express the true affections of Christ that are called forth as He sees the work of God taking form in His saints. It conveys to us a great thought of His pleasure in that which is the product of divine grace and working. Any one feature of His spouse suffices to charm Him -- to ravish His heart.
It is to be noted that at this point the spouse is called also "my sister". It reminds us that when Abraham would have a wife taken for Isaac he said to his servant, "Thou shalt go to my land and to my kindred, and take a wife for my son Isaac". Nothing could be united to Christ that was not morally of kindred nature with Him. There were those whom the Lord could recognise as His kindred when He was here. (Matthew 12:50; Mark 3:33-35). This has been true of all saints: they have all, in their measure, loved righteousness and hated lawlessness; they have all been dependent upon God, and have given expression to it by calling upon His Name. (See Genesis 4:26; Genesis 12:8, etc.). These are features of moral kinship with Christ, and they are very attractive in His eyes.
If one were traversing wearily an arid waste where there was not even a blade of grass, and one came suddenly upon a beautiful flower, or upon an oasis filled with sweet flowers and fruits, would not the contrast with all the surroundings enhance the loveliness of the sight? And that is how things are under the eye of the Lord. He sees a moral waste where no divine features are present, where everything carries the mark of the serpent's work and the creature's fall and ruin. A desert where there is no response to God, no desire for the knowledge of Him, no appreciation of Christ! But in the midst of such a scene the saints appear, having features which are the product of divine grace and of the work of God. All these features are morally beautiful, and they are delightful to Christ; they ravish His heart. Bethany was a spot where He found what He could delight in; He loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus. God had wrought in their hearts, and they appreciated Christ, and He appreciated them; they were very lovable in His eyes. It was a beautiful corner of His garden.
"One of thine eyes ... one chain of thy neck", would lead us to see how precious to the Lord is every evidence that we have spiritual perceptions, that we see things according to God. And Solomon has told us elsewhere that "the instruction of thy father" and "the teaching of thy mother" will be "chains about thy neck" (Proverbs 1:8-9). Divine teaching is therefore clearly set forth in this figure. "It is written in the prophets, And they shall be all taught of God" (John 6:46). We have, too, a wonderful system of grace as our mother (see Galatians 4:26,31), and her teachings bring about features which ravish the heart of Christ. All that we have by divine teaching is purely of God, and it has a beauty which is unmarred by sin or Satan. We may say, surely, that the Lord could not do otherwise than love such features. They correspond with Himself as Eve did to Adam; she was built by God to be Adam's counterpart. Every feature in saints that is the product of divine working and teaching corresponds with Christ, and as formed in those features the saints find their centre, their rest and delight in Christ.
Features divinely produced do not commend themselves to the natural man; they are subjects of persecution in the world, but they are most attractive to Christ; they ravish His heart. The sense of this would greatly strengthen us to bear a little persecution or misunderstanding, a few sneers, or even sometimes a little actual loss. What could be a sweeter recompense than to have the consciousness that features are coming out in us which move His heart in an intense way! Such features are not developed apart from exercise on our side. They get place with us as we call on the Name of the Lord; they are the fruit of dependence. When it could be said of Saul, "Behold he is praying", something had come to pass in his soul which put him on the line of receiving all from God, and this was the secret of all the grace that manifested itself in him from that day onward. Every grace of Christ can be acquired on that line.
Then He says further, "How fair is thy love, my sister, my spouse! How much better is thy love than wine!" We have referred to the Lord's words as to the saints being "all taught of God", but it is precious to note what follows this. "Every one that has heard from the Father himself, and has learned of him, comes to me" (John 6:45). I take this to mean that they come to Him in affection; He becomes attractive to their hearts; there is love there in which He can delight, for it was the Father who put it there. Christ is the perfect divine answer to every God-given exercise that ever was in the heart or conscience of man, and there is no other answer to those exercises. What a tumult of exercise Job went through, but all that he needed -- a true ground of acceptance, a ransom, a mediator, a redeemer, an interpreter -- is found in Christ. If Christ could have been presented to him -- no doubt He was, in measure, prophetically -- what a satisfied man he would have been! God provided in the promises concerning Christ that to which the hearts of His saints could turn with joy, and they did so. Now He has appeared, and the Father draws men to Him in affection; He Himself draws also, for He is the great gathering Centre and rallying point for everything that is of God. And the love which is attracted to Him, and which appreciates Him and finds Him to be very precious, is "fair" to Him, and "much better ... than wine".
The spouse had said in chapter 1: 2 that His love was better than wine, but He says of her love that it is "much better ... than wine". In the light of this we are led to see that Christ appreciates the love of His saints more than they appreciate His love. It is a wonderful thought. It reminds us how Jonathan and David "kissed one another, and wept one with another, until David exceeded".The Beloved will be pre-eminent in love as in all else; He will ever exceed in love to His saints, to His assembly, any love, however true, which they have for Him. This enables us to perceive how exceedingly precious to Christ are those affections which have been divinely produced in His saints, and which have Him as their Object.
Then the spouse has "ointments" which to Him are more fragrant than all spices. This brings to mind the "oil of holy ointment ... the holy anointing oil" of Exodus 30:22-25. The King had ointments in chapter 1: 3, but now the spouse has them; she has come under the anointing as having His Spirit. The different precious spices blended in the olive oil indicate how rich and varied are the features of grace which become fragrant in those who have the Spirit of Christ. We read that "if any one has not the Spirit of Christ he is not of him" (Romans 8:9). And the body is "the Christ" (1 Corinthians 12:12) -- the anointed company. Everything that is of the Spirit of Christ is fragrant to Him; it surpasses all that is the product of nature, however refined and amiable. No other spices can compare with the ointments of the bride; they are like the spices which the queen of Sheba brought to Solomon.
The Spirit of Christ was in Old Testament saints, testifying through them "the sufferings which belonged to Christ, and the glories after these" (1 Peter 1:11). Whatever gives prominence to Christ in a spiritual way is of His Spirit, so that "in all the scriptures the things concerning himself" were pointed out by His spirit. Then the Spirit of Christ was the origin of every holy exercise and desire that ever existed in the hearts of God's people. The Psalms give the expression of such exercises very fully, and they are found also in the prophets. All form part of the ointments of the bride, though in considering them we have to remember that the exercises of the saints are ever in correspondence with the character of God's ways at the time in which they live. What has the place of the spouse of Christ -- whether the assembly now, or the remnant in a coming day -- will answer to Him, as having His Spirit, according to His attitude at the moment. So long as He is patiently waiting for rights that have been long refused Him, His Spirit in His saints will be in accord with this. When the time comes for Him to assert His rights, and have all His foes as His footstool, His Spirit in the saints on earth at that time will be in accord. Though, until He actually appears for their deliverance, their place will be to suffer patiently even as He did in the days of His flesh. And there is a fragrance in the "ointments" of a suffering people which is peculiarly like His own, and therefore in a special way delightful to Him.
If we have the Spirit of Christ ought we not to have "ointments"? Shall there not be fragrance for Him? Fragrance is not exactly what we say or do; it does not appeal to sight or hearing but to the sense of smelling. It is a subtle gratification to the one who perceives it, but one which it is difficult to describe, nor could any impression of it be conveyed to one who had not the faculty of smelling. I suppose we have all been conscious at times that there is something about a truly spiritual person which it is difficult to describe? Something that gives a very agreeable impression to one that can appreciate it, and yet it is neither word nor act? That is fragrance. How fully and perfectly must it have been known in the Lord Himself! And He sets great value on it as manifested in His loved ones.
Isaiah 47:9 speaks of God's adulterous people as going "to the king with ointment". They will lay themselves out to be attractive to the antichrist! What a terrible thing! But surely it prompts our hearts to more intense desire to have fragrant ointments for our Beloved -- to be truly and spiritually attractive to Him!
Paul knew that even his bonds would turn out for him to salvation through the prayers of the saints and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ (Philippians 1). Salvation for him meant that Christ should be magnified in his body whether by life or by death. To him to live was Christ. What ointments and fragrance were there for the Beloved! But how deeply essential to it all was "the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ"! It is not enough to have the Spirit of Christ as given once for all. There must be a fresh supply as each circumstance and experience requires. Perhaps some of us feel that we have had a small supply in the past? Thank God, there is no reason why we should not have, through our own prayers and the prayers of the brethren, a full supply of that blessed Spirit in the future.
Our lips would then, surely, "drop as the honey-comb"; honey and milk would be under our tongue (verse 11). The honeycomb would suggest the result of a patient gathering up by collective labour of what has spiritual sweetness. Thoughts of Christ and of the Father stored in the heart, and now dropping from the lips in sweet and nourishing power! How different from "the poison of asps"! We know from Malachi that the Lord observes and hears what His people say. Disparaging things of others uttered by His saints are not "honey and milk". They do not attract His love.
"And the smell of thy garments is like the smell of Lebanon". The garments represent what is outward; our habits, ways, associations, and characteristics as they can be noticed publicly. The garments of the spouse are fragrant, even as those of the King are according to Psalm 45:8; they carry the smell of higher regions. "The smell of Lebanon" rightly attaches to saints as known publicly here. In the office, behind the counter, at the works, they are not like other people. There is something about them to indicate that they have come from a region that is elevated far above the level of this world. Such features are most attractive to Christ. He speaks of them to us that WC may come more and more into correspondence with the thoughts of His love concerning us.
A new figure of the spouse is introduced at this point; she is seen as the garden of the Beloved. The thought of a garden has a special place in the mind of God. The first thing that He did after He had formed man was to plant a garden in Eden eastward into which He put man. Every tree was there that was pleasant to the sight and good for food, and it was watered by a river, And at the present time God has a paradise -- a garden of delights -- in heaven, in the midst of which is the tree of life (Revelation 2). Paul, as we know, was caught up into paradise; a man like ourselves has actually been in paradise, a man in Christ. Through the ascension and glorification of Christ full delight for God has been secured in heaven, and His thought is to secure something which corresponds with it down here. Israel will be His garden in the day of the Lord, and before that the remnant will be Messiah's garden, as seen in the scripture before us, and the assembly is privileged o have that place now. For saints are spoken of as God's husbandry, and, as being plants of the heavenly Father's planting (1 Corinthians 3, Matthew 15:13).
There is a speciality about a garden. No doubt the whole creation was beautiful; God pronounced it "very good"; He had but to speak the word and it came into being. But it is written that He "planted a garden"; the doing it is presented as the work of His own hands, shewing the peculiar and personal interest which He had in it. It set forth in figure what the saints would be for His pleasure and for Christ's. We have known large estates composed of many farms; then nearer to the owner's mansion a private park; but nearer still an enclosed garden where every resource of skill is exercised to secure the gratification of the owner's desires. Everything beautiful is there; not merely "useful herbs" (Hebrews 6), but everything that is attractive to the eye, the taste, the smell! Such is the place the saints have relative to divine pleasure. It suggests a special reservation that is designed to yield a superlative degree of satisfaction. We have noticed that this section of the book brings out in a striking way the product of grace, and it is thus that a full result is secured for the pleasure of Christ.
The spouse is "a garden enclosed ... a spring shut up, a fountain sealed". She is exclusively for Him; she is His garden. That is a great feature of her attractiveness to Him, and it is as holding ourselves reserved for Him that we answer to the pleasure of His love. The youngest believer whose affections are set upon the Lord Jesus can hold himself or herself as thus reserved. His garden is not a common where all may come and go; it is "enclosed" to be for Him alone. What must it be to Him to see even one heart that holds itself for His pleasure alone!
We cannot be presented "a chaste virgin to Christ" without being carefully reserved from the influences of the world. When a man died in a tent (Numbers 19) every "open vessel which hath no covering bound upon it shall be unclean". How true it is that we are in a place where moral death and corruption sheds its influence on everything. To be clean we must be covered vessels. A man with wireless apparatus in his house is uncovered; he has definitely left himself open to the influences that are broadcast in this present evil world. We need to be "enclosed" "shut up", "sealed".We expect to be accounted narrow, but how great is the honour and joy of being reserved for Christ! I know that I fail in not being more exclusive than I am, but I do not care to open my mind to all sorts of things that give no pleasure to Christ. He would have us "wholly clean". We cannot help touching the dust of the world as we pass along as bathed persons, but He washes our feet, and bids us wash one another's feet, that we may be "wholly clean". No Christian was ever known to regret on his death bed that he had been too exclusively for Christ. How many have regretted that they had not been more devoted to Him! The penitent Psalmist said, "Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow" (51: 7). Have we got such a standard of moral purity as that? How stainless is the newly-fallen snow! But our standard goes beyond that, for we are told that every one who has the hope of being like Christ "purifies himself, even as he is pure"(1 John 3:3). How effectually would that keep out all the influences of the world!
With those who have the affections of the spouse it is not merely a question of what is right or wrong -- though surely there would be no carelessness as to that -- but of what is pleasurable to Christ. We want His garden to be such as to yield Him the fullest possible satisfaction and delight, so that we may be able to invite Him to come in with assurance that He will find pleasure in doing so.
"A spring shut up". I suppose we have all at some time seen a well with a lock on it, so that none but the owner might draw from it. That is the thought. There is something which is for the Lord alone -- a flow of affections and appreciations which He alone can estimate, and which is as precious to Him as the water of the well of Bethlehem which was in the gate, was to David (2 Samuel 23).
Then there are "shoots" (verse 13) which speak of energetic life. If the "shoots" are "a paradise" there is nothing decadent, no loss of vitality. The Lord Himself is more than once called "the Sprout", indicating the freshness and vigour in which all that is for the pleasure of God springs forth in Him. And the "shoots" in His garden correspond in this feature with what is true in Him.
The "precious fruits" and the fragrant spices of verses 13, 14 show how rich and varied are the products of grace by the Spirit in the saints. Indeed they are so comprehensive that no element of fragrance is lacking, for "All trees of frankincense" and "All the chief spices" are mentioned.
Every possibility of fruit and fragrance lies in the Spirit of Christ. The cultivation of these things must go on all the time. There are special moments when the Lord comes into His garden. He loves to do so when His saints are convened to eat His supper. But the precious fruits and the fragrance do not suddenly appear when we are together. They are the product of many an exercise in secret. The way we go on in the Spirit through the week has much to do with the pleasure which the Lord has in coming to His saints when together on the first day of the week. Often there is a measure of spiritual slackness through the week. Then when Saturday night, or Sunday morning comes we have to pull ourselves up, and have a kind of preparation through self judgment before we feel quite happy to come to the assembly. If things have been spiritually slack it, is well that there should be self judgment, but there will be no great development of fruits or fragrance in that way. It is not for the Lord's delight, though in His grace He may meet us even under such conditions. He would delight to have more in us than that -- even that the fruits and fragrance should be there all the time, so that whenever He comes to us, either individually or collectively, He finds them. Xo one can be carnal through the week and then spiritual on the Lord's day; a spiritual man would he careful to preserve his sealed and reserved character at all times.
In verse 15 there is a return to the thought of "a fountain ... a well of living waters", indicating the Spirit is the source of continual freshness. New truth may awaken great interest, and give apparent freshness for a time, but when it becomes well known "living waters" alone will keep up the energy of it in the soul. Many know much of divine things as truth without having any real spring in the soul. How we need to pray that there may be that energy in our affections which the Spirit alone can maintain! The "fountain" would speak of this. It is good when the heart must express itself; it so wells forth with "a good matter" that it only awaits its opportunity. Not constrained to speak because there has been a long pause, and by feeling that something should be said, but the "fountain" furnishing a full and spontaneous flow.
Then "a well of living waters" would suggest a store from which refreshment can be drawn at all times, but which is not like a stagnant pool or a mere cistern, but is fed and kept in freshness by a living spring. Such is the refreshment which the Lord finds in His beloved ones, for we must remember that here it is not what there may be for others, but what there is for Him in His garden. If it is not there in private it cannot be there in public. And all streams "from Lebanon"; the Spirit has come down from an ascended Christ, and all His activities in the saints have something of the character of the Source from whence He came.
A garden without water would soon lose its fertility, and the ministry of Christ by the Spirit amongst the saints is needed if the fruits and spices are to be abundant. That ministry flows softly like the waters of Shiloah, but it is full of invigorating power. It must have failed to flow at Ephesus, and other things -- good in themselves -- had taken its place. Labour and faithfulness and unwearied endurance are excellent things, but one may have all these and fall from first love. The Spirit's ministry of Christ, and hearts that give place to it, are needed to preserve the true character of His garden. One may do what is right without there being any flow of spices; it is only as things are done in the Spirit of Christ that there is fragrance for Him. We have said before that fragrance is a thing that cannot be described. Who could describe the fragrance of a rose?
The Lord would use all circumstances to develop the spices of His garden. He calls for the north wind and the south to blow upon His garden to this end. All the varied conditions under which saints come are designed to bring out more fragrance. It was the north wind in Acts 8:1-3 when great persecution arose, but in Acts 9:31 the assemblies had peace, and were edified and increased. The south wind blew then for a time. Paul and Silas experienced the south wind in Lydia's house, but they had a sharp blast of the north wind in the prison (Acts 16), but we do not doubt that under both circumstances sweet fragrance came out for the Beloved. And it is so with all the orderings of divine love for the saints. They are not to be looked at as adverse, but as designed to promote the flowing forth of spices in the Lord's garden..
