SPIRITUAL SLOTH REPROVED
Song of Solomon 5:2-8. I sleep, but my heart waketh: it is the voice of my beloved that knocketh, saying, Open to me my sitter, my love, my dove, my undefiled: for my head is filled with dew, and my locks with the drops of the night. I have put off my coat; how shall I put it on! I have washed my feet; how shall I defile them? My beloved put in his hand by the hole of the door, and my bowels were moved for him. I rose up to open to my beloved; and my hands dropped with myrrh, and my fingers with sweet-smelling myrrh, upon the handles of the lock. I opened to my beloved; but my beloved had withdrawn himself, and was gone: my soul failed when he spake; I sought him, but I could not find him; I called him, but he gave me no answer. The watchmen that went about the city found me, they smote me, they wounded me; the keepers of the walls took away my veil from me. I charge you, O daughters of Jerusalem, if ye find my beloved, that ye tell him, that I am sick of love.
TWO things we should guard against in reading the Song of Solomon: namely, the laying an undue stress on particular words, and the dwelling too minutely on particular circumstances. There is a latitude due to the very species of composition, that may well exempt it from severe criticism, and from an over-strained application of its several parts. No one can have ever read the Holy Scriptures without seeing many expressions, which modern delicacy and refinement constrain us to pass over, as offensive to our ears. These expressions occur both in the Law and in the Prophets; and therefore we cannot wonder if they occur in a composition intended to exhibit the mutual love subsisting between Christ and his Church, and shadowing it forth under the most delicate of all images, the mutual regards of a bridegroom and his bride. Allowance must be made for the customs of different nations: a thing may not be at all improper in one age or country, which in another age and country would be highly indecorous, as not being sanctioned by common usage. Besides, there are many customs which obtained in the days of Solomon, which, if they were known to us, would reflect light on many parts of this poem, which are involved in obscurity because we want the key to the explanation of them. Even what we do know must be touched upon with the greatest delicacy, lest what was written only for the inflaming of our spiritual affections, should become rather an occasion of evil. The true way to profit by this book is to take the general scope of it, rather than its particular images, as the subjects for our reflection. And, if we attend to this rule, we shall find the passage which we have now read, replete with instruction. It informs us of the reproof which the Bride received, for the indifference with which on one occasion she treated her beloved.
Let us distinctly notice,
I. The indolence she indulged—
She was in a state, not of absolute sleep, like the ungodly world, but of slumber, half asleep, and half awake; “I sleep, but my heart waketh.”
Moreover, when her beloved came to hold communion with her, she was inattentive to his voice: yea, notwithstanding he addressed her in terms of most endeared affection, and complained of the inconvenience he had sustained through her unwatchfulness, she still gave but little heed to his voice. In hot countries, “the night dews” are not only strong, but often very injurious to those who are exposed to them: yet even this consideration did not operate to produce in her that activity which the occasion required.
Instead of rising at his call, she urged vain and foolish excuses to justify her neglect: and in fact told him, that his visit at that time was unacceptable. These excuses were only a cloak for her own sloth and self-indulgence: had her graces been in lively exercise, the obstacles she complained of would have vanished in an instant. This conduct gives a striking picture of what too generally obtains amongst ourselves: it shews,
1. Our slothful habits—
[There is in the very best of men “the flesh yet lusting against the Spirit, as well as the Spirit striving against the flesh, so that they cannot do the things they would [Note: Galatians 5:17.].” Even St. Paul complained, that, whilst with his mind he served the law of God, with his flesh he was still in some measure subjected to the law of sin, not indeed as a willing servant, but as a captive, who in vain sought a perfect deliverance from that detested enemy [Note: Romans 7:14; Romans 7:18; Romans 7:22-23.]. True indeed, where due vigilance is kept up, “the old man” cannot gain any permanent advantage: but even when “the spirit is willing, the flesh is too often weak;” and all in some degree find, that “when they would do good, evil is present with them.” It is indeed greatly to be lamented, that “the Wise Virgins” should ever so resemble the Foolish Virgins, as to “slumber and sleep” like them: but so, alas! it is: and when, by reason of our failures, we are ready to complain, “Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of the Lord!” we need the rebuke which was given to that petition, “Awake, awake, stand up, O Jerusalem, and put on thy strength, O Zion [Note: Isaiah 51:9; Isaiah 51:17; Isaiah 52:1.]!”]