In the consciousness that something has been produced for Him the spouse says in verse 16, "Let my beloved come into his garden and eat its precious fruits". And we see that He responds at once to the invitation, and comes in. "I am come into my garden, my sister, my spouse" (chapter 5: 1). This would shew us that the Lord is not always in His garden. He waits, not only until the fruits and the spices have been brought forth, but until He is invited to come in. The Lord does not care to come in as an unexpected Visitor. He comes when His presence is desired, and when there are conditions in which He can find pleasure. How suggestive is this of the way in which He comes to His own as gathered together! He comes when He is invited, and I do not think He would ever really be invited unless there were conditions present in which He could find delight. How could any company invite Him to come in if conscious of unsuitability to Him? What "precious fruits" have we to offer Him?
Here He can say, "I have gathered my myrrh with my spice; I have eaten my honeycomb with my honey; I have drunk my wine with my milk". How precious it is to the Lord to come into a company where everyone has been prepared in some small measure at least, to suffer in love for Him! To share His rejection and reproach, to suffer loss rather than be untrue to His Name! If a young believer has been laughed at or persecuted in some way as confessing His Name, this is truly myrrh and spice for Him. His honeycomb would speak of the pleasure He finds in His saints as knit together in love, and mutually co-operating to produce the sweet fruits of the divine nature. His wine and His milk indicate that He finds everything to gladden and satisfy His heart in those who are formed under the influence of divine grace and love.
And, finally, He calls upon His friends and beloved ones to eat and drink, "yea drink abundantly". This makes manifest that if He gets satisfaction amongst His saints He will see to it that there is abundance for them. If there is a ministry from His saints to Him there will always be a ministry from Him to His saints. The true character of the assembly would hardly he realised otherwise. Whatever He receives, we may be sure that He will always be pre-eminent in love, and will give more than He receives.
This concludes a section of the book which is marked by presenting features in the spouse which are the product of grace and of the activity of the Spirit of Christ. It ends with the Beloved finding in the spouse as His garden all that His heart desires. He brings this before us to awaken in our hearts ardent longings to have characteristics which are delightful to Him. May the spiritual features, which are set forth in the exclusiveness and fruitfulness and fragrance of His garden, be so definitely formed in us that there may be a spot amid this desert waste to which He can come with deep pleasure, and find what His heart looks for in those whom He loves!
We come now to a part of the book which has a special voice for us, and which is very exercising, because it shews that even when grace has been known in a very full way, and its spiritual fruits have been produced, a state of self-complacency may come about in the saints which does not yield to the Lord what His heart looks for. The contrast between the previous section and this one corresponds with that which may be noted between the first epistle to the Ephesians and the second (Revelation 21:1-7). That which is the full fruit of grace and of the presence of the Spirit is seen in the one; an assembly fallen, as having left her first love, is seen in the other. Many fruits of grace remained which the Lord refers to in Revelation 2:2,3,6, but the spring was gone which could alone yield to Him what His heart looked for. We have seen in chapter 4, of the Song that the spouse is spoken of as "a spring", "a fountain", "a well of living waters"; there is a flow of spiritual energy in her affections which is lacking in chapter 5: 2, 3. She can still say, "my heart was awake"; He has not ceased to be her Beloved, nor has she lost ability to recognise His voice and His knock. There is true affection for Him, but it has ceased to be an energetic motive. The wakeful and watching spirit that had all its desires and hopes centred in the Beloved was no longer there. "I slept".
The spouse is not seen here in evil associations, nor is she defiled, nor does she lack the evidence of devotion, and preparedness to suffer, in service. Her hands dropping with myrrh would speak of this. She has truly attractive features. Few of us, perhaps, could say that we come up to what is set forth figuratively in this view of the spouse, or to what the Lord speaks of as characterising Ephesus in Revelation 2:2,3. But Ephesus had left her first love, and the spouse had become lethargic as to her Beloved. He was absent from her, but, notwithstanding this, she was in repose; she had composed herself for the night, having put off her tunic and washed her feet. She was restful and self-complacent without Him.
Alas! it is possible even for the fruits of grace to become the occasion of self-complacency. It was so with Job; all that was good in him was of God's mercy, but it turned to self-complacency, and, indeed, to self-righteousness. Now God may have been very gracious to us, He may have given us light above many, He may have conferred spiritual gifts and graces upon us, He may have led us into a path of separation, and given us the enjoyment of many privileges that are peculiar marks of His favour. He may have enabled us to serve the Lord faithfully and with blessing. And yet, with all this, Christ Himself may not have the place that is due to Him; He may not, as a present experimental reality, be dwelling in the heart through faith. We may be wrapped up in what we have, and what we are, without realising that it is a subtle form of self-sufficiency, though it does not appear to be such, but rather giving place to what the grace of God has brought about.
The Lord is very jealous as to the place He would have with us; His love cannot suffer us to be at rest without Him. He would not have us to be content even with what we have received from Him; He would be Himself the one object of our desire and delight. He knows only too well when He is really out in the cold so far as our hearts are concerned. And He does not fail to call our attention to it in a way that is appealing and effective.
It must be noted that in this chapter it is not, that the Lord is outside a great worldly profession like Laodicea, but, He is seen out in the cold when His true lovers are very comfortable without His company. In such a case first love has been left, and the soul has entered upon a course which, if not broken in upon by the Lord in His ever faithful love, would lead to Laodicean self-satisfaction.
The attitude taken by the Beloved is deeply touching. There is no presentation of Him in the book more calculated to move the heart. He is not here the King crowned, or sitting at His table, or finding satisfaction in His garden. He is One who has no house to shelter Him, but who is exposed to the chilly moisture of the night. He has no place to lay His head. We know it was so when He was here. "And every one went to his home, but Jesus went to the Mount of Olives" (John 7:63 - 8:1).
But surely, it might be said, it will not be so when He is truly loved. In such a case He will have but to speak and to knock, and the door will be thrown open immediately! But such is not the picture here presented. He speaks, He knocks, He addresses His spouse in terms of tender affection. "Open to me, my sister, my love, my dove, mine undefiled". He appeals to every kindly feeling in her heart when He says, "For my head is filled with dew, my locks with the drops of the night". Rut she is not prepared to rise; she is unwilling to disturb herself. "I have put off my tunic, how should I put it on? I have washed my feet, how should I pollute them?" It would probably be painful and humbling to most of us if we realised how much we are governed by self-consideration rather than by consideration for Christ. Self-consideration often takes the form of avoidance of exercise.Every spiritual movement that opens the door for personal intimacy with Christ costs something. It means a certain disturbance of present conditions. And when we have settled down into conditions which are comfortable, with nothing evil that we know of to trouble our consciences, we do not care to be disturbed by the thought that we are not giving Christ the place that He longs to have. It makes less demand to go on as we are; we have got things nicely into accord with our own feelings; why should we unsettle all the conditions of our spiritual life out of consideration for the feelings of Christ? If it did not mean quite such a reversal of all that we have been doing for our own ease and comfort it would not meet with the same reluctance to move.
But when the soul has got into this dormant state of self-consideration and self-complacency the Lord will raise the question of His own rights in love. His love is sensitive: He feels it if we can be comfortable without Him. When that is the case, He is outside in the cold and the wet so far as we are concerned. He has not, the place that His heart desires.
What we see here is that neither His voice nor His knock were sufficient to rouse her. Much ministry that goes forth is the Lord's voice and knock, and it is recognised as being so, but the lethargic state is such that it does not, lead to definite movement in relation to Christ. But His hand being put in by the hole of the door is evidently a further and more direct action of His love.His voice and His knock were heard before, but He was hidden. But His hand being put in was really a partial manifestation of Himself, It made the spouse so conscious of the reality of His Person and love, and of His claim to her, that it produced deep feelings in her. It speaks of a direct and personal action of the Lord which is more effective in producing an impression than His voice or His knock. It is now, in a peculiar way, Himself, and this changes everything. I am sure such moments come in the history of the soul. I am speaking of an experience that might be long after conversion, long after one has been breaking bread. His word may have been known, His work, the blessings He has secured, but now it is Himself. And now the depths of the soul are moved: "My bowels yearned for him".
"Yes! then 'twas faith -- Thy word, but now
Thyself my soul draw'st nigh".
Saints recognise ministry which is of the Lord, and have true pleasure in listening to it, but I am sure we are all conscious that we have heard much that has not really moved us spiritually. But when He puts in His hand there is a deep inward movement in the soul, and a rising up to open the door to the Beloved. He is now so real and attractive that selfish ease no longer detains. There is revival, movement, a quickening of heart in relation to Him.
But though this is a happy revival, it is not true restoration of heart. She has not yet felt the condition into which she had fallen in a way that at all corresponds with how He had felt it. Distance of heart had really come in on her side, and there would be no true recovery of confiding affection without this being felt by her. Nothing could be more injurious to those who have left first love than to get the impression that the Lord has not felt this defection deeply. One has known persons who have been in a cold state for years think they could resume normal relations with the Lord and with His people when they thought fit, without any deep feeling as to the past. But if the Lord has felt things deeply there will be no real concert of heart with Him until they are felt deeply by the soul that has been content to be without His company. The Lord will not give Himself to a repentance which is light and superficial. The fidelity of His love comes out as much in His withdrawing Himself in verse 6 as it had come out in His voice and His knock, and in putting in His hand "by the hole of the door". For true restoration He has to make her conscious how deeply He had felt her former condition.
The Lord knows at this moment just what place He has had in our hearts, and if we have kept Him out in the cold He feels it and He would have us to feel it too. The myrrh upon her hands did not compensate for the state of her heart. I suppose the myrrh in this connection might suggest a faithfulness and endurance in service such as were recognised by the Lord at Ephesus, but this did not make amends for having left first love.
The soul of the spouse going forth, her seeking Him but not finding Him, her calling but getting no answer were all part of a needed exercise. It is often through such an experience that we come to the reality of things. Unhappy as is the experience, it is far better than the self-complacency in which He found her.
Then she gets into trouble with the watchmen and the keepers of the walls. She ought never to have come under their notice at all, but having lost the company of her Beloved through indolence and self-complacency she was agitated and restless now that she realised her loss. The distance that had come in left her uncertain as to His mind or movements. She did not know where to find Him. And in this perturbed state of mind her very anxiety to recover what she had lost exposed her to misunderstanding. The watchmen mistook her for a woman of worthless character, and they treated her roughly. They went beyond what was due to her, but the King permitted it to deepen her exercises. Every blow must have brought home to her that if He had been by her side they would never have touched her. And why was He not there? Every blow and disgrace was making her feel that she wanted Him more than ever. It was all doing its work in her soul.
I once said to J.B.S. with reference to one who had got sadly astray, "Will he not get some discipline from the Lord?" J.B.S. replied, "When he returns to the Lord then he will get discipline". The scripture before us would confirm the thought that severe discipline comes in to deepen exercise after the soul is awakened to truly seek the Lord. It has been said to me more than once, When I was careless about divine things I had not much trouble, but since I began to really want the Lord Himself I have had a great deal of trial. Be assured that the Lord is not making any mistake in this. Even if the watchmen make a mistake He does not, and He is over all that the watchmen do, though they may do what He would never have told them to do. The brethren may be over zealous and unduly severe sometimes, but what they do -- perhaps mistakenly -- is all under the Lord's hand. If they treat me hardly I may be sure that there is some ground for it in my ways, and that there is also a reason for it as between the Lord and myself -- a reason which perhaps they know nothing about. It is well to humbly accept every such exercise as from the Lord.
The spouse now turns (verse 8) to charge the daughters of Jerusalem. There was a point of sympathy there, and she could confide her exercises to them. I believe the Lord always provides an outlet for soul exercises. The watchmen were faithful to their trust in keeping order in the city -- though, in this case, with mistaken severity -- but they were unsympathetic with the hidden exercises of her heart. I think we have to learn how to combine faithfulness with sympathy. To sympathy she could confide the true and deep secret of her heart. "Tell him ... that I am sick of love". Faithfulness without sympathy will never command the confidence of a distressed heart, It would be well if we gave the impression of unflinching faithfulness in regard to all that is due to the Lord, but also of sympathy with every gracious exercise that may be under the surface in one who is really seeking Him.
The spouse is now brought to the point when she is prepared for full restoration. Her self-satisfaction and self-complacency have gone, She cannot now be at ease without her Beloved. He was becoming more precious, more indispensable, to her heart all the time. Everything was leading her to think more of Him. "I am sick of love". She has learned to think of Him in a way that corresponds, in measure at least, with how He thought of her. This is true restoration. All that she has, and all that she is, utterly fails to satisfy her apart from Him. Now she is coming out in her true beauty as the "fairest among women" (verse 9). Self-complacency is the result of losing that spring of lively affection for Christ which the Spirit would maintain in the bride. See the great place the Spirit has in the epistle to the Ephesians. But in Revelation 2:1-6 there is no longer concert between the Spirit and the bride. First love has been left, and, apart from repentance, the lamp will be removed out of its place -- a sure sign that the light is not being maintained by the Spirit. But it is sweet to note that there is a call to repent, and to know that, after all church failure, at the end, "The Spirit and the bride say, Come"! Whatever the public history of the assemblies may be, the Lord's ways in love with His own ever tend to the spiritual quickening or restoration of those affections which are proper to the bride.
There is a history of gracious revival in the first part, of this chapter. From self-complacency and apathy the spouse has been aroused to intense desire for the company of her Beloved. She is now an overcomer; she has overcome that in herself which had deprived her of His company. She has charged the daughters of Jerusalem to tell Him that she is sick of love. She has now no thought or desire for anything or any one else. She is overcome by the intensity of a longing which, as yet, remains unsatisfied.
This gives occasion to the daughters of Jerusalem to draw out from her more of her heart's secret. These "daughters" represent those who fear God, and who can recognise spiritual features when they see them. So they can address the spouse as being the "fairest among women". We do well to remember that there are persons of that kind about. They are not yet, perhaps, delivered from a legal system of things. They do not know the Beloved as the spouse knows Him, but they are interested and sympathetic, and the spouse has features in their eyes which they can recognise as being fair. In applying this to present conditions the spouse would represent those who have chaste virgin character, and who have known intimacy with the Lord, and have yielded Him pleasure as carrying some of the features of the bride. Then there are others in whom there is a work of God, and who can appreciate spiritual features, though they may not yet stand in liberty, or have the intelligence and affections of the bride.
Now what kind of impression are we giving to such persons? Are we giving them the impression which the spouse gave to the daughters of Jerusalem -- that our affections are captivated by a wonderful Beloved who surpasses all others? She spoke in a way that indicated plainly that in her estimation He had no rival. This awakened enquiry from them, "What is thy beloved more than another beloved, that thou dost so charge us?"
To bring Christ into comparison with others is not the highest way to view Him, for He is, indeed, beyond comparison, but it is one blessed means of arriving at a true and affectionate appreciation of Him. The Psalmist had taken account of Him thus when he said, "Thou art fairer than the sons of men" (Psalm 45: 2). The officers sent to take Him compared Him with all others when they said, "Never man spoke thus, as this man speaks" (John 7:46). It is good when our hearts learn to compare Him with others; it is one way to learn His exceeding preciousness and beauty. We might say that in a certain way the blessed God has compared Him with others, for it is written, "I have exalted one chosen out of the people" (Psalm 89:19). God has singled Him out from all others as the One who answered perfectly to His will and to every desire of His heart. So at His baptism He was singled out from "all the people" who had been baptised. The Holy Spirit descended on Him, and the voice out of heaven said, "Thou art my beloved Son, in thee I have found my delight" (Luke 3:21-22). The thought of Christ being God's "chosen" or "elect" One suggests His being singled out as the one precious Object of divine complacency and delight. And God is now teaching His people to give Him the place of unrivalled honour -- the place of supremacy in their affections.
It has often been remarked that when the Beloved speaks of the features of the spouse He speaks to her, but when she describes His features, as in the chapter now before us, she speaks of Him to others. It has been said, "It is, I judge, a fine moral perfectness of thought that the bride never speaks of the Bridegroom's perfections to Himself as if she was to approve Him; she speaks of Him fully as expressive of her own feelings and to others, but not to Him. He speaks freely and fully of her to herself as assuring her of His delight in her, When we think of Christ and our relation with Him this is beautifully appropriate" (J.N.D.).
It is sometimes through the bitter sorrow of having lost His company that the heart is led to recall what it has known of Him. And in the very process of doing so restoration is perfected. He alone is before the heart, and the consciousness that He is unchanged fills the soul with comfort. He is "the same yesterday, and today, and to the ages to come". And when He gets the place that is due to Him in the affections of His spouse she is no longer at a distance, unable to find Him, or even to tell where He is to be found. She then knows well where He is, and she knows her own place in His affections. "I am my beloved's, and my beloved is mine: he feedeth his flock among the lilies" (chapter 6: 2, 3). In giving her heart to the contemplation of His beauty, and in speaking of it, she was brought back to nearness and to the knowledge of His mind. The very fact that she had been without His company imparted a peculiar and touching character to the way she spoke of Him. In going over in her affections His well-remembered features she was travelling on a road that brought her back to Him. It was so with the two going to Emmaus; they had lost Him, but He still engaged their hearts, and when He joined them and "interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself", their hearts glowed with increasing fervour until the moment when "their eyes were opened, and they recognised him".
It is a comfort to know that impressions of Christ that have been made upon our hearts by the Spirit are abiding. They may be hidden or obscured, but they cannot be obliterated, and even if we have "slept" -- to our own shame -- they can be revived through the faithfulness of the love that first gave them. There is then definite movement in relation to Him, and He becomes the all-perfect and all-glorious One to us, not only in our secret appreciation, but manifestly so to others, as in the scripture before us.
Movement on the part of the spouse leads to desire for similar movement on the part of the daughters of Jerusalem. "Whither is thy beloved gone? ... we will seek him with thee" (chapter 6: 1).Spiritual affections and emotions are contagious; one soul moving in lively desire after the Lord may be a great reviver of all the brethren.
Her first statement as to her Beloved is general: "My beloved is white and ruddy, the chiefest among ten thousand". She speaks of Him in His completeness before she mentions different members or features. The basis of all that she has to say lies in the words, "My beloved is white". There is stainless moral perfection in Christ, and in this He has no rival. As born of the virgin He was "the holy thing". He "did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth" (Peter 2:220. He could say, "Which of you convinces me of sin?" (John 8:46). He "knew not sin"; none of its inward motions were known to Him (2 Corinthians 5:21). Speaking of the ruler of the world He could say, "In me he has nothing" (John 14:30). Satan tried to find in Him something of the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, or the pride of life, but he found an undefiled and undefilable One. He was ever the righteous One, the holy One. On the mount of transfiguration the spotless character of His holy Person was witnessed in the effulgence of His garments. They became "exceeding white as snow, such as fuller on earth could not whiten them" (Mark 9). This personal purity is the foundational feature of His excellence, and of God's delight in Him, and of our confidence, too. Admit the possibility of one stain, and all is gone. He is not the Christ of God, and we have no Saviour. The spotless perfection of His Manhood is essential, not only to the value of His sacrifice, but, to the place which He holds in the affections of His spouse.
There is one blessed Person in whom the most minute scrutiny will never find a single flaw or spot. We cannot look at a Moses, or a Paul, or a John without finding spots, but there is One who is "white".
He is not only "white" but "ruddy". This speaks of life in intense vigour. It is practically the same word as is used in speaking of the "rams' skins dyed red" in the tabernacle. It conveys the thought of intense consecration to God. The renewed heart and mind craves for this. It is due to God that He should be loved and served, not coldly or formally, but with intense devotion. So it is a delight to think of the Beloved as "ruddy". It came out in Him at the age of twelve. "Did ye not know that I ought to be occupied in my Father's business?" (Luke 2). And when He purified the temple His disciples "remembered that it is written, The zeal of thy house devours me" (John 2). They recognised how "ruddy" He was relative to God and His interests here. It was so all through. He went to the garden and the cross that the world might know that He loved the Father, and that as the Father had commanded Him so He did (John 14:31).
We are told of David, who was in so many ways a type of Christ, that he was "ruddy" (1 Samuel 16:12). How devotedness to God marked him! "I will not give sleep to mine eyes, slumber to mine eyelids, until I find out a place for Jehovah, habitations for the Mighty One of Jacob". From his very youth at Ephratah his heart had been on this (Psalm 132:1-6), cherishing it in a spirit of devotion to God. Yet he was but an imperfect type; the reality was in Him who was not only David's Son but David's Lord. He could say, "My food is that I should do the will of him that has sent me, and that I should finish his work" (John 4:34).
The same intensity of devotion came out in Him relative to the assembly and to the saints individually. He has given Himself for us. The warm glow of a changeless and perfect love has come out in His life, His death, and in His untiring service on high. John says, "To him who loves us"; he brings the love of Christ into the present tense. This is, I think we may say, His ruddiness in our eyes.
It is as "white and ruddy" that He is lifted up as a banner among ten thousand. It is not merely that He is "chiefest" among them; He is the only One to be exalted and honoured. He is the rallying point for the thousands who love God. "Thou hast given a banner to them that fear thee, that it may be displayed because of the truth" (Psalm 60:4). It is not views or dogmas, but a living Person who is Himself the truth. The testimony in one word is CHRIST. This is the Banner to be displayed; He is lifted up amongst the saints. They rally round that Banner; they defend it; they would have all to see it and to honour it. He is their glory, their boast, their bond; the One for whom they should all be prepared to live, to fight, if need be to die. Everything that is worth standing for is in Him. The words "Chiefest among ten thousand" have long been sanctified in the affections of the saints, but the margin gives the true reading, and is better. The "ten thousand" get their importance and glory from the fact that Christ is lifted up among them. They stand publicly as a band who attach the utmost value to Him.
The spouse then describes in detail ten different features of her Beloved, beginning with His head. "His head is as the finest gold". How blessed to know that there is a glorious Man who has full intelligence of all that is in the mind and heart of God! A Divine Person -- one who was from eternity God -- become Man alone could compass this. God had infinite thoughts of blessing manward; they have all been brought to light through and in Christ; a Divine Person come in Manhood has made them known mediatorially. But, on the other hand, they have been fully understood and appreciated by One who was in the place of Man Godward. The thoughts of divine love in regard to men are held in their completeness by a Man who has taken the place of Head for us in relation to God. They have all been fully entered into by one Man, and that Man is our Head. He is in this place on our side, so that the true measure of ail that is ours in relation to God, through His grace and love, is not what we hold, but what Christ holds for us as our Head. Our true blessedness is to hold fast the Head; we shall then be ministered to, and increase with the increase of God. Our Beloved has this precious character in our eyes that He has full intelligence of the wealth of divine thoughts "His head is as the finest gold". And, knowing this, we cannot accept any lower or lesser thought of blessing than that which He holds. We are complete in Him; to go outside Him for any conception or measure of divine blessing is to turn from "the finest gold" to the dross of human thoughts. It would make an immense difference to many believers if they realised that Christ, was their Head, and that His thoughts of what is divinely conferred upon men are the true ones.
God had innumerable thoughts manward, and Christ came in according to Psalm 40 that He might do God's good pleasure, and establish those thoughts through His own precious, death, He has done it perfectly, and now He holds all those thoughts in their integrity. The saint who has been searched and known by God can say, "But how precious are thy thoughts unto me, O God! how great is the sum of them! If I would count them, they are more in number than the sand" (Psalm 139:17-18). But these thoughts are known now as held by Christ our Head in all their fulness and perfection. If we would be happy, and pleasurable to God, we must hold them as they are known to Christ. Then we have them in their true measure. If one has learned the poverty of one's own thoughts, how blessed it is to turn to Christ, and to learn the wealth of His thoughts. We then understand something of what George Herbert meant when he wrote:
"Another Head I have,
Another heart and breast".
We pass over to the thoughts of Him whose head is as the finest gold. There are no limitations there, and there can never be any deterioration. Every divine thought is maintained in its fulness in Christ as Head; it is maintained there for the individual saint and for the assembly. No church failure can affect it, though it may take many away from the knowledge or joy of it. When Christ has His place as Head there is no intermixture of human thoughts; the "finest gold" is there without alloy. Full spiritual joy, true notes of praise, all that really glorifies God, depends on our souls holding Christ as Head. The heavenly city (Revelation 21) is "pure gold" because it derives all from Christ, and nothing is really of God in the assembly today save what is derived from Him. His thoughts are the true measure of everything, and, thank God, they will never know diminution or decay.
Then "His locks are flowing, black as the raven". His head carries the evidence of undeteriorated vigour and energy. There will never be any grey hairs on that head as with Ephraim (Hosea 7:9). Nothing in Christ ever gets old or tends to decay; that which was from the beginning abides in unchangeable freshness. The new covenant is not only new in kind and character, but it is also new in the sense that it retains its original freshness unimpaired. We have not to do now with things that grow "old and aged" (Hebrews 8:13) like the first covenant, but with the One of whom it is written, "Thou art the same, and thy years shall not fail". On the side of man's responsibility everything has tended to decay: there is evidence that it will be so even in the millennial age. Perpetuity and immutability of perfection are in Christ alone. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end (Revelation 22:13). The glory of God, and the blessing of every family of the redeemed, are secured unchangeably in Christ as the Head, who is "the same yesterday, and today, and to the ages to come". Individual recovery or assembly recovery are brought about as there is a return to the Head, and to the unchanged perfection in which everything is maintained in Him. Freshness and vigour in the saints are restored as they are revived in the recognition of what, subsists without decay in Christ as Head. The anointing ever teaches us to abide in Him. The failure at Ephesus was in ceasing to hold the Head; therefore true assembly character was lost. It can only be regained as there is a return to that which was departed from. Saints may, through infinite grace, return at the present time to that which is as perfect in vigour and beauty as it was at the beginning. There is no change, nor ever will be, in Christ the Head. As judging in the midst of the assemblies His head and hair are "white like white wool, as snow" (Revelation 1:14). There He is seen in the majestic character of the Ancient of days, in the full maturity of judicial discernment. It is an altogether different figure, In the chapter before us, He is not viewed as judging according to divine purity and majesty, but as the Beloved in whom His spouse finds everything that her heart can rest upon with profound delight.
We come now to the eyes of the Beloved. "His eyes are like doves by the water-brooks, washed with milk, fitly set". The eyes are the most expressive feature of the countenance; they indicate the attitude and feelings of the heart towards the one on whom they rest more directly and immediately than the voice or the words. The voice may be heard at a distance; but to gather what is expressed by the eye one must be near. And no doubt this applies to the eyes of the Beloved.
When the Lord looked around in a circuit at those that were sitting around Him (Mark 3:34) what that look must have conveyed! What love, what complacency, what a sense of joy in having brothers, sisters, mothers who did the will of God! And then when Peter rebuked Him for speaking of His sufferings and death we read that He "turning round and seeing his disciples, rebuked Peter" (Mark 8:33). What a look that must have been! How His eyes must have expressed all that they were to Him -- all that they would be eternally through His death! And who could tell what those eyes spoke to Peter when the Lord, turning round, looked at him in the house of the high priest? (Luke 22:61).
Now what have the eyes of the Beloved spoken to us? The spouse could describe them as one who had known what they had expressed to her heart. She had apprehended them in an aspect full of gentleness, and yet which bad conveyed to her a great sense of purity. I understand this to be set forth in the symbol of "doves by the water-brooks, washed with milk". The gentle and tender affection of the dove shines out from those eyes, but it is combined with figures which speak of purifying and cleansing. Those elements enter into the Lord's view of His loved ones. He regards them from the standpoint of One who has refreshing and purifying influences which His love purposes to bring to bear upon them.
How different is this from the "eyes as a flame of fire", which mark Him as judging in the midst of the assemblies! There it is divine purity acting in a judicial way to search out and detect all that is unholy and untrue to bring it under judgement. Such an aspect of His eyes comes in on account of persistent disregard of His eyes as doves, and the refusal of His purifying service of love. His headship was no longer recognised; the assemblies were no longer in affectionate subjection to Him; He could no longer regard them as having the features of His spouse, Evils were there which called for rebuke, and which, if unrepented of, would inevitably come under judgment.
But the eyes of the Beloved as resting upon His spouse have no such aspect as this. They beam upon her with gentle and complacent affection, for she recognises Him, and no other, as her Head.However she may have failed she has now returned to loyal affections, her desire is toward Him in the subjection of love, as in heart-appreciation of His beauty she tells out what He is in her eyes. She knows herself to be the object of His love, and in the consciousness of this she is free from self-consideration. How blessed is such a state of heart! His eyes only convey to her thoughts of a love that has with it precious suggestions of purifying.
John 13 and Ephesians 5 shew how He regards His saints, His loved assembly. He will in love wash the feet of His own that they may be "wholly clean". And He has "loved the assembly, and has delivered himself up for it, in order that he might sanctify it, purifying it by the washing of water by the word, that he might present the assembly to himself glorious, having no spot, or wrinkle, or any of such things". It will be noticed that in each of these scriptures the thought of washing or purifying originates in His love. It forms an essential part of His view of His saints.There are with Him all sanctifying and cleansing resources to bring about in those whom He loves a condition which will correspond with the thoughts of His love. This thought of purifying is so present to His mind and heart that it is conveyed to His spouse as suggested by the very aspect of His eyes. He ever looks at the saints as having cleansing, sanctifying, purifying in view for them.He conveys to them that, His love will be active to remove every spot and soil. He looks at them, not only in the light of what His death has effected, but in the light of His own service of love; it ever enters into His thought for them. John 13 makes this clear. Before the disciples knew what He was doing, He knew, and He conveyed to them what was in His own thought. He loved them and He would serve them so that they might be "wholly clean". Here the spouse has understood how He views her: she has read gentleness in His eyes, combined with a suggestion of refreshment and cleansing which in the light of the New Testament we can interpret as entering into the outlook of His love upon us.
Subjection to His service of love is needed on our part if we are to get the good of it. Moral exercises come in on our side. But the spouse is not occupied with this, but with what was expressed towards her in the eyes of her Beloved. And in John 13 and Ephesians 5 it is what His heart prompts Him to do rather than any exercises on our side which may be involved in view of the service being effectual. He will do whatever is necessary to secure His own complacency in those whom He loves. The more we have Himself before us, and the way that He regards us, the more deeply will our hearts be affected. There is no greater power for moral cleansing than that. What could be more clean than a heart that has Christ as its Object? Indeed the spouse in pouring out her heart's appreciation of her Beloved gives precious evidence of complete purification in her affections. She does not draw attention to herself but to Him, and in doing so she is proving herself to be, like the Nazarites of old, "purer than snow, whiter than milk". If I am occupied with what I have been, or what I am, I may go down lower and lower in self-abasement, but I shall find no true cleansing or moral elevation in it. With Christ in view there is deeper self-judgment, but there is detachment from the self that is judged, and true spiritual elevation, His eyes being "fitly set" intimates that He ever looks upon His saints from the standpoint of divine love, and of divine purpose and working, therefore there is nothing uncertain or changeable in His view. His own are the Father's gift to Him, and they will ultimately be with Him where He is. In John's Gospel particularly He ever speaks of His own as the subjects of unchanging love -- divinely quickened and divinely drawn to Him and eternally held by the Father's hand and His own hand. If we consider how He views His own from John 13 to 17 we see how "fitly set" are His eyes.
"His cheeks are as a bed of spices, raised beds of sweet plants". The number of scriptures which speak of smiting on the cheek suggest to me that His cheeks represent that lowly grace in which He exposed Himself to man's violence. He came in grace into a condition and position where He was exposed to insult and hatred. It speaks of how near He has come to men, and in how lowly a guise. "I gave my back to smiters, and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair; I hid not my face from shame and spitting" (Isaiah 1:6). There is no more striking scripture in this connection than Micah 5. We read of Him there as the "Ruler in Israel: whose goings forth are from of old, from the days of eternity" (verse 2). He came forth from the eternal glory of Deity to be born as a Babe in Bethlehem Ephratah. What a stoop of infinite grace! Then, as to the future, "He shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of Jehovah, in the majesty of the name of Jehovah his God" (verse 4). This is His majesty in the world to come. Rut between "the days of eternity" in the past, and His majestic rule in the millennium, He has in lowly grace placed His cheeks within the reach of man's hand, and He has been unfeelingly smitten. "They shall smite the judge of Israel with a rod upon the cheek" (verse 1). We know that those blessed cheeks -- so often wet with tears of pity and of love -- were actually smitten; they were once covered with the treacherous kisses of Judas. He subjected Himself to such treatment at the hands of men. Can we wonder that His cheeks will have peculiar attractiveness and beauty in the eyes of the remnant? They had nationally esteemed Him "stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted", but when they learn that He was their Messiah, yea, their Jehovah Himself, and that His visage was so marred more than any man because of the way that His love was taking for them, how deeply will their hearts be moved! What a combination of all that is fragrant and sweet will they behold in His cheeks! And shall we, who are of His loved assembly, see less in them than they will? Surely not. It is a great part of the beauty of Christ in the eyes of those who love Him that in lowly grace He has been despised and rejected of men. The very features in Him which were, and which still are, objects of derision, contempt and hatred to men are peculiarly attractive to His spouse.All that in which He has been, and still is, contemned and despised has in the eye of His saints an excellence beyond compare. This is what Peter means when he says, "To you therefore who believe is the preciousness" (1 Peter 2:7). He has been cast aside as worthless by men, but His preciousness is known to those who believe. That for which He is reproached by men is cherished by believers as His peculiar distinction and glory. It is to them most fragrant and attractive, "as a bed of spices, raised beds of sweet plants". There is something about the humiliation of the Lord which is supremely moving to the heart, and profoundly subduing. If we contemplated it more it would deeply humble us as to much in ourselves of which, perhaps, we do not think as badly as we ought. And it would separate us in heart from a world which glories in everything that is unlike Christ. Though He is highly exalted in heaven it is still the day of His humiliation in this world. Men are as ready to smite Him on the cheek as ever, and this not least amongst those who make profession of His Name. What is all the infidelity as to His Person and work, and as to the inspiration of the Scriptures upon which He has put His seal, but a public smiting of Him upon the check? He is still wounded in the house of His professed friends. But what a privilege it is, as seeing His incomparable worth and glory, to be in any small way identified with His dishonour and reproach!