2. Our insensibility to the kindness of our beloved—
[How inexpressibly tender are his addresses to us! See the invitations, the entreaties, the expostulations that pervade every part of the sacred volume; and say whether they be not sufficient to melt the most obdurate heart! “Behold, I stand at the door and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and sup with him, and he with me [Note: Revelation 3:20.].” Yet how long does he stand and knock in vain! His pleadings too, how kind, how gracious, how forcible they are! “Have I been a wilderness to Israel? Wherefore say my people, we will come no more unto thee [Note: Jeremiah 2:31.]?” “Turn ye unto me; for I have redeemed you: I am even married unto you [Note: Jeremiah 3:12; Jeremiah 3:14.]:” “Turn ye, turn ye; why will ye die, O House of Israel?” But all his expostulations have been to no purpose with respect to the generality; and even on the best they are far from operating to the extent they ought. St. Paul could say, “The love of Christ constraineth us,” or carries us away like a mighty torrent: but how many are the seasons when his attractions are not so felt by us, and when, instead of regarding him as “the chiefest among ten thousand,” we see scarcely any “beauty or comeliness in him for which he is to be desired!”]
3. Our vain excuses with which we cloke our sins—
[Something arising out of our present circumstances we are ready to plead in extenuation at least, if not in excuse, for our sloth. But, if we would deal faithfully with ourselves, we should see that all our pleas are a mere cloak for self-indulgence: we are called to “crucify the flesh with the affections and lusts,” but we do not like self-denial: to “mortify our earthly members” is a work in which we cannot bear to engage: the “cutting off a right hand, and plucking out a right eye” is so painful to us, that we cannot be prevailed upon to put forth the resolution it requires. We promise ourselves a “more convenient season,” which in too many instances never comes at all. Like those in the parable, we find some reason for declining the invitations sent us, and return for answer, “I pray thee have me excused” — — —]
A due consideration of her fault will prepare our minds for,
The reproof she met with—
At last, beginning to see her error, she rose to open to her beloved: and with such ardour of affection did she open to him, that “myrrh dropped, as it were, from her hands upon the handle of the lock.” But behold, he was gone; and though she sought him, she could not find him; and though she called after him, he gave her no answer. The watchmen too reproved her with great severity, as questioning even the sincerity of one who could so treat the beloved of her soul. And such reproof must we all expect, if we give way to sloth instead of watching unto prayer. We must expect,
1. That he will depart from us—
[Verily he is “a God who hideth himself,” a holy and a jealous God, that will make us to “eat of the fruit of our own ways, and to be filled with our own devices.” He has warned us not to “grieve his Holy Spirit,” lest he depart from us. I “will go and return to my place,” says he, “till they acknowledge their offence [Note: Hosea 5:15.].” And oh! how painful are the seasons when he withdraws from us, and leaves our souls in darkness! Even he himself, when for our sins he was deserted of his God, how bitterly did he cry; “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” O that we may never provoke him to put that cup into our hands! How distressing will it be to be reduced to any measure of that experience which Christ endured for us; “O my God, why art thou so far from helping me, and from the voice of my roaring? I cry in the day time, but thou hearest not; and in the night season, and am not silent [Note: Matthew 22:1-2.]!” See David in this predicament [Note: Psalms 42:3; Psalms 77:6-9.] — — —, and “let us be instructed, lest we provoke him to depart from us also.”]
2. That the word and ordinances shall he unproductive of any solid comfort to us—
[The “Watchmen” are the ministers, whose office is not only to instruct and comfort, but also to warn and “rebuke with all authority.” True it is, they may be too hasty and severe in their reproofs; and may by such indiscreet zeal make the heart of the righteous sad, when they should rather bind up the broken heart, and heal the wounded spirit. But it is possible also, that they may be too lenient, and “speak peace to persons when there is no peace.” But where there is no fault in their ministrations, God may make their word as a sword, to enter into the very bones of those who hear it, and to cut them to the heart. Even the promises, when held forth in all their fulness and all their freeness, may afford no comfort to the soul of one who is under the hidings of God’s face; but may add tenfold poignancy to all his griefs. How unhappy was the state of David, when even the thought of God himself was a source of sorrow and despondency, rather than of joy and peace! “He remembered God, and was troubled; and his soul refused comfort.” In like manner, all the wonders of redeeming love may be made a source of the deepest anguish to our souls, by the apprehension that we have no part or lot in them. If then we would not bring these heavy judgments on our souls, let us “seek the Lord while he may be found, and call upon him while he is near.”]
Those who yet enjoy the light of God’s countenance—
[Happy, happy are ye, in the possession of this rich mercy: Surely such a state is a foretaste of heaven itself. But do not presume upon it. Do not say, “My mountain stands strong; I shall never be moved;” lest ye cause God to “hide his face from you, and ye be troubled.” “Be not high-minded; but fear.” Keep upon your watch-tower: “let your loins be girt, and your lamps trimmed;” and watch every moment for the coming of your Lord. “Blessed is that servant, whom his Lord, when he cometh, shall find so doing.”]