But there is another side to His humiliation. If it has brought out what men thought of Him, it has also brought out all the grace that was in the heart of God manward. And this comes out in the next feature which the spouse describes. "His lips lilies, dropping liquid myrrh". The lilies speak of the attractiveness of grace as set forth by Jesus. He has Himself told us that there is something in the lilies which surpasses all the glory of Solomon, The inspired title of Psalm 14 tells us that it is "Upon Shoshannim" -- meaning, the lilies, -- and also that it is "a song of the Beloved". It is a psalm to be read in connection with the Song of Songs. It says of the Beloved, "Grace is poured into thy lips" (verse 2). God has made His grace most, attractive as presenting it through Jesus. He has not, proclaimed it by an angel, or by a trumpet voice from heaven, but He has made it known by -- Jesus, the lowly and humbled One, His own beloved Son. What an impression of grace the disciples got as they companied with Jesus. John tells us that He dwelt among them "full of grace and truth", and that of His fulness they all had received, and grace upon grace. Now the grace that was poured into His lips, and that flowed from those lips, dropped into their souls as "liquid myrrh". How exquisite must it have been to them, and especially when they recalled it all in the light of His sufferings and death! For not one of His words of grace could have been spoken save as in the foreknown value of His death. The real meaning and value of all His words of grace would be lost if they were disconnected in our thoughts from the love in which He suffered and died for us. If He said, "Thy sins are forgiven", or "Be thou cleansed", or "Hr that believes on me has life eternal", it was all speaking forth the fragrance and value of His death, for without His death such words could never have been spoken to sinful men. The grace of Luke 7,10,14,15,18,23 all carried the fragrance of His death; the "liquid myrrh" was there, and the spouse as divinely taught recognises it.
One cannot but feel that the words of our Lord should be very specially treasured by those who love Him. It is by His words that we know Him, for He was altogether what He said (John 8:25). If we want to know the Lord better let us ponder the Gospels; let us consider every drop of the "liquid myrrh" that fell from His lips; let us contemplate His acts. All that He was then, He is now, and will be for ever. He is Personally the Same, though now glorified in heaven, and borne witness to there by the Spirit whom He has shed forth. But He has been near to us here that we might know Him, and in reading the Gospels we are privileged to be, as it were, near Him so as to know Him. He is the same Jesus in heavenly glory now.
"His hands gold rings, set with the chrysolite". We have seen that "His head is as the finest gold"; now we learn that His hands are gold; and in verse 15 we read that His legs are "set upon bases of fine gold". Whether we look at His head, His hands, or His feet, divine glory shines bright, but it is divine glory seen in a Man. A Head that can hold in completeness every divine thought; Hands that are strong enough for all God's pleasure to prosper in them; and Feet immovably stable so that nothing that is established in Him can be moved! And divine glory characterising all! What a Person, what a Beloved, is ours!
"His hands gold rings". The word "rings" is somewhat uncertain in meaning; it is translated "folding" in 1 Kings 6:34. It suggests, I think, the power of His hands to hold, or to enfold, in a divine way what is put in them. What a comfort it is to know that nothing that has been put into the hands of Christ will ever slip out of them. "The Father loves the Son, and has given all things to be in his hand" John 3:35). The Father has given Him authority over all flesh, that as to all that the Father has given to Him He should give them life eternal (John 17:2). Every one of His sheep is in His hand, and therefore will never perish (John 10:28). The future blessing of Israel and of the nations, and all the power of the kingdom, is committed to His hand, and therefore it is as certain to be brought about as if it were now accomplished.
But in being "set with the chrysolite" the thought seems to be suggested of how things are held in His hand even while outwardly and publicly everything is in confusion and disorder. This may be gathered from the connection in which the chrysolite appears in Ezekiel 1:16, Ezekiel 10:9, Daniel 10:6. Though Israel was in captivity, and Jehovah's glory departing from Jerusalem as utterly corrupted, He would make known that the wheels of His government would ever move in harmony with His throne -- a throne which has "the appearance of a man above upon it". God is not baaed by the confusion brought in even by the failure of His people. His government continues and has in view the ultimate triumph of His purpose. So that through the whole history of the times of the Gentiles God's government has been steadily moving on to the moment when Messiah's enemies will be put as His footstool, and the sceptre of His might will be sent out of Zion, and His people Israel -- so long rebellious -- will be willing in the day of His power (Psalm 110). It is in view of this that Christ is sitting now at the right hand of God. The throne is there, and the Man is upon it in whose hand the pleasure of Jehovah will prosper, and in the meantime the wheels are moving on steadily and without any deviation. And this appearance and this work "was as the look of a chrysolite". The chrysolite thus seems to intimate the peculiar way in which God maintains His own glory during a period when publicly all is in disorder.
In Daniel 10 we see another captive in deep exercise about all that was happening, and a man appears to him whose body "was like a chrysolite". He comes to make Daniel understand what should befall his people at the end of the days. Notwithstanding all that should intervene Daniel's people would be delivered, "every one that is found written in the book". God would have His way in the end, and accomplish His own designs. The secret of all lies in the Man above upon the throne. It is striking that as Ezekiel speaks of "the appearance of a man" upon the throne, Daniel speaks of "one like the appearance of a man" who touched him in all his weakness and strengthened him, and said to him -- "Fear not, man greatly beloved; peace be unto thee, be strong, yea, be strong". It is the same glorious Man whom the spouse describes in the chapter before us. Glorious upon the throne; glorious, too in the priestly grace in which He can touch His feeble saints down here and strengthen them!
"His hands gold rings, set with the chrysolite" bring before us how He is holding things at the present time in a divine way. All is confusion in the world, and even in the Christian profession. But what He holds will be carried through into eternal glory. "Those thou hast given me I have guarded, and not one of them has perished". During nineteen centuries there has never been a moment when the Father has not been glorified by the Son. And when this period terminates, and what has been secured in it for God is displayed in the holy city, it will be found to come up to full measure by the "golden reed" in the hand of the angel. There will be a full result; not one stone missing or out of place. What Christ builds is eternal. "On this rock I will build my assembly, and hades' gates shall not prevail against it". How blessed to think of a structure in which every atone has been put in its place by those hands which are "gold rings, set with the chrysolite"!
There is great import in the Lord shewing His hands to His disciples after His resurrection. His hands in the Gospel of Luke are seen touching men in the service of grace. In the Gospel of John they are seen as holding things for His God and Father. They retain the same blessed character in resurrection. The Lord would specially engage our hearts with them; they are in an eminent way characteristic of our Beloved.
"His belly is bright ivory, overlaid with sapphires". This, no doubt, speaks of the deep inward feelings of the Lord. It is the same word as "bowels" in verse 4. The spouse had her deep feelings moved then; "my bowels yearned for him". But He had deep feelings, too, and she is now thinking of them. He could say prophetically, "my heart is become like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels" (Psalm 22:14). His sufferings as the Sin-bearer are a profound depth, but it is through them that divine compassion has been expressed towards sinful creatures. The compassions of God came out wonderfully in the Old Testament towards His sinful people. "Is Ephraim a dear son unto me? is he a child of delights? For whilst I have been speaking against him, I do constantly remember him still. Therefore my bowels are troubled for him: I will certainly have mercy upon him, saith Jehovah" (Jeremiah 31:20). Rut it is in Christ that divine compassions have been fully expressed. They have come out in a blessed Man who suffered in the expression of them, and this is perhaps conveyed in the figure of "wrought-work of ivory" (see margin). Ivory is the product of suffering, it is not like gold or gems or precious wood, but it is yielded at the cost of suffering. The compassion of the Lord was the fruit of His entering in His own spirit into all that was upon the creature through sin."Himself took our infirmities and bore our diseases" (Matthew 8:17). He was moved with compassion when He saw the crowds "because they were harassed, and cast away as sheep not having a shepherd" (Matthew 9:36). He was moved with compassion when He touched the blind man's eyes (Matthew 20:34). He had compassion on the crowd when they had stayed with Him three days, and had not anything they could eat (Mark 8:2). He had compassion on the widow of Nain who was bereft of her only son (Luke 7:13). The Samaritan -- a blessed picture of the Lord -- was moved with compassion when he saw the half-dead man (Luke 10:33). And Jesus could speak, as no other could speak, of the Father as being moved with compassion when He saw His lost son arise to return to Him (Luke 15:20). And it is to be noted that in all these instances the word for compassion signifies a yearning of the Father's bowels. And, with the exception of the case of the two blind men, these compassions were unsought by thorn upon whom they were exercised. They were sovereign in character. This is the true character of compassion; it flows out to need which is realised in the feelings of the One who shews it. What the Lord said and did was the outcome of how He felt things; it was not according to how the people felt them. So the power of preaching lies in how the preacher, feels things. The unconverted do not feel their need, but the preacher stands up to represent One who does feel it, so that what Christ feels -- what the blessed God feels -- about them may be brought home to their hearts. The bowels and compassions of Christ must be in the preacher by the Spirit of Christ if he is really to do this.
It is profoundly moving to think of the deep feelings of divine compassion as they have been expressed in the Son of God as a blessed Man here. His groans, His sighs, His tears reveal a true and blessed Man, but the compassions and sympathies are divine and heavenly. He had come down from heaven to bring the very feelings of God into expression in a world of suffering and sorrow and death. The "wrought-work of ivory" speaks of the fine detail with which those feelings manifested themselves through a sorrowing and suffering Saviour, and the "sapphire", being, as another scripture says, "as it were the body of heaven for clearness" (Exodus 24:10), brings before us the heavenly character which attached to them.
Solomon "made a great throne of ivory", and we are told "there was not the like made in any kingdom" (1 Kings 10:18-20). The throne of the kingdom is very elevated and majestic, but it is a compassionate throne. Think of Psalm 72:4,12-14; Isaiah 32:2; Isaiah 13:3; Isaiah 42:1-3; Zechariah 6:13. The One who will soon sit upon His glorious throne is the One who wept at the grave of Lazarus, and who wept over a Jerusalem that was about to witness His crucifixion. The deep feelings which are; symbolised by "wrought-work of ivory, overlaid with sapphires" give character to the throne on which He sits now; it is a "throne of grace", and mercy is dispensed from it. And when Solomon's throne has its antitype in a coming day the "gold" will be there which speaks of divine glory; the "steps" will have their answer in the elevation of the throne; the "lions" in its majestic strength.But the throne itself is of "ivory"; it is the throne of One in whom divine compassions have been expressed in humiliation and suffering. That will make it such a throne as never was in any kingdom. The spouse knows the deep and tender feelings of His heart, and gives them a place in her description of the King, who is also her Beloved. He is our Beloved too!
Paul was in true sympathy with the deep feelings of the heart of Christ, for he could say to the Philippians, "I long after you all in the bowels of Christ Jesus" (Philippians 1:8). He expected to find similar feelings in those who were Christ's, for he said, "If any bowels and compassions" (Philippians 2:1). And he exhorted the Colossians to "put on ... bowels of compassion" (Colassians 3:12). If we have learned to appreciate the wrought-work of ivory as seen in Him, some of it will be wrought by His Spirit in us.
There will be a preparedness to suffer so that feelings which are of God may come into expression. There will then be "ivory palaces" on our side, out of which stringed instruments will make our Beloved glad (Psalm 45:8). Ivory palaces cannot be built without cost of suffering, but it is out of such palaces that music issues to gladden the heart of the Beloved.
Compassion is the way that love expresses itself when there is no deserving on the part of its object. Nothing could be more undeserving than to be "dead in offences", but the riches of mercy and God's great love reached us when we were such. God acts sovereignly. "I will feel compassion for whom I will feel compassion" (Romans 9:15). That is how God feels apart from any deserving on man's side. So when Jesus had compassion He disclosed the feelings of His own heart. There are also special feelings as to saints, having regard to them as subjects of the work of God. So that when Paul longed after the Philippians "in the bowels of Christ Jesus" it was a special yearning over them as saints. There were causes of anxiety, but they were the occasion of deep feeling and spiritual yearning. The "bowels of compassion", that are to be put on by saints, refer to the deep and tender feelings which are to be in mutual exercise amongst the brethren. So that even if things are not as they should be there are the yearnings of love. The "wrought-work of ivory, overlaid with sapphires" would appear in this.
"His legs, pillars of marble, set upon bases of fine gold". This intimates the stability of all that is in Christ. His feet are not mentioned; His movements are not contemplated here but His immovable stability. God has introduced in Christ what is marked by stability, in contrast with all the instability that marked Adam and his race. "And he shall be the stability of thy times" (Isaiah 33:5-6). It is righteousness which gives stability. As to the Son it is said, "Thy throne, O God, is to the age of the age, and a sceptre of uprightness is the sceptre of thy kingdom. Thou hast loved righteousness and hast hated lawlessness" (Hebrews 1:8-9). The word for "marble" here is the same as that translated "fine linen" in many scriptures; it expresses the whiteness of the substance spoken of, and this is figurative of righteousness. It is striking how the thought of whiteness runs through the spouse's description of her Beloved. "My beloved is white", then the washing with milk, the lilies, the bright ivory, and the pillars of marble all suggest what is white. And Lebanon has t). All that is of God must have this character. It appears even in the "great white throne".
Christ as the Beloved is the Righteous One, and every promise of God is righteously secured in Him so that it can never be invalidated. The Son of God, Jesus Christ, "did not become yea and nay, but yea is in him". There is no uncertainty or instability about Christ, no possibility of anything being overturned or even moved. The whole created universe can be shaken, and will be shaken, but Christ, and what is established in Him stands firm eternally. In being brought to that we receive a kingdom that cannot be moved.
The "pillars of marble" are "set upon bases of fine gold". All that is in Christ is stable because it is purely of God, and is established upon the foundation of divine righteousness and glory."Whatever promises of God there are, in him is the yea, and in him the amen, for glory to God by us" (2 Corinthians 1:20), God Himself, we may say, is the base of all, and all that is of God is so confirmed in Christ that it can never be overthrown by any power of earth or hell. The two pillars for the porch of the temple -- Jachin and Boaz -- suggest a very similar thought to the "pillars of marble". Jachin means "He will establish", and Boaz means, "In him is strength".
Man after the flesh has never been able to stand in any position in which God placed him; so it is no wonder that "he taketh not pleasure in the legs of a man" (Psalm 147:10). But how pleasurable to Him is that One who can maintain eternally for the glory of God, and for man's blessing, every divine thought and purpose!
Then in "His bearing as Lebanon, excellent as the cedars", there would seem to be a general statement as to His appearance. It expresses the whole excellence and elevation of His aspect as it can be surveyed by the eye of love. Wherever we look at Him we see an excellent bearing. We see Him in the Gospels in an immense variety of situations and circumstances. We see Him as a Boy and as a Man; we see Him with crowds and with individuals, with men, women, and children; we see Him with the devil; we see Him with sinners, with disciples, with Pharisees, with scribes, with rationalists, with lawyers, with priests, with friends, and with enemies, with a king and a governor, with the traitor Judas, with feeble and failing believers! But what dignity and elevation marked His bearing with them all! Whether in private or in public there was never anything lower than Lebanon, or less noble than its cedars. The affectionate eye of His lover can survey Him in every position and see nothing but an excellence of supremely elevated character. And the thought may be carried into resurrection, for whether with Mary Magdalene, or Simon, or the two going to Emmaus, or with the disciples as together, His bearing was truly excellent. And as walking in the midst of the assemblies His bearing is excellent too. How suitable it is to the conditions which He reviews, and upon which He passes judgment! And so it will be forever, whether as reigning in the kingdom, or as placed in subjection to God in the eternal state. Supreme excellence is there, and will be the eternal joy of His bride.
The Spirit has given the appreciation of the Beloved's "lips" in verse 13, but His "mouth" is spoken of in verse 16. The "lips" and the "mouth" are in very close association, but there is evidently some difference in the spiritual thoughts which they suggest. And a special place is given to His mouth as being the last feature which the spouse mentions. "His mouth is most sweet". We have connected with His "lips" the perfect expression of grace to sinful and needy men as it is presented m Luke's Gospel, its fulness being commensurate with the value of the death of Jesus. But His "mouth" suggests an additional thought; it is actually the word "palate"; it is more inward than the lips; and it carries with it in several scriptures the idea of tasting. There is something received, the sweetness of which is perceived and enjoyed by the palate. We may see this force of the word clearly in chapter 2: 3: "His fruit is sweet to my taste". "Taste" is the same word as "mouth" in chapter 5: 16. I think His "mouth" as spoken of in this way conveys the very precious thought that whatever He communicated to men He had first received and known the sweetness of Himself. No part of Scripture brings this out so fully as the Gospel of John, where the glory of His Person appears more than in the other Gospels. In His mediatorial position as the Sent One, the only-begotten Son, He received all from God His Father. It had been said of Him in what was perhaps the first distinct prophecy of His mediatorship, "I ... will put my words in his mouth" (Deuteronomy 18:18). And those who love Him are well assured that the words that were put in His mouth were very sweet to Him. Everything that He communicated to men was first communicated to Him by the Father. He was the first to taste its sweetness. He could have said of all those communications, as one had said long before by His Spirit, "How sweet are thy words unto my taste!" (Same word as "mouth" in Song of Songs 5:16) "more than honey to my mouth!" (Psalm 119:103). If faith could taste and enjoy the sweetness of God's words, as we see repeatedly in the Old Testament, what must the Father's words have been to the Son! How blessed to think of Him as here in this world in this mediatorial position, receiving all from God for men, and enjoying as Man all the sweetness of it before He spoke of it to others! All was communicated to Him by the Father, and was the substance of communion between the Father and the Son before it was made known to men. This is His mediatorial place and glory. He had been with God from eternity, and ever was God, but He came down from heaven to be Man here, the only-begotten Son in the bosom of the Father, that there might be a Man to whom God could communicate all that was in His heart and mind for men to know concerning Himself and His thoughts of grace and love. There was a Man here -- a divine Person become Man -- able to receive all the words of God, all the Father's words, able to fully appreciate and enjoy them, and able to communicate them to men.
The scriptures which bring this out are happily familiar to us, but if we have in any measure the affections of the spouse we find them ever sweet. "My doctrine is not mine, but that of him that has sent me. If any one desire to practise his will, he shall know concerning the doctrine, whether it is of God, or that I speak from myself" (John 7:16-17). "He that has sent me is true, and I, what I have heard from him, these things I say to the world ... , I do nothing of myself, but as the Father has taught me I speak these things" (John 8:26,28). "For I have not spoken from myself, but the Father who sent me has himself given me commandment what I should say and what I should speak; and I know that his commandment is life eternal. What therefore I speak, as the Father has said to me, so I speak" (John 12:49-50). "I have called you friends, for all things which I have heard of my Father I have made known to you" (John 15:15). "Now they have known that all things that thou hast given me are of thee; for the words which thou has given me I have given them, and they have received them, and have known truly that I came out from thee, and have believed that thou sentest me" (John 17:7-8). "Holy Father, keep them in thy name which thou hast given me" (verse 11). Every word that He spoke would give His disciples an impression of what it was to Him to receive such words from His Father. He fully perceived their sweetness before He communicated them to His own. So that He could say, "I have spoken these things to you that my joy may be in you, and your joy be full" (John 15:11). "And these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in them" (John 17:13). The Mediator had His own personal joy in all that He communicated, and He would have His disciples to know that He had received it all from the Father. I am sure we need to ponder the Lord's mediatorial glory as it is unfolded in John's Gospel. All that comes to us from God, from the Father, comes to us mediatorially through the Son in Manhood. We see Him in His relation to the Father, and how the Father spoke to Him. How perfectly could He appreciate every word that the Father said to Him! What intimacy and nearness characterise the communications of love! The Father speaking to the Son as a blessed Man here on earth, the Object of His delight, dwelling in His bosom! How freely could the Father speak to Him all that was in His heart to say to men! The Son, on His part, entering into it all, able to appreciate it fully, and then uttering it to others! He was in the greatest nearness, in the bosom of the Father, and the Father was in Him. And yet as having come in flesh He was near enough to men to speak to them all that, the Father said to Him. He "dwelt among us", says the beloved disciple, and he tells of two who said, "Teacher, where abidest thou?" to whom He replied, "Come and see". "They went therefore, and saw where he abode; and they abode with him that day" (John 1:38-39). John tells us, too, that "there was at table one of his disciples in the bosom of Jesus" (13: 23). Such language breathes something of the same character of sacred intimacy as we find portrayed in the Song of Songs. Intimate nearness to the Father on one side, and intimate nearness to men on the other, combine to make His mediatorial glory wondrous in the eyes of those who love Him. The spouse may well say, "His mouth is most sweet".
It is in the very Gospel where His personal glory is most manifest -- where He says, "Before Abraham was I am" -- that we have His mediatorial glory most fully brought out. His absolute Deity is unmistakably made known, His eternal Personality, but He is seen as in a mediatorial position, not speaking from Himself, but speaking as the Father had said to Him. The remnant in a coming day will apprehend His mediatorial glory, and they will be so in the grace of it that His Name and His Father's Name will be written on their foreheads (Revelation 14:1). To them His mouth will be, indeed, "most sweet". And is it not to to us, who have an even nearer and more intimate place? We have so much in common with those who are in the place of the spouse -- as knowing the love of Christ and responding to it -- that we can most profitably identify ourselves with the precious utterances of affection in which she expresses her delight in her Beloved. I have no doubt that God intended this book to have a distinct place in the promotion and development of bridal affection, and that it is as much for the assembly to profit by today as it will be for the joy and comfort of another company of saints who will be on earth after the assembly has been translated.
As the glorious Mediator "His mouth is most sweet". May we appreciate Him more and more in this precious character! If we knew better His glory as the Mediator we should be more qualified to understand His Headship. As Mediator He speaks on God's part -- on the Father's part -- to us, but as Head He takes a place on our side, as associating us with Him, so that He says, "My Father and your Father ... my God and your God" (John 20:17).
If we are able, as divinely taught, to appreciate the beauty and glory of Christ, as it is presented figuratively and symbolically in this description of Him by the spouse, I am sure we shah be ready to say with her, "Yea, he is altogether lovely". Each of His features that we can trace is lovely in its perfection, and no feature of perfection is lacking. He is altogether lovely.
Finally, she exclaims, "This is my beloved, yea, this is my friend". Her use now, for the first time, of the word "friend" would seem to be significant. The Beloved had used this word in chapter 5: 1, but it is new on her lips. It is the word very generally translated "neighbour"; it means one who is near. And, as used by the spouse, it seems to suggest that she is now restored to a sense of conscious nearness to Him. She could call Him her Beloved even when she was at ease without Him, but she could hardly have said then that He was her Friend -- her near Companion. But now she is consciously near to Him; her affections are fully restored. So that when the daughters of Jerusalem ask whither her Beloved had gone she is not at a loss how to answer them. I do not think that any saint could really travel spiritually through verses 10 to 16 of this chapter without being fully restored in heart to the Beloved. I do not mean merely reading the verses, but taking them up in the heart's true appreciation.
Before she began to describe Him she felt that others might find Him before she did (verse 8), but by the time she ended speaking of Him she knew far better than they did where to find Him. If there is any sense of distance with us let us not settle down in it. Let us think of Him; let us describe Him, as it were, afresh to our hearts; let us speak of Him, as we have opportunity, to those who are interested in Him. The very doing so will indicate a reviving glow of heart, and it will lead to fully restored affections. And others, it may be, will be moved to seek Him.
The spouse realises afresh in chapter 6: 2, 3 where His heart is, and where He feeds. She is really back, in her consciousness of things, in the place of being His garden. She is consciously His: "I am my beloved's". The "beds of spices" and the "lilies" speak of a spot where all is congenial to His tastes. There is nothing there that He has to correct or reprove; He feeds His flock in conditions marked by harmlessness, simplicity, and irreproachableness (Philippians 2:15). The heart of the spouse now takes account of what is suitable to His pleasure. This is the normal exercise of saints, as cherishing assembly conditions which are for His joy. All questions of failure are left behind, not through carelessness as to them, but through full spiritual deliverance. The Lord Himself is before the heart, and the consciousness of being His dominates the thoughts, and excludes everything that is unworthy of Him.
The spouse is now in the place and state of overcoming. I suppose that is why He speaks of her in verse 4 as "Terrible as troops with banners". It is a military figure, and a figure of troops that have not sustained defeat; their banners are flying as completely victorious. He can now recognise her as an overcomer. Each one of us has to find out what we have to overcome. No one can know the grace of God in truth without finding that there are influences, tendencies, feelings and habits that have to be overcome. Spiritual sloth is one of the worst of these enemies: it is the one specially set before us as a warning in this book (chapters 3: 1; 5: 2). If we do not, through grace, overcome these enemies they will overcome us, and we shall be defeated on the field of battle.
It is noticeable that on each occasion when the Beloved describes the beauty of His spouse in detail she has manifested herself to be an overcomer. It is so in chapter 4, and it is also so in chapters 6 - 7. He does not so describe her when she is on her bed, or in a state of slothful ease without Him. It is sad when conditions are present which render it necessary for Him to speak as in Revelation 2 -3. Such conditions render overcoming necessary if saints are to be agreeable to Him. But when there is grace and power to overcome, the Lord can speak freely, as He does in chapter 4: 1 - 15, and in chapters 6, 7 of His spouse in her normal beauty. He loves to do so. There may be much spiritual slothfulness even when the walk is orderly, and evil associations are abstained from. The Lord knows all about this even if the brethren do not. In coming together in assembly, if we do not come as having the character of overcomers we shall not be agreeable to the Lord. It should be a continual exercise to us to come together in normal state and conditions, so that there is not only a little for the Lord, but full pleasure for His love. "Gardens" in verse 2 might have application to the various local companies in which the saints are convened. The great point is that He should feed there, and that He should find "beds of spices" and "lilies".
To His spouse as having the character of an overcomer He speaks freely of His delight in her. He repeats what He had said before in chapter 4, and He now calls particular attention to the fact that she is unique. There is no other to compare with her (verses 8, 9). Nor is them a hint in any of His words of any imperfection in her. We learn from Revelation 2 -3 what pleasure He has in the overcomer. The more manifest the general departure, the more distinctive is the pleasure of the Lord in the overcomer. He will not fail to give to such very marked expressions of His approval. May we increasingly desire to be worthy of them!
God is pleased to have many different families of saints; "every family in the heavens and on earth" is named of the Father (Ephesians 3:15). His sovereignty assigns to each family its place in the system of glory; all have not the same place. The old idea that the church includes all saints from the beginning of time to the end sets aside the distinctiveness of divine working in different dispensations, and the variety which will mark the different families. Though, of course, in all being named of the Father, and all carrying some impression of Christ, there is a holy correspondence and unity throughout all the families, whether heavenly or earthly.
So we find in the scripture now before us that there are queens, concubines, virgins, and daughters, but none of them have the unique place of the spouse. They represent, no doubt, those who stand in some relation to Christ, but they have not the place of His dove, His undefiled one. And if the Lord gives a special place to any company of saints He loves to make it known to them. The remnant in a coming day will have a very special place -- I believe the next place to the assembly -- in the heart of Christ; and He will have them to know it.The hundred and forty-four thousand who stand with the Lamb on Mount Zion (Revelation 14) correspond with those who are represented by the spouse in the Song of Songs. What a distinctive place they have! They are near enough to heaven to learn its song, and no one else can learn it. They are really in the place of Christ's undefiled one; they have virgin character. He will have them to know how He regards them; perhaps they will learn it, in part at least, from this very book in Holy Scripture. What an encouragement it will be to the suffering and oppressed remnant to know that they have such a special place in the heart of their Beloved! There may be many other saints -- even "without number" -- and they may have distinguished places, but they have not the place of the "only one", "the choice one".
If this is true of the remnant it is also true in a very special way of the assembly. No company to compare with the assembly has ever been brought into being; she is the choice and unique product of grace. The remnant will never be the body of Christ; they will never be of Him in that peculiar way, though they will have a special place in His affections, and will know and enjoy His company. It will be true of the assembly, as it will be true of the remnant, that other families of redeemed ones will see her worth and beauty, and they will do so with unjealous eyes. They will call her blessed and praise her. Is it nothing to us that we have been brought forth for such a place, for such favour? If it had pleased God to call us and to bless us in some other family of saints, so that we should have had to look upon the assembly as having a more choice portion than our own, it would have been wonderful grace. But what shall we say, or think, of the sovereign love that has called us to be of that assembly which is nearest and dearest to the heart of Christ? A company, too, which has a spiritual beauty beyond compare with any other company of saints? This is wondrous indeed.We ought to be deeply moved by the thought of it. The light of the assembly is a wonderful privilege. It is in Scripture for all saints today, but many have it not in any practical way. To have the light of what the assembly is in a spiritual way is a matter of divine sovereignty; and it is intended to work out a result which will be in a peculiar way for the pleasure of Christ.
If we are to come under the view of others it should be a concern to us to appear as the spouse is viewed in verse 10. "Who is she that looketh forth as the dawn, fair as the moon, clear as the sun, terrible as troops with banners"? What the assembly will be in display she should be morally now. Men talk of "the invisible church", but she was never intended to be invisible. That she is so is a proof of departure and ruin. The "dawn" of the kingdom day is to be seen in the spouse. Peter speaks of the day dawning and the morning star arising in the hearts of believers (2 Peter 1:19). If the day has dawned in our hearts it is that we may appear publicly as those who are "sons of day" (1 Thessalonians 5:4-5). We are to exhibit features that are morally "of day", a contrast to all that marks the night. We see that the bride is for display in Revelation 21. Whatever she is as adorned for her Husband does not cover all that she is to be, though of course it comes first. But she is to be seen of myriads, a luminous body, and this she is called to be morally now. Reflecting Christ, and shedding forth the effulgence of God, and seen as overcoming what is of the world, the flesh, and the devil.
The Beloved had seen the spouse in overcoming character in verse 4. But now in verse 10 she has that character in the eyes of those who behold her. She appears publicly in the character of one who has power to overcome all that is hostile. Troops with banners flying have not sustained defeat; they are victorious. If the assembly appeared publicly thus there would not be an "invisible church". We shall not see a general restoration, but as individuals overcome, and walk together in the recognition of assembly privileges and responsibilities, there will be that which, in a sense, has the character of public witness. I have no doubt that the Lord is working to bring this about. This will come out when we consider verse 13.
The remnant, or the assembly, coming into view according to verse 10, leaves the Beloved free, if we may so say, to survey another and a wider field. This He does in verses 11 and 12. The "garden of nuts" is not the same as the "garden enclosed" of chapter 4: 12. This latter is the spouse, but the "garden of nuts" is a wider sphere to which He will presently lead His spouse. Hence a different word is used for "garden" to distinguish it from the one mentioned in chapter 4. It is more extended, for "the verdure of the valley" is referred to. This corresponds more with the "fields" and "vineyards" of chapter 7: 11, 12, to which the spouse invites Him to come with her. I have no doubt that in its strict interpretation it refers to the Lord as looking to see signs of a spiritual spring-time in Israel. He has the remnant, but His people as a whole are not yielding Him fruit. He goes down to see if there is any promise of fruit; "to see whether the vine budded, whether the pomegranates blossomed". He has found "precious fruits" in His spouse, but there is another garden which has not yet yielded Him fruit. He goes there to see if there are any movements of life, if there is even a promising sign that fruits will be found later. He looks to see if there are buds or blossoms. If He can find such He knows that there are movements of life; God has wrought for the quickening of Israel, and the fruition of the ancient promises is within sight! He looks to the work of God in His people as that which will provide "chariots" for His movements amongst them.He will not only have the spouse as His "enclosed" garden, but He will in due time have all Israel, and the whole wide sphere of millennial fruitfulness. Psalm 110:3 speaks of a time when "Thy people shall be willing in the day of thy power, in holy splendour: from the womb of the morning shall come to thee the dew of thy youth". When the Lord sees signs of spiritual life in Israel, when buds and blossoms appear there, He will know that the time spoken of in Psalm 110:3 is at hand. His soul will set Him upon the chariots of His willing people. What has been brought about in the remnant will be brought about in Israel generally. The Lord has that in view. He has a speciality of pleasure in His spouse, but He looks for extended movements of God.
We can see the beautiful application of this to the remnant and to Israel, but I think it may be allowable to apply it at the present time. There is what answers to the spouse in Philadelphia -- a reserved garden for the Beloved, where He can enjoy spices and fruits. He can say to her, "I have loved thee"; He is complacent there. But He has also a wider sphere of interest, and He looks to see signs of spiritual life there. He has an interest in every movement of spiritual life in Thyatira, and Sardis, and even in Laodicea. He looks round in the wide circle of those who are professedly His people to see if there are willing affections that will provide chariots for Him. There may not be, as yet, such a full result of "precious fruits" and "spices" and "wine", as He is worthy of, and such as He finds in those who have something of the true features of His spouse. It may be, as yet, only "bud" and "blossom" -- a promise of fruit to come. There is that, at least, in all saints who manifest evidences of spiritual life; the Lord is interested in it, He sees in it great possibilities. It will assuredly mature in bridal character presently, but He looks to see it develop now. He counts upon seeing the sure pledge of what will be in that which is manifest now. What joy it is to Him to see a "willing people"! If saints truly love Him, and are "willing", there are chariots for Him.His movements will be accelerated.
The Christian profession today has not by any means the character of the spouse. But the Lord surveys it to take note of every bud and blossom that may appear. He looks for a "willing" people prepared to move in love for Him. Wherever He finds such preparedness His soul moves Him to ride on the chariots that love has provided for Him. The Lord can do anything with a "willing people"; His movements amongst His people are commensurate with their willingness.
The remembrance of this is important for us all. Perhaps with many of us the "precious fruits" and the "spices" are not very abundant. It may be with us, as yet, only the time of "bud" and "blossom"! But even if it is so, let us remember that there are with us, through grace, great spiritual possibilities. But their coming to present fruition depends on love and willingness. It is love that welcomes the Lord, and furnishes Him with chariots. The state of Christendom today shews how little the Lord is loved, how little willingness there is for Him to have His place and way.Such a state is the opportunity for us to be overcomers. Whatever it may be with others, let it be "the day of his power" with us! May He "ride prosperously" so far as we are concerned! It may be said that many have not light. But if they were "willing" they would get light (John 7:17); and so shall we, and not only light, but the power of life to walk in it. Are we "willing" to have all the light that God is willing to give us, and to be spiritually formed by it?