2. Those who are under the hidings of their Redeemer’s face—
[If others are not to presume, so neither are you to despond. “If your sorrow endure for a night, there is joy awaiting you in the morning.” This do: imitate the Bride in the passage before us. She desired the prayers and intercessions of the saints, and entreated them, in their seasons of communion with their Lord, to plead her cause: “I charge you, when you shall see him, tell him that I am sick of love.” She felt no grief like the absence of her beloved; and could find comfort in nothing but the restoration of his love. Thus let your hearts be fixed on him; even on him only: and suffer nothing to weaken your regards to him. Never entertain hard thoughts of him. Take shame to yourselves, till ye even lothe yourselves in dust and ashes: but relax neither your love to him, nor your confidence in him. Say with yourselves, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him.” Then will he in due season return to your souls, so that “your light shall rise in obscurity, and your darkness be as the noon-day.” Only be content to “go on your way weeping, bearing the precious seed of penitence and faith; and you shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing your sheaves with you.”]
TRANSCENDENT EXCELLENCIES OF CHRIST
Song of Solomon 5:9. What is thy beloved more than another beloved, O thou fairest among women? What is thy beloved more than another beloved, that thou dost so charge us?
THOUGH zeal in every earthly pursuit is approved and commended, it is almost universally banished from the concerns of religion. The most temperate exertions are deemed excessive, and a moderate degree of solicitude is called enthusiasm. Even they who profess godliness are too often found ready to damp the ardour, which persons, more active than themselves, may at any time express. Thus the Bride was checked in her inquiries after her beloved. The “daughters of Jerusalem,” who keep up the dialogue with the Bride and Bridegroom, seem to be either formal professors of religion, or to have made a very small progress in the divine life. And they, when the Bride, under great trouble and anxiety, requested their intercession, reflected on her as manifesting an intemperate and needless zeal. But we will answer their questions, by shewing,
I. The excellencies of our Beloved—
Who the Beloved of the Church is, we need not declare; since it is too manifest to admit a doubt. There is not a member of that body who does not regard Jesus with supreme affection. Nor is there any apology needed for such a choice. His excellencies are exceeding great.
[In him are concentrated all the glories of the Godhead [Note: Colossians 2:9.]. Being the brightness of his Father’s glory, and the express image of his person, he must of necessity possess all the Divine perfections [Note: Hebrews 1:3.]. To search out these perfections is beyond the ability of any finite being [Note: Job 11:7.]; but to love and adore him on account of them is the duty and privilege of all his people. The excellencies of his human nature may be more easily declared. There his glory is veiled, so that we may behold and contemplate it without being blinded by its overwhelming splendour. He was not only holy, but holiness itself, without spot or blemish. His most inveterate enemies, Satan himself not excepted, could not find a flaw in him [Note: John 8:46; John 14:30.], and God himself has borne testimony, that in him was no sin [Note: 1 John 3:5.]. As Mediator, he united both the Godhead and the Manhood in his own person, and executed an office which he alone was able to sustain. In that character we behold him reconciling God to man, and man to God [Note: 2 Corinthians 5:19.], yea, glorifying all the perfections of the Deity in the salvation of sinners [Note: Romans 3:25-26.]. Well may we, in this view of him, exclaim, “How great is his goodness, how great is his beauty [Note: Zechariah 9:17.]!”]
But the text requires us to speak of him in a comparative view—
[Surely there is no other object of affection in the universe worthy to be compared with him. In whom is there such a marvellous combination of excellencies? As God, as Man, and as Mediator, he not only unites in himself every perfection proper to the Divine and human nature, but exhibits a character peculiar to himself, a character that is and ever must be the admiration of the whole universe. In whom was there ever found any one excellence in so eminent a degree? There have been men wise, and virtuous and loving; but in him were hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge [Note: Colossians 2:3.]; and he was not only virtuous, but virtue itself incarnate; and as for his love, its heights and depths can never be explored [Note: Ephesians 3:18-19.]. Indeed, whatever excellence has at any time beamed forth in the creature, it has been nothing but a ray reflected from this Sun of Righteousness [Note: 1 Corinthians 4:7.]. We may ask yet further, Whose excellencies were ever so beneficial to us? Others indeed have profited us by their example; but He, by his obedience, has wrought out a righteousness for us; a righteousness wherein the vilest of sinners, if truly penitent, shall stand perfect and complete in the sight of God [Note: Romans 5:18-19.]. Let the contemptuous inquirer then blush for his ignorance; and acknowledge that our Beloved infinitely transcends every thing that can be put in competition with him.]