Every bit of spiritual vitality that comes under the Lord's eye is to Him material that will be available in the day of glory. He notes every bit of living interest in Himself and in the Holy Scriptures; He notes every heart-breathing of desire after Him, every awakening thought as to what the assembly is. He says today to every one of us, A willing heart is a chariot for Me. He would have us to be available, not only in the day of glory, but now.
It seems to me that the consideration of this will prepare us to understand the import of verse 13. We got here a remarkable call to the Shulamite to "Return". It being repeated four times puts great emphasis upon it. "Return, return, O Shulamite; return, return, that we may look upon thee". It is a call to return into view. She had evidently got out of sight; how or why is not explained here; but the fact is made evident that she is not in view, and she is called in a striking way to return into view. Alas! how faithfully does this portray what has taken place in the history of the church! She was seen publicly carrying the precious features of the spouse in her early days. But she has so largely disappeared from view that men for many centuries have spoken of "the invisible church". Whatever has happened we may be sure that it was not the Lord's intent that the church should be invisible. It is intended that she should be seen. "Come here, I will shew thee the bride, the Lamb's wife" (Revelation 21:9). She was seen in the past, she will be seen in the future; how is it she is not seen now? It tells a tale of terrible departure.
But the spouse is called here to "Return". She is to come back into view. Is it not worthy of the Lord to work to bring back into view the original features of the assembly before she is translated? This may be actually brought about in a very small remnant, but if it is brought about the thing is there. It may be only in two or three seeking to walk humbly together in the light of assembly truth and principles, and seeking to be marked by assembly features and characteristics, but the thing is there. A bit of the original, as one has said, and not a mere fag end.
The question is asked, "What would ye look upon in the Shulamite"? and the answer is, "As it were the dance of two camps". This is another military allusion. The "two camps" are a double witness to overcoming power, so that there can be no question about it. Jacob said, "This is the camp of God" when the angels met him (Genesis 32). "And he called the name of that place Mahanaim", meaning "two camps". (It is the same word as in Song of Songs 6:13). There it was "Two camps" of angels, as the pledge that God was with Jacob in returning to Bethel. But here it is in the Shulamite that "the dance of two camps" is desired to be seen. "The dance" suggests that every enemy has been so completely routed that nothing remains to be done but to dance in triumph. (See Exodus 15:20, 1 Samuel 18:6). The Shulamite is called into view, but it is to be seen as completely victorious. She is to be seen as in the fullest sense an overcomer. The Lord would have us to come into view in that character.
The name "Shulamite" is introduced for the first and only time in this verse. It is the nearest approach to a personal name that is used of the spouse, but when we consider it we find it to be a local designation rather than a name. She is "the Shulamite"; she is of that particular place and locality. I think it is an intimation by the Spirit that overcoming must be always in the locality and conditions where we are found. This comes out clearly in Revelation 2 - 3. Wherever we may be, in Ephesus, Smyrna, or any other place, it is there that we have to be overcomers. We all feel sorry that we have such weaknesses, such tendencies, as we have. But they are just our opportunity to overcome in the strength of Him who gives us power. Each of us could say, In my locality there are special difficulties, peculiar to the place. Well, these things are just our chance to be overcomers. Never admit for a moment that these things must mean defeat. Think of the resources we have in God, in the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Spirit! Think of the power of prayerful dependence, the blessed results of abiding in Christ! Be assured that if you walk with God you will surely be able to "praise his name in the dance". The Lord is calling the saints of the assembly back into the position of victory. If we cannot overcome in the place and circumstances where we are we could not overcome anywhere else.
When the saints return to view as overcomers spiritual features appear in them, such as are described in a figurative way in the opening verses of this chapter. And there seems to be greater fulness in this description of the spouse than in the previous ones. There is greater development both externally and internally. What the spouse is in her movements is brought before us in verse 1. Her "footsteps" are beautiful. There is a royal dignity about them, and a peaceful character, for one would connect the "sandals" with having feet shod with the preparation of the glad tidings of peace (Ephesians 6:15). Such a feature will not be secured without overcoming what is hostile to it, but when it is secured there is a suggestion of peace in every movement. The Lord said, "Into whatsoever house ye, enter, first say, Peace to this house" (Luke 10:5). Wherever His disciples went their feet were to be beautiful as announcing glad tidings of peace. We cannot ensure that all those to whom we come will be "sons of peace", but we can ourselves move in the spirit of peace, and in "the way of peace".
All assembly movements have rightly a peaceful character, for we read that "God is not a God of disorder but of peace, as in all the assemblies of the saints" (1 Corinthians 14:33). Any one who sows discords is an abomination to Jehovah. (Proverbs 6:19). Peace is a uniting bond which enables the unity of the Spirit to be practically manifested. There is nothing more beautiful under the eye of Christ than His saints moving spiritually together in unity and peace. His first word to His assembled saints as the Risen One was: "Peace be to you", and again He said, "Peace be to you" in sending them forth (John 20). There is no dignity in being irritable and ungracious; that is not like a "prince's daughter". There are "scenes of strife and desert lift", but through them it is our privilege to "tread in peace our way".
Strength for movement lies in the thighs, and if our movements are to appear as "jewels", and as "the work of the hands of an artist" it can only be through the practical breaking down of the flesh, and of what is natural to us. The Man who wrestled with Jacob had to touch the joint of his thigh and dislocate it. Natural energy has to be crippled under the discipline of God to make room for a new character of movement in spiritual power. Paul got a thorn for the flesh, but he learned that it was better to have the thorn and the grace of Christ than to be without it. He learned that power was perfected in weakness. If we want to move in a beautiful way spiritually we must be prepared for reduction and crippling on the natural side. Every movement that shews the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ is a jewel in His eyes; there is a divinely artistic beauty about it. There is nothing clumsy or ungraceful about "the work of the hands of an artist". We know that movements of a lovely character are possible, for we have all seen them at some time or other. They are ever seen in overcomers.
Verse 2 speaks of what the "prince's daughter" is inwardly. She is marked by inward satisfaction. The Lord spoke to the woman at the well of living water that would become an inward fountain, and He said of the believer "out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water". Paul could say that he knew what it was to be satisfied in himself so as to be independent of circumstances (Philippians 4:11). Eliphaz asked, "Should a wise man ... fill his belly with the east wind?" (Job 15:2). It is a pity if we have nothing better than the east wind to fill us. Elihu had something better than this, for he could say, "I am full of matter, the spirit within me (of my belly) constraineth me. Behold my belly is as wine which hath no vent, like new flasks it is ready to burst" (Job 32:18-19). He was so full of what was of God that he did not know how to keep it in.
The "mixed wine" would no doubt be a reference to the varied joy which lies in the Holy Spirit, and the "heap of wheat" would speak of Christ as the great expression of divine faithfulness, and, as such, becoming the food of His saints. The inward parts of overcomers are furnished with such precious substance as this, not in scanty measure but as a "heap". And if Christ is treasured His saints are not forgotten. The "heap of wheat" is "set about with lilies". The saints are held in affection as being in intimate association with Christ and necessary to His glory. We cannot be deeply interested in Christ without being also deeply interested in those who are of Christ and for Christ. And all this is presented here as known inwardly as joy and substance. It is quite unsuitable to a dispensation of such abundant supply that any should come before God "empty". If He would not suffer this on the part of Israel much less is it becoming in those for whom the fulness of Christ and of the Spirit is available. How acceptable it is to the Beloved to see us inwardly furnished! So that we can not only say things, but say them because our hearts are filled with the substance of which we speak. In coming together we should always be full, so that each brother awaits his opportunity to contribute according to his measure of faith, and as the Lord may direct. It is right to wait in consideration for others, so that there may be room for whatever is present that is precious and edifying. But each one, whether he contributes publicly or not, should be full and available as possessed inwardly of spiritual substance. It is very sad if a brother is silent because he is "empty"; such a one could hardly be an overcomer.
What we enjoy inwardly is there to be available for others. I have noticed that I hardly ever enjoy something of the Lord without soon having an opportunity to pass it on to somebody else. That is how spiritual increase is promoted.
The spouse's neck was described in chapter 4 as erect in military strength, but here it is "as a tower of ivory". If, as was suggested in connection with chapter 4: 4, the neck indicates strength of purpose, its being compared to "a tower of ivory" would intimate the personal cost at which purpose to be for Christ can alone be maintained. Ivory is only obtained at personal cost to the creature that yields it, and if we are set that Christ shall be magnified in our body we shall find that it can only be at the cost of giving up that which would be our life as natural men and women.But how precious and attractive to the Beloved when the neck of His spouse has this character! It is another feature of the overcomer.
The "eyes" of the prince's daughter being compared to "the pools in Heshbon" seems to convey the thought of depth of spiritual perception. Her eyes being spoken of as "doves" in a previous chapter indicates the spiritual character of her perceptions, but this figure of "pools" seems to add the thought of depth. There was depth of spiritual perception in Mary of Bethany that led her to discern the suitability of anointing the Lord at that particular moment (John 12). She might not have been able to explain why she did it, but the Lord could explain that she had kept her choice gift for the day of His preparation for burial. She perceived what was suitable to the moment. This is a most attractive feature of spiritual beauty.
Then her "nose" represents the power to distinguish the savour of what is of God. It is figurative of a perceptive faculty which is of great importance. If there is keenness of scent in regard to what is of God there will also be quick perception of what has an evil savour. It was written of the Lord, "And his scent will be in the fear of Jehovah" (Isaiah 11:3). We ought to be able to "scent" the character of persons or teachings without a very close examination. The organ of smell is very fine in its discrimination; it can distinguish when there is nothing apparent to any other sense. An evil teacher might be clever enough to make his doctrines appear to be wholly based on Scripture, but a truly spiritual person would perceive an ill savour about them, even if he could not point out exactly what was wrong. So that this faculty is like en elevated watch-tower with a wide range of outlook. The one who has it does not need to investigate minutely, or at close quarters, what is contrary to God. The very "scent" of the thing is enough, and he turns from it. But, on the other hand, he is quick to perceive the spiritual odour of what is of God. He is glad to follow it up, to trace it out in Scripture, to have it confirmed by diligent inquiry, but before he has had opportunity for this he has an intuitive sense that it savours of God and of Christ. The "eyes" and the "nose", representing perceptive faculties, are very prominent features of the beauty of the "prince's daughter".
The result of the perceptive faculties being in exercise is that spiritual understanding is developed. "Thy head upon thee is like Carmel". Carmel means "Fruitful", and we read of "the excellency of Carmel" (Isaiah 35:2). The assembly is comprised of intelligent persons, who have the Spirit (1 Corinthians 10:15). The temple of God is marked by the presence of spiritual light, and this light becomes available for edification through the brethren being fruitful in their understanding. All instruction and edification depends on the understanding being fruitful (1 Corinthians 14). So that "five words" spoken with the understanding are more valuable in the assembly than ten thousand words without the understanding, even though the latter might all be spoken in the power of the Spirit of God, as would be the case if speaking with a tongue. Great value attaches to the head being "like Carmel", for the real gain of every meeting lies in the saints being edified. What is expressed in the assembly should be the fruit of divine light having taken form in the understanding, and it is expressed that the saints may be spiritually enlarged. So that not only what is ministered to the saints, but what is addressed to Divine Persons in prayer or praise, is all to be "done to edification". God is constantly adding to the growth of His saints through the fruitfulness of understanding in different members of the body. Edification is always going on, and every activity in the assembly is to promote it. We should look in every meeting for the addition of something we have not had before. We can see growth more in young believers because they are like young trees, in which every season shews a marked difference. But old trees are making growth all the time, too, though it may not be so obvious. There is generally more real growth in an old tree than a young one, unless it has begun to decay. And so it is with old saints. I do not think it is possible for saints to come together in a godly way without edification, but this depends on fruitfulness of spiritual understanding. So Paul says, "Brethren, be not children in your minds, but in malice be babes; but in your minds be grown men" (1 Corinthians 14:20). Children act and speak according to their feelings, but men speak and act with understanding. In the assembly there is intelligent understanding of divine things, and as it comes into expression there is general edification. The Lord has great pleasure in this. It brings into evidence the feature of His spouse which is set forth in her head being "like Carmel". Then her head has adornment. "And the locks of thy head like purple; the king is fettered by thy ringlets". There is a certain spiritual beauty which, according to God, ever accompanies spiritual understanding, and that is the ornament of subjection. This is the glory of the assembly just as long hair is a glory to a woman. The spirit of subjection is most attractive to the eye and heart of Christ. Every part of the truth demands subjection. There is nothing which the spiritual understanding can take up which does not call for subjection, Otherwise we should not be under the practical control of what we understand. The sense of this in the heart is a great preservative from headiness and high-mindedness.
The truly "royal" character of the "prince's daughter" comes out in this, It is the "purple", which I take to be the authority of Headship truly owned. If the spirit of subjection to Christ is in us it will affect us in all our relations with one another. One could hardly be subject to Christ, and insubject to those who are Christ's. The spirit of subjection in the saints is the only witness in the world of the authority of Christ. And we can all have part in this witness. Many may not be able to preach or teach, or give, but we can all in some way express that we are in subjection to Christ as Head. The woman, we are told, is to have "authority on her head, on account of the angels" (1 Corithians 11:10). The angels are to see in the woman the glory of subjection to headship. And in like manner "the assembly is subjected to the Christ" (Ephesians 5:4).
One great glory of the Lord was that He was here in a place of subjection. The centurion in Luke 7 perceived this. He said, "For I also am a man placed under authority". He understood that the Lord was in that position in relation to God, and Jesus wondered at his faith. Perfect subjection marked the Beloved Himself, and His spouse must correspond with Him in this feature. It is our glory to be marked by subjection, and such a spirit is most attractive to the Lord. "The king is fettered by thy ringlets". Nothing in the saints appeals more to the heart of Christ than their affectionate subjection to Him as Head. It has power to hold Him "fettered" -- a wonderful word when we consider who the King really is! It makes us think of John 14:21. "He that has my commandments and keeps them, he it is that loves me; but he that loves me shall be loved by my Father, and I will love him and will manifest myself to him".
Where there is affectionate subjection the Lord gets His full portion of delight in His loved one. He can say, "How fair and how pleasant art thou, my love, in delights!" His spouse now yields Him all the delights that His love can desire. She has come to "stature" (verse 7) -- a feature not before mentioned. If all the features we have considered as marking the "prince's daughter" are found in saints we may be sure that "stature" will be found there also. The divine nature will be developed, and there will be some evidence of growing up towards "the measure of the stature of the fulness of the Christ" (Ephesians 4:13). The saints are to "grow up to him in all things, who is the head, the Christ". Knowledge or faith or gift are not stature. Stature is the result of formation in the divine nature; we are as big as we love and no more. We may measure our stature by 1 Corinthians 13.
To the "prince's daughter" the Beloved can say, "This thy stature is like to a palm-tree, and thy breasts to grape clusters". Stature and satisfying affections go together, and the Beloved takes possession of His loved spouse, so that she can say "I am my beloved's, and his desire is toward me".
Three things are mentioned in verses 7 - 9 as a special delight to Him. "Thy breasts", the "fragrance of thy nose", and "the roof of thy mouth". He appreciates our affections, He finds pleasure in our perceptive faculties, and the way we taste the sweetness of divine things is "like the best wine" to Him.
We have spoken of her "nose" as figurative of a keen faculty of perception. Here it is "fragrant" to the King. She has not occupied herself in scenting out what was of ill savour. Her scent has been like His -- accustomed to all that is of sweet-smelling savour. And the roof of her mouth -- or her palate, as it really is, the same word that is used for His mouth in chapter 5: 16 -- is figurative of power to taste the sweetness of all that is spiritual and divine. This is "like the best wine" for the Beloved. How precious is the thought that our tasting the heavenly sweetness and enjoying it is wine -- yea, the best wine -- for Him! He delights in our private and individual enjoyment of divine things, but how specially sweet to Him are our collective enjoyments! One often looks round when Christ is being ministered to see how saints are enjoying it. If it is a pleasure to us to see the evidences of true appreciation of Christ's things and the Father's things, how much more is it to Him? And He loves that we should enter into what it is to Him. Our doing so is set forth after the first sentence of verse 9. The Beloved speaks to this point, and then the spouse breaks in, if we may so say, and finishes the sentence for Him. It is a sweet and striking expression of complete harmony between Him and His loved one. She enters into what her appreciations are to Him; they are to Him the best wine "that floweth straight to my beloved", as the margin reads. The Lord loves to give us a sense of how our joy in divine things is a joy to Him.
Nor is there any more powerful influence to affect "them that are asleep" than the appreciations and enjoyments of His wakeful and happy saints. I suppose nothing has been more used to awake and revive dull and sleepy hearts than their being made aware of those satisfactions and delights which are the portion of overcomers. When this steals "over the lips of them that are asleep" it has a sweet awakening power.
It has often been said that verse 10 is the highest point reached in the spouse's apprehension of her relation to her Beloved. "I am my beloved's, and his desire is toward me". He has taken possession of her in verse 8, and she is now consciously His. Paul could say, "I have been taken possession of by Christ" (Philippians 3:12). This is the true satisfaction of bridal affection. To be wholly His, absolutely yielded to Him, and at His disposal as one desired by Him. This is the climax of the present possibilities of love: it is as near to the consciousness of union as anything which we find in this precious book, which is so dedicated to the portrayal in a figurative way of holy and spiritual affections.
We noticed that in chapter 6: 11 the Beloved speaks as having gone down to see whether the vine budded or the pomegranates blossomed. That sets forth the Lord as surveying a wider range of interests than was expressed in His spouse, and looking for signs of spiritual life or revival in that wider field.
Now in chapter 7: 11, 12 we find the spouse in full accord with the mind of her Beloved, and taking the lead, if we may so say, in suggesting that He should come forth with her to see if the vine had budded, and if the pomegranates were in bloom. She is now fully interested in the wide range of His interests upon the earth -- the fields, the villages, the vineyards all come into her outlook.She takes a keen interest in all that is for Him; it is in that wide domain that she gives Him her loves. As being conscious that she is His, and that His desire is towards her, she is entirely free from self-consideration. She is like the woman of worth in Proverbs 31 who does her husband good and not evil all the days of her life. Her interests are merged in His.
If we have the true affections of the bride we shall have no private or personal interests; true assembly affections are bound up with the prosperity of every interest of Christ. He would have us free in heart to think of all that is His upon the earth now, and of what will be His in another day, whether in the remnant at Jerusalem or in the subsequent wide field of millennial glory. His spouse today can survey it all with Him as having a common interest. Her love comes out in this.
Our great interest should be to look for signs of the work of God in souls. The remnant in a coming day will be keenly interested to look for signs of spiritual vitality in the nation at large. They will know that springtime for Israel is at hand, and they will be entitled to expect to see bud and blossom in the nation. They will call upon their Beloved to come forth with them to look for signs of spiritual life on a wider scale than had yet been seen.
We do not expect to see much in the way of bud and blossom in Israel yet, for signs of spiritual life only appear where God is working, and the present time is peculiarly a time of blessing for the Gentiles. The gospel field affords a very wide outlook, and what is in view here is the work of God in souls. "Lift up your eyes and behold the fields, for they are already white to harvest" (John 4:35). God's work now has the assembly in view, and every soul in whom God is working claims our interest from that point of view: The range of Christ's interests now is a very wide one, and we are privileged to survey it all with the interests and affections of His bride. We give Him our loves in the sphere of His interests.
It is suitable to the bride to have an outlook that takes account with delight of the work of God in souls. And the reality of our interest in this comes out in the little bit of the wide field that we have personal contact with. We should always be on the look out for buds and blossoms. The figure supposes that there is no fruit as yet, but there is evidence of life, and a promise of fruit to come in due time. We think of the possibilities for the glory of God and for the pleasure of Christ that may mature in every soul that gives evidence of spiritual life. How delightful it is to see a soul manifesting real interest in the things of God! We are glad when we hear of one professing faith in Christ, but our true interest lies in asking, What is there going to be for God in that soul?Bud and blossom speak of something that will come to maturity for the pleasure of Christ. And as this is the assembly period we look with keen eyes for the first evidences of assembly exercises in souls who have been called to bear fruit as having their place and service in the assembly.
Verse 12 gives the outlook of the spouse when she is in the conscious enjoyment of the love of Christ. She is not self-centred, but interested in every evidence of divine working. If this were the character of our interest in each other, and in any of the people of God we come into contact with, would it not effectually preserve us from much that is unprofitable? The spouse is a collective entity, so that what we see figuratively here is an outlook which should mark us assemblywise. When we come together for prayer our outlook embraces all the precious interests of Christ, and particularly those that stand in relation to the truth and privileges of the assembly.
Then the spouse has not only got a wide outlook, but she has "gates" where "all choice fruits, new and old" are laid up for her Beloved. She has in a more limited sphere a treasured store of fully matured choice fruits laid up for Him. Here there is something more than bud and blossom; there is that which is in a, complete way for His satisfaction. It is an exercise for us to consider whether we have really secured such "choice fruits" for Him.
"All choice fruits, new and old" indicate great variety as well as excellence. It gives a large thought of the extraordinary wealth of satisfaction that the saints are capable of laying up for Christ."New and old" sets forth how the whole scope of God's ways as unfolded in the Old Testament, and the wide range of promise as found there, are brought in to contribute to the present spiritual wealth of saints, as well as all that is dispensationally "new" and connected with the mystery. A brother complained to me once that I was putting the church into the Old Testament! "No", I said, "I do not do that; but I would like to bring all the wealth of the Old Testament into the church!" I am sure the Lord would do that, for as the Risen One He "interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself", and He "opened their understanding to understand the scriptures" (Luke 24:27,45). And He has told us that "every scribe discipled to the kingdom of the heavens is like a man that is a householder who brings out of his treasure things new and old" (Matthew 13:52). The "old" things as well as the "new" are to be brought out for the instruction of saints, and they all tend to the production of "choice fruits" for the Beloved. Of course divine teaching is needed for this; we have to be "discipled"; this means something more than acquaintance with the letter of Scripture. It means that we are initiated into things which are hidden from the wise and prudent, but which are revealed to babes. Then there are "choice fruits" for the Beloved. This speaks figuratively of the peculiar satisfaction which is laid up for Christ where normal assembly conditions are found. Through His own great favour there are "gates" where such fruits can be found, and He would have all His saints to know that such gates are their gates, according to the wealth and blessedness of their calling. He would have us to have "gates" where "all choice fruits" are laid up for His delight.
This may be regarded as a climax of spiritual experience. The eighth chapter does not present any advance upon it; indeed, speaking generally the last chapter returns to expressions of desire rather than of present conscious satisfaction. This perhaps suggests that, whatever degree of intimacy may be enjoyed on favoured occasions when the Lord is pleased to manifest Himself to His lovers, there will be no complete relief from exercises of a varying character until He actually comes to receive us to Himself. Though access to the holiest may be known individually, and assembly privilege enjoyed collectively in a sweet sense of the Lord's presence and love, we have to return to the exercises of the wilderness life. Even after being caught up to paradise, Paul had to come down to bear the buffetings of a messenger of Satan, a thorn for the flesh to preserve him from undue exaltation. Different forms of humbling self-knowledge are necessary to the end of our course. Thus we learn grace in an ever deepening way. And there always remain with us exercises as to the state of our hearts; not always, perhaps, exercises of conscience as to wrong-doing, but exercises of affection as to whether we are answering loyally to the love of Christ, and yielding Him all that His love desires. To know the sweet intimacies which we have seen portrayed in this book only intensifies such exercises. His service, His testimony, all that has been entrusted to us of His interests, requires a devotion that can only be maintained as desire and purpose are preserved unflagging in our affections. I believe it is in this connection, and to this end, the last chapter comes in.
There is not in the first four verses of this chapter the same sense of nearness and intimacy in the language of the spouse. There is intense desire for the Beloved, and to be on terms of intimate affection with Him, but no present conscious possession. She speaks of what she would do if she had opportunity. The very fact that she wishes He were near of kin to her indicates some sense of disparity, and this we find is particularly in her consciousness as something which might be observed by others. "They would not despise me". It does not occur to her that He would despise her, but the sense that others might is upon her spirit as a cloud. I do not think this is an uncommon exercise in regard to the liberty which love would desire to enjoy. I believe that if our walk and spirit have not been what we feel they ought to have been there is often a feeling that in the eyes of others we are not entitled to be in nearness of intimacy with Him. This is a humbling experience, but there is a blessing in it if the exercise be fully faced. If I have manifested something that was unworthy of Christ I can free myself righteously from it by acknowledgement. There would be much more liberty for spiritual intercourse in Christian families, and amongst believers generally, if there were greater readiness to confess faults. The pride of the flesh thinks this would lower us, but it would really greatly exalt us in the esteem of our friends and brethren. We all know it to be so. If anyone has had grace enough to confess a fault to us we know that that person has been elevated morally in our regard. Let us ever remember this, if we are tempted to withhold an acknowledgement which is not only righteously due, but which is needed to set our own spirits free from a hampering weight.
But what is suggested by the scriptures before us is that a consciousness that others might despise us may become a restraint on our own liberty in affection with the Lord. Now how is the restraint to be removed? How are we to retain, or regain, freedom with Him? I believe it is by returning to a sense that our title to be free in the liberty of love lies purely in the grace and calling of God. Apart from this we have no title whatever. We have to recognise afresh the first principles of our origin in relation to Christ. We never possessed Him, nor did He possess us, on any other ground than divine grace and calling. It was never a question of our having any title according to the flesh, or that our place and relations were conditional on our good behaviour. We came to be of Christ and in Christ by divine grace and calling, and we became the subjects of divine working that we might learn our own nothingness, and the preciousness of Christ, and have no confidence whatever in the flesh. Now the loss of liberty always implies some departure from the sense of grace, and of the sovereignty of the love that has blessed us. Recovered liberty is brought about by self-judgment and by a return to grace. The Lord has really come in on the line of grace to take up all that existed on our side and to remove it by His death. All that the Spouse longs for in verse 1 has been realised in Christ; He has come in grace into the nearest relation to us in taking up the whole question of our guilt and state as in Adam that we might be blessed through Him and in Him according to grace.
So the spouse would lead Him and bring Him into her mother's house, and her mother would instruct her (verse 2). Our mother is Jerusalem above (Galatians 4:26); she is the heavenly system of pure grace. It is as being children of the free-woman that we are free. We appropriate Christ, and are free to love Him and to enjoy His love, not as being able to establish any title in ourselves but as being brought into being by pure grace. We are not the children of a system which recognises anything that is of the flesh. All that she recognises is the fruit of promise; that is, it has come in on God's part and is altogether of Him according to grace. All now is "according to Spirit", we derive nothing from flesh or from law. We have no title, and we need no title, in a natural way. All is of grace. The only thing on our side is that we have turned to God, and this was brought about by His grace. But when a sinner turns to God what he gets entirely depends on what God is pleased to give, and He is pleased to give Christ, and to set up the soul eternally in Christ. The divine giving is unimpaired and undiminished after nineteen centuries of church failure. We learn that all is of grace in Galatians, and we learn it, too, in a marvellous way in Ephesians. This is the teaching of our mother. "She would instruct me" (margin) would seem to be the right reading.
The very feeling that there is that in us which might be despised -- we might say which ought to be despised -- when taken up in divine exercise leads to deepened self-judgment and to our turning more entirely to what is of God in Christ. The self that has been condemned in the cross has to go out altogether. This is the instruction of our mother. Christ has come to our side at the cross, that we might be crucified with Him, and that we might be suitable to Him as a new creation in Christ Jesus. "Christ has set us free in freedom; stand fast therefore" (Galatians 5:1).
The spouse can say, in verses 2, 3, what she would do if she were free. She would minister to His pleasure and be consciously in His embrace, and she would desire that nothing should disturb the restfulness of his love. But it is to be noticed that all this is in the form of desire or anticipation rather than present experience. An immense amount of true and pious exercise has this character. Perhaps most of us know much better what it is to have spiritual desires after Christ than we know what it is to reach experimentally their full satisfaction! And a great instruction lies in the fact that in verse 6 the spouse is seen coming up from the wilderness, "leaning upon her beloved", It is not explained how she found Him, but she comes to view -- we might say suddenly -- in an altogether new character as finding all her support in Him.
The secret of liberty and power lies in being altogether cast upon the grace and support that are to be found in Another. We need a living Person with divine ability to succour and sustain us, and whose love makes Him willing that we should lean wholly upon Him. The wilderness is the place where we are tested and disciplined by the ways of God with us, and where we learn our weakness and the perversity of the flesh. But we also learn dependence there and the grace of the priesthood of Christ. So that we can come up from the wilderness as expressing how our weakness leans on the support of our Beloved. Then the grace and power of Christ come into evidence, though our weakness is so great that we could not take one upward step without Him.
The priestly support of Christ and the power of the Spirit go together. As leaning on our Beloved we walk in the Spirit and do not give place to the flesh. It is a continual exercise to maintain this habit of soul -- to walk step by step in the Spirit. The Lord would encourage us in a sense of grace to lean upon Him, so that we may not only be freed from fleshly workings but able to move up from the wilderness into the sphere of divine pleasure. In verse 13 the Beloved can address His spouse as dwelling "in the gardens". In "the wilderness" we are the subjects of the ways of God, but in "the gardens" we are in the region of divine pleasure. By the support of Christ we can come up from all the exercises of the wilderness to know our place according to divine calling, and according to the purpose of infinite love that chose us in Christ before the world's foundation.
The exercises of the wilderness are all for profit. Whether it be trial in circumstances, bodily affliction, bereavement, or trials among the brethren, they all come in the ways of God with us, and there is instruction in them all. To go through them with God means that we shall gain something that will be substance and joy in our souls forever. So that when we come up from the wilderness we do not merely get out of its testings but we carry with us positive gain acquired there to God's glory and praise. When a saint departs to be with Christ he leaves the wilderness behind for ever, but he takes with him all the spiritual gain which he acquired through exercise while a subject of the ways of God in the wilderness.
But it is possible to come up out of the wilderness in spirit, as leaning upon our Beloved, before we actually go out of it by leaving this scene. The Lord's presence in the midst of the assembly is something quite outside wilderness exercises. If He brings us as His associates, His brethren, into the presence of His Father and His God, now made known to us as our Father and our God, we are, at such a moment, outside the wilderness. Our Beloved supports us so that we may come up with Him into a region which is peculiarly His own, but which is now ours through grace. But in coming there we bring with us all that we have gained spiritually through the exercises of the wilderness. Whatever knowledge of God and of Christ we have acquired as subjects of the ways of God in wilderness conditions will blend eternally with what we enjoy as the fruit of His purposes of love.
We eat the Lord's supper in the wilderness, but this is that He may come to us, and lead us in company with Himself to God, even the Father. He would have us to enjoy, even while here, our place of association with Him outside all that pertains to the wilderness. But we only reach this as we get His priestly support.
It is rather striking that the explanation of how the spouse came into being is reserved until the last chapter. "I awoke thee under the apple tree: there thy mother brought thee forth; there she brought thee forth that bore thee" (verse 5). The Beloved now reminds her of her origin, and it is important that we should take right account of this. In the early stages of our spiritual history we are conscious of certain experiences, but we have no clear understanding of how entirely we are indebted to grace for every spiritual movement in our souls. A young convert may think that things began on his side, but after a time he comes to see that all was of God from the very beginning. That is so as to new birth, which is the starting point of all spiritual exercise; it is a sovereign movement which results in conviction of sin, repentance, and turning to God.
But our spiritual origin as presented in the verse before us is not exactly new birth or conversion. The thought here is not quite that we are begotten of God, though that is, of course, true, but that we have been brought forth by a mother. We need to understand this. Paul speaks in Galatians 4 of two mothers, one a maid-servant and the other a free woman, and he shews that these two mothers represent two systems, one marked by bondage and the other by liberty. One is the legal system connected with Sinai; the other is a spiritual system of grace and liberty which is spoken of as "Jerusalem above"; and Paul says of the latter, "which is our mother". And he adds further, "So then, brethren, we are not maid-servants' children, but children of the free woman" (Galatians 4:22-31).
The legal system could never bring forth the spouse; it could not minister the love of Christ, nor could it, form affections responsive in liberty to Christ. It needed an altogether different mother to bring about such a result, and that mother is "Jerusalem above". "Jerusalem which is now" which "is in bondage with her children" represents earthly religion, which can be taken up by man in the flesh, but which only results in bondage, for the man who takes it up can never answer to the claims which it makes upon him. But "Jerusalem above" is a new and heavenly metropolis; it represents all that is the fruit of divine promise, all that has come in as being purely of God in His grace, and all that is "according to Spirit" in contrast with what is "according to flesh". It is a free city, and its children are free-born. "Christ has set us free in freedom; stand fast therefore, and be not held again in a yoke of bondage" (Galatians 5:1).
When we turn to God we find that He is prepared to do everything for us, to forgive our sins, to give us Christ as our righteousness, and His Holy Spirit to seal and indwell us. There is a blessed system of grace, comprising all that God has ever committed Himself to in promise, and which has all taken form now in a risen and glorified Christ. And the Spirit is now given to those who believe, so that He may be counted on and not the flesh. The system which is characterised by all this is our mother. Everything which forms our thoughts, desires, affections, is of God and of grace; we are brought forth under the influence of a system which confers infinite and everlasting good. The knowledge of what God bestows in grace and love is the basis in our souls of the affections which characterise the spouse.
Our mother brought us forth "under the apple tree", and the Beloved awoke us there. "The apple tree" is undoubtedly a figure of Christ. See chapter 2: 3. As brought forth by our mother, and awakened by Christ, we find ourselves under His shadow. That is, we realise that as to all our relations with God, and God's relations with us in grace, it is no question at all of what came in by Adam, but of what has come in by Christ. What an awakening for the soul, when it realises for the first time that God has intervened, and has brought in a new Head for men, who is not the source of death and condemnation but who is a Tree of life! Everything in the history of the world is as nothing compared with the coming in of Christ, and with what was secured thereby through His death. And all that came in subsists in Him; it is no question now of what ought to be, but of what is. Every thought of God in blessing for us is set forth in Christ. But we only realise it as "brought forth", and divinely awakened. As natural men we do not appreciate Christ; if we did, it would prove that we were not fallen, but that even by nature we could value what was of God. It is as those "brought forth" and awakened that we realise the blessedness of Christ. "The law was given by Moses: grace and truth subsists through Jesus Christ" (John 1:17). It not only came in in perfection, but it subsists in perfection, and we have nothing outside Christ. "Of his fulness we all have received, and grace upon grace". How happy it is, and how glorifying to God, to know that He has brought in every blessing for us from His own side in the free and sovereign action of His love, and He has secured it all in Christ, and now we are divinely awakened to see it, and to praise Him for it!