According to his excellencies must of necessity be,
The regard we owe him—
If we look to the example of the Bride, who well knew how to appreciate his worth, we shall see how we ought to manifest our affection towards him.
1. We should esteem him above every thing in the world—
[The Bride has used every simile that the most fertile imagination could suggest, in order to express her sense of his excellency [Note: Song of Solomon 2:3 and in ten different particulars, 5:10–16.]. David esteemed nothing in heaven or earth in comparison of him [Note: Psalms 73:25.]; and St. Paul counted all things but dung for the knowledge of him [Note: Philippians 3:8.]. And if we do not see a “beauty and comeliness in him for which he is to be desired” infinitely beyond every thing else, our eyes must be altogether blinded by the god of this world. Let us then despise every thing in comparison of him, and take him as our portion, our all in all.]
2. We should be exceeding careful that we do not grieve him—
[In this also the Bride affords us an excellent example. Frequently does she repeat her tender concern lest by any means he should be provoked to depart from her [Note: Song of Solomon 2:7; Song of Solomon 3:5; Song of Solomon 8:4.]. Such a holy caution also should we continually maintain. He is a holy and jealous God, and will not endure our neglects without manifesting his displeasure [Note: Isaiah 45:15.]. The Bride herself, notwithstanding her care in general, experienced the loss of his presence, when she became remiss [Note: Song of Solomon 5:3-6.]. And thus will he also hide himself from us, if by our unwatchfulness we grieve his Holy Spirit. Let us then “walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise.” Let us “look to him as our Guardian Angel, and beware of him, and obey his voice, and carefully abstain from every species of provocation [Note: Exodus 23:20-21.].”]
3. If at any time we have lost a sense of his presence, we should by all possible means immediately exert ourselves to regain it—
[With what contrition did the Bride arise! How did her very soul faint within her, when she found he was departed! With what earnestness did she call after him! How did she instantly inquire after him, applying to those who from their office and character were best fitted to direct her! How did she persist, notwithstanding all the discouragements she met with! And what a solemn charge did she give to her fellow-saints to intercede for her [Note: See each distinct step exemplified: Song of Solomon 5:5-8.]! Such should be our conduct under the hidings of his face. We should not sit down in despondency, but labour with more abundant diligence to obtain renewed expressions of his love and favour [Note: Hosea 5:15.]
4. If he vouchsafe to visit us again, we should feel ourselves completely happy in him, and yield up ourselves entirely to his will—
[No sooner were the Bride’s endeavours crowned with success, than she redoubled her efforts to retain and enjoy him [Note: Song of Solomon 3:2-4.], and earnestly sought to be most intimately, and inseparably united to him [Note: Song of Solomon 8:1-2; Song of Solomon 8:6.]. Thus should we seek to “abide in him, and to have him abiding in us [Note: John 15:4.].” We should “cleave to him with full purpose of heart,” and, in the possession of his love, our souls should find all that they can desire [Note: 2 Corinthians 6:10.]. Thrice happy they who are thus influenced by their views of Christ! Their “labour shall never be in vain.” They shall enjoy the greatest, the only real good, the light of his countenance [Note: Psalms 4:6.]; and though in a little wrath he may hide his face from them, it shall be only for a moment, and with everlasting kindness will he have mercy on them [Note: Isaiah 54:8.]
It may now be allowed us, not merely to exhort, but to “charge,” you all—
[In the name of Almighty God, we “charge” you all to love the Saviour. If the love which Believers bear to him constrains them to be singular, let it be remembered, that the blame of singularity does not rest on them: as they can “give a reason for the hope that is in them,” so can they also for their love to the Saviour. His transcendent excellencies demand their supreme regard. If they love him with all their heart and soul and mind and strength, it is no more than their bounden duty; yea, their most fervent affections fall infinitely short of his desert. Let all then set their love on Jesus. Let them search out his excellencies, till they are ravished with the sight, and let them “cast their idols to the moles and to the bats.” Nor let any be ashamed to confess him before men. It is a small matter to bear the taunts of an ignorant and ungodly world. One hour’s enjoyment of Christ’s presence will more than counterbalance an age of man’s contempt; and if on earth, how much more in heaven! Dare then to be singular. Shine, Believers, as becomes your relation to the heavenly Bridegroom. Be “the fairest among women,” as your Beloved is among men [Note: Psalms 45:2-13.]; and let your union with him be discovered by your conformity to his image.]