When this liberty is known the heart is free to engage itself with the love of Christ, and verses 6, 7, develop the appreciation of that love. It is a necessity to the heart that loves Christ to be assured of a permanent place in the affections of the Beloved. Nothing could be more destructive of all true Christian affection than any degree of uncertainty as to our place in the love of Christ.A seal upon His heart and arm is a permanent pledge of love and service, and nothing less than this will satisfy the spouse. She is conscious that the seal which will secure her permanently must be on His heart and arm. If all the relations between Him and His loved ones began on His side, as they surely did, they must subsist and be maintained in the faithfulness of His love. "Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you". And nothing can separate us from the love of Christ.
The Spirit is a divine seal upon us, indicating that we are secured for God eternally, but here the spouse will not be content without knowing that she is set as a seal upon the heart and arm of her Beloved. There is a sense in her heart that if He sets her there her place is secured in His affections and service eternally. She counts upon the fidelity of His love to do this, as knowing that His love has already met all the power of death. "For love is strong as death". "No one has greater love than this, that one should lay down his life for his friends". And the Son of God has done this.His love is of such a character that it would go through everything, even death itself. He will never cease to love us and serve us; our names are upon His heart and on His shoulder even as the names of the tribes were in the breast-plate and on the shoulders of the high priest. Each name was "engraved as a seal" (Exodus 28:21). How plainly does it suggest the thought of indelibility! Nothing can ever remove the saints from their permanent place as objects of the love and service of Christ. How the sense of this binds up our affections with Him!
"Love is strong as death" would, I think, set forth how firmly He holds His loved ones. Death holds those who come into its embrace with a grip which will not yield to any creature power. And the love of Christ will never relax its hold upon those whom the Father has given to Him. (See John 10:27-29).
Then jealousy, as known in Christ, is very wondrous. Such is the intensity of His love that any thought of a rival which would steal our hearts away from Him is intolerable to Him. How hateful to Him is every influence that corrupts the affections of those who are espoused as a chaste virgin to Him! (2 Corinthians 11:1-3). His exhortations, warnings, convictings, and discipline all express the jealousy of His love. It comes out in innumerable dealings which are sometimes of a very searching character. "Flashes of fire, flames of Jah", remind us that the chapter in the New Testament which speaks much of divine chastening ends with the solemn statement, "For also our God is a consuming fire" (Hebrews 12). But there is ever behind all the divine ways, however searching and severe they may be, the burning power of an unquenchable love. That love is against all the influences that tend to divert us; it ever acts to consume and destroy them; but this is to liberate us from their power, that we may enjoy, and respond to, the love of Christ.
"Many waters cannot quench love, neither do the -- floods drown it". Divine love is superior to the most adverse influences. Nothing that men or Satan can do can overcome it. Think of the history of the church -- the history even of true believers! Even in the Lord's loved disciples when He was here there was unbelief, self-seeking, and self-confidence, but His love burned on; it could not be quenched. There has been much in every one of us that would have quenched any other love but His. But it is unquenchable and eternal, and He loves us with the same intensity this minute as when He gave Himself for us upon the cross. Blessed be His Name!
We need to think much of the intensely personal character of the love of the Son of God. No giving of substance could really either express or procure love. "Even if a man gave all the substance of his house for love, it would utterly be contemned". There must be in some way the giving of the person himself, the disclosure of his own heart, to truly win the affections of another. And this has been done in the fullest way, in the highest degree, by the Son of God. "The Son of God, who has loved me and given himself for me" (Galatians 2:20). "Hereby we have known love, because he has laid down his life for us" (1 John 3:16). We were individually in His heart when He was upon the cross. There is a general aspect of His death, in which He died for all, and gave Himself a ransom for all. But when we think of the elect -- of those given to Him by the Father -- there was something directly personal about His giving Himself. It was for each one individually; each believer can say, "Who has loved me". He has given far more than "the substance of his house"; 'He has given' Himself. Anything short of this would have been inadequate to express His love, or to procure love for Him. As we realise that we are thus personally loved by the Son of God, we must love Him. His giving of Himself cannot be "contemned" by any heart that really knows it. If we retired more into the contemplation of His personal love to us, and the self-sacrifice to which it moved Him, it would have a marvellous effect upon us. He would have us to think of it, to cherish it, as a precious and personal reality. This would form affections suitable to His spouse.
Verse 8 introduces "a little sister". This is no doubt a reference to Israel as being, as yet, diminutive in stature and undeveloped in affection for the Messiah. But we might not have to go far to find believers whose state corresponds more with that of the "little sister" than it does with that of the spouse. We noticed in the previous chapter that the stature of the spouse is compared with a palm-tree, and in verse 10 of this chapter she says, "My breasts like towers". She is viewed as having come to full stature, and as having affections completely developed. But the "little sister" -- though recognised as the subject of divine working, and thus morally kindred with the spouse -- is little in stature, and unformed in her affections. It is to be feared that many are in this case today, and this makes the question "What shall we do for our sister"; a very important and urgent one. How is this condition to be remedied?
We are taught here that the development of spiritual affections can only be brought about by the addition to the soul of that which has spiritual value. It does no good to tell people that they ought to have breasts if they have none. Something must be added to them. This is suggested by the "turret of silver" and the "boards of cedar" (verse 9). Paul laboured to add what was of divine value to the saints (Romans 1:11; 1 Corinthians 2:13; Colossians 1:24; Ephesians 2:3; Ephesians 3:1-12; 1 Thessalonians 3:10; Hebrews 6:1).
"If she be a wall" suggests that those represented by the "little sister" are marked, at any rate, by features of separation from the world, and by making some stand against the evil which surrounds them. Such features mark all those who are the subjects of a work of God; but there may be this without "breasts"; that is to say, spiritual affections may not yet be formed. To be "a wall" is good; it is ever necessary; it marks, in a very distinctive way, the holy city of Revelation 21. But though the city has "a great and high wall" she has other features also; she is "the bride, the Lamb's wife", which indicates that she is formed in the affections suitable to that relationship. Now these are lacking in the verse before us, and the Spirit suggests how the defect may be remedied.
"We will build upon her a turret of silver". Being "a wall" conveys the thought that the fear of God has place in the soul, leading to separation from what is evil. But this is not sufficient. It is needful that there should be added the knowledge of the very precious character which attaches to saints as set up in the grace of redemption. If spiritual affections are not developed it will be found that souls need to have added to them a sense of how they have been secured for the pleasure of God through what has been wrought by the Lord Jesus Christ. "A turret of silver" is not a foundation, like the silver sockets under the boards of the tabernacle, but it is an elevated and conspicuous feature. It implies that the "little sister" will be enriched with a precious sense of all the divine favour that rests upon her as redeemed. Redemption was a very precious thought in the history of Israel (Exodus 15:13). The "right of redemption" was brought out in a typical way in Leviticus 25:25-34), and illustrated beautifully in the history of Ruth. And in a coming day Israel, who has forfeited everything, will be brought back into fullest blessing as the redeemed of Jehovah. I think it will be found that there are more references to redemption in the book of Isaiah than in any other book of the Bible. God will make Israel conspicuous in the earth as a redeemed people, and they will be divinely taught that they owe it all to what was wrought by their rejected Messiah when He went into death for them. This will make Him very precious in their sight; affection for Him will be developed in them. The prophecy of Isaiah, when taken up in faith by Israel in the day when her heart turns to the Lord, will build "a turret of silver" upon her. That will be "the day when she shall be spoken for" by the eternal Lover whom she has slighted so long.
But in the meantime the Spirit of God is adding to those who fear God amongst the Gentiles a blessed consciousness that they stand, through faith in Christ, in all the value of redemption. All has been effected at the cost of the blessed God and His beloved Son, "in whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of offences, according to the riches of his grace" (Ephesians 1:7). As redeemed we are set free from all vain religious observances or traditions (1 Peter 1:18-19). Christ has redeemed us out of the curse of the law; the blessing of Abraham has come to us in Christ Jesus, and we have received the promise of the Spirit through faith (Galatians 3:13-14). We are redeemed that we might receive sonship, and have the Spirit of God's Son in our hearts, crying, Abba, Father (Galatians 4:4-6). All this would answer, I think, to the "turret of silver", and it would be impossible to have this built upon us without having the effect of developing new and holy affections. Response to God and to Christ depends on our apprehension of how Divine Persons are toward us, and the ground on which we are with Them as having redemption in Christ. Nothing could really be more affecting to the heart.
"And if she be a door, we will enclose her with boards of cedar". Israel should have been, and is intended yet to be, a door by which men could enter into the knowledge of God. We know how miserably they failed to be this. Then Christ became the true Door (John 10), and by Him access to God, and to divine blessing, was possible in the fullest way. But God has not given up the thought of His people being also "a door" through which men may pass into the knowledge of Himself, They have that place as representing the God whom no one has seen at any time, but who abides in His children as loving one another (1 John 4:12).
But to be truly "a door" in this sense there must be features of spiritual adornment. There must be formation in the divine nature, and God's people must be beautified by being brought into correspondence with Himself, through having a more full and blessed knowledge of Him. In 1 Corinthians Paul had to say, "Some are ignorant of God: I speak to you as a matter of shame" (1 Corinthians 15:34). He had spoken to them in chapter 1 of their place in Christ Jesus, and in chapter 2 he had referred to the Holy Spirit as giving capacity to know the things which have been freely given to us of God. In this, and in the epistle generally, he had been building upon them "a turret of silver". But, recognising their deficiency in the knowledge of God, he writes a second epistle which might be regarded as enclosing them with "boards of cedar". The glory of the Lord as the Mediator of the new covenant is seen to be a transforming power, and the thought of new creation being brought in, as connected with being in Christ, introduces a region where all things are of God. The saints are not only to know the blessedness of their place as having redemption in Christ Jesus, but they are to be beautified, so that the knowledge of God may be more fully set forth in them.
Moses prayed, "Let the beauty of Jehovah our God be upon us" (Psalm 90:17), and the prophets contain many declarations of how God will beautify His people. "Boards of cedar" suggest ornamentation and attractiveness. Through the knowledge of redemption God lays a basis of righteousness in the souls of His people. They learn His righteousness through redemption, and there is a moral formation in their souls accompanying this, so that they become ashamed of things which they once took pleasure in. As under grace the work is always progressing so that we should all probably feel very sorry to do now what we did with a good conscience a few years ago. The putting off the old man and putting on the new, "which according to God is created in truthful righteousness and holiness", is the basis of this, like the stone in Solomon's temple. But then the atone was covered with cedar, indicating the addition of features which are spiritually beautiful. The saints are beautified as such features appear in them as are seen in Romans 12:1; 1 Corinthians 13; and Colossians 3:12-15). There we see what answers to "boards of cedar".
We have referred to the prophecy of Isaiah as presenting what corresponds with "a turret of silver". And I think we can also see in that book how God intends to beautify His people. See chapter 4: 2, 3; 28: 5; 35: 2; 41: 19, 20; 60: 1 - 3. When Jehovah's glory is seen on His people they will be truly adorned with that which, like the cedar, comes from a higher region. And as we increase in the knowledge of God, spiritual affections are developed. We could not "grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ", without "breasts" being formed.
"Yet sure, if in Thy presence
My soul still constant were,
Mine eye would, more familiar,
Its brighter glories bear.
And thus Thy deep perfections
Much better should I know,
And with adoring fervour
In this Thy nature grow".
In verse 10 the spouse is able to say, "I am a wall, and my breasts like towers". She can secure all that is of God in holy separation, and along with that her affections are fully developed. "Then was I in his eyes as one that findeth peace". She is conscious that He is entirely complacent in her; there is no adverse element present.
In verses 11, 12 the thought of "a vineyard" is introduced, and this brings in the subject of responsible service. This subject does not take a prominent place in this book, but it is not altogether omitted, because true affection for the Lord will always bear it in mind. The book is almost entirely taken up with what the Lord is to us, and what we are to Him. But when this is known and answered to there will be the desire to serve Him, to do something for Him. And He is seen here as the true Solomon who has a vineyard at Baal-hamon, which means, "Master of a multitude". It suggests the sphere of His Lordship in the kingdom, and the multitude of individuals who are His responsible servants under His authority there. So that this is not quite the same thought as the spouse, though we shall see her attitude in relation to it in verse 12. But this is a vineyard let out to keepers, for which everyone has to bring a thousand silver-pieces. There is in the kingdom an allotted service for each one, and a prescribed return for each one to make to the Master of the vineyard. I take it that "a thousand silver-pieces" represent a full return according to Solomon's expectations and His due. It is not left open here for each one to bring according to his ability or his diligence, as in the parables of the talents and the pounds (Matthew 25 and Luke 19). Here it is the full and prescribed return which will be brought when Christ is truly owned as Master. If you and I take up our allotted place in His vineyard, and serve Him there normally, just as we are responsible to serve Him, we shall get a full portion of "the fruit thereof", and He will get "a thousand silver-pieces" from each of us. One may be called to preach, another to lie on a sick bed, but each has his bit of the vineyard to cultivate, and if each fulfils the allotted service, each will enjoy the fruit, and each will bring "a thousand silver-pieces". Both the keepers and the Master will have a full portion. The great thing is to allow the Master to have His place and way with each of us, and to remember that we are keepers of His vineyard. Whether individually, or in our homes, or in business, or in the meetings, we are always under responsibility to serve Him. And in doing so we gather much fruit, and are able to bring what is due to Him. The knowledge of God in grace is committed to us, that we may cultivate it, and secure the fruit of it for our joy, so that in result there may be a return for Him who brought it to us.
Then the spouse also has a vineyard (verse 12) which is before her; that is, it is the object of her attention. And on her part, out of her own free affection, she dedicates to Solomon a thousand silver-pieces from her vineyard. Her affections are equal to His claim. If He claims a thousand from His vineyard He shall not have one less from hers. Here we see love equal to responsibility -- a truly happy state of things! If our hearts know how to take up all that appeals to affection in this wonderful part of Scripture we shall become witnesses to the fact that love is very practical. Love alone will yield in the place of responsibility all that is due, but will yield it not simply because it is due, but because of the pleasure love finds in yielding it. This seems to be the force of the spouse saying, "The thousand silver-pieces be to thee, Solomon". Affection dedicates to Him a full return, so that He can receive it, not merely as being due, but as being gladly and freely accorded to Him by the love of His spouse. We see here how everything that pertains to responsibility can be rendered in the affections of the bride. So that service in the sphere of responsibility can be carried on as blended with bridal affection. May we know more what it is to take up things in this way!
Then the spouse recognises, too, the principle that obtains in the kingdom of recompense for labour. "And to the keepers of its fruit, two hundred". Nothing is more plainly set forth in Scripture than the fact that all labour will have its sure and frill reward. No one ever did anything in faithfulness to the Lord who will not receive full recompense. In a spiritual sense the recompense is given now; in a public sense it will be given at the judgment seat of Christ. And even recompense will be awarded on the principle of grace. I believe everyone who receives a reward will be conscious that he receives far more than he deserved. The spouse, it seems to me, has entered into this in declaring that the keepers would receive "two hundred". In verse 11 there is nothing about the keepers getting anything except the fruit. There it is a question of an assigned responsibility and a prescribed return. But in verse 12 it is what the spouse dedicates in love, and its being enlarged herself she can enter into the largeness of divine thoughts even as to recompense. "And then shall each have his praise from God" (1 Corinthians 4:15). It will go beyond what is due, and it is the pleasure of God that it should do so.
Then the closing verses return to the personal relations of the spouse and the Beloved. She now dwells "in the gardens". No longer in the wilderness, she is in the place of privilege and pleasure.The companions hearken to her voice; Hr would hear it also. That is important, as being His final word to the object of His love. We may have a pleasant dwelling; and we may say much that the brethren hear, but how much do we say that is directly and personally said to Him, so that He can hear it as something that was meant for Him alone? It is a final word to remind His spouse that her chief concern should be to speak to HIM in accents of personal love. I am sure we need this word. Personal intercourse with Him is perhaps more lacking than anything else. But He longs for it more than for anything else. He would like to have an expression of love from us that is purely for Himself.
He gets it in the last verse. She calls Him to "Haste"! He is absent as yet; but she longs for His presence. It is the Old Testament counterpart to, "And the Spirit and the bride say, Come". She would have Him to come quickly, to remove the desert conditions that have so long prevailed. She knows that the result of His coming will be to change this sin-blighted scene of thorns and briars so that everything will be fragrant beneath His feet. The earth will be for the pleasure of its Creator, and rich odours will be wafted from "the mountains of spices". It is the millennial prospect, as longed for by the bride of the Lamb -- Himself its glory and its crown, as He is already hers. This precious book leaves upon our hearts, as a final impression, that the Lord is coming. The divine intent of the book is that our hearts should be prepared to bid Him "Haste"! He has said, "Yea, I come quickly". May we truly say, "Amen; come, Lord Jesus"!