THE EXCELLENCY OF CHRIST
Song of Solomon 5:16. He is altogether lovely. This is my Beloved; and this is my Friend, O daughters of Jerusalem.
WITH many it is a matter of surprise, that truly converted Christians should manifest such zeal in prosecuting their own ways, and in commending religion to all around them. The world see no such excellency in Christ as the true believer does; and therefore, whilst they cannot but acknowledge the superiority of the Christian’s walk, they ask, in a tone of self-justifying confidence, “What is thy beloved more than another beloved, that thou dost so charge us [Note: ver. 9.]?” But, if they beheld the Saviour in his true character, so far would they be from wondering that his people loved and served him so ardently, that they would rather wonder at the coldness of their hearts towards him, and at the unprofitableness of their lives. To the above question the Church of old replies, in the words I have read to you: from which I shall take occasion to shew,
I. The excellency of Christ—
This is set forth in highly figurative language; agreeably to the tenour of the whole book, which abounds in allegory from beginning to end. The Church marks, under very sublime images, his beauty in every part—“his head, his locks, his eyes, his cheeks, his lips, his hands, his body, his legs, his countenance, his mouth;” and proclaims him, not only “the chiefest among ten thousand,” but “altogether lovely [Note: ver. 9–16.].” We will not attempt to follow the particular description here given; for we could never do justice to it. We will rather content ourselves with a general view of Christ, who is altogether lovely,
1. In his person—
[In himself he unites all the perfections of the Godhead, with every grace that can adorn humanity. “In him there was no spot or blemish;” insomuch that his bitterest enemies, after the severest possible scrutiny, were forced to confess, “We find in him no fault at all” — — —]
2. In his offices—
[These were altogether sustained for us, and executed for us; and they are precisely such as our necessities required. Did we need an atonement for our sins? He is our Great High Priest who offers that atonement; yea, and offers himself, too, as the sacrifice which alone was sufficient to expiate our guilt. Did we need to be instructed relative to the way in which alone God would accept a returning sinner? He became our Prophet, to make known to us the mind and will of God, and to reveal to us inwardly, by his Spirit, what he has outwardly proclaimed to us in his word. Did we need to be delivered from all our spiritual enemies? He yet further assumed the Kingly office, that he might rescue us from our bondage, and make us partakers with him of all the glory and felicity of heaven. It is not possible to find in man a want for which provision is not made in him, to the utmost extent of our necessities; and which he will not supply to all who call upon him — — —]
3. In all his intercourse with his people—
[O, who can conceive the extent of his condescension and grace? How ready is he, at all times, to “draw nigh to those who draw nigh to him;” to “manifest himself to them, as he does not unto the world;” and to impart to them all the consolation and strength which they look for at his hands! “In all the afflictions of his people he is himself afflicted;” and to such a degree is he “touched with the feeling of their infirmities,” that every trial of theirs is felt by him as his own. “Whosoever toucheth us, toucheth the apple of his eye.” In a word, there is no weakness which he will not succour: no want which he will not supply: nor shall there be any bounds to his communications, except what are fixed by our capacity to receive them — — —]
With this view of Christ’s excellency, it is impossible not to connect,
The blessedness of those who believe in him—
Between him and his believing people there is the closest union that can be imagined.
1. He stands pre-eminent in their regards—
[So says the Church; “This is my Beloved.” It is the Spouse that speaks; and here she claims him as her Divine Husband. Now, conceive a person excelling all others in every endowment, both of body and mind; conceive of whole nations acknowledging him as the Benefactor of the human race; and conceive of him as not only thus lauded for former benefits conferred, but as at the very time scattering in rich profusion all manner of blessings upon millions of mankind: I say, conceive that you behold such an one surrounded by applauding and adoring multitudes; and then think how happy that woman must be who can say, “This is my Beloved;” I have a right in him which no other human being has; all that he is, is mine; and all that he has, is mine. I say, my Brethren, that we cannot conceive of felicity on earth greater than hers. Yet, my Brethren, this is yours, if only you believe in Christ. He is your Beloved; and you may claim precisely the same interest in him as if there were not another, either in heaven or on earth, to claim it with you. What happiness, then, is there to be compared with yours; when it is not a mere man, however excellent, but your incarnate God himself, to whom you stand in this near, this glorious relation?]
2. You also stand high in his regards—
[Yes, the regard is mutual. You might possibly love one in whom there was not a reciprocal attachment. But it is not so in this case. He calls you “The dearly beloved of his soul [Note: Jeremiah 12:7.].” As surely therefore as you can say, “This is my Beloved,” you may add, with confidence, “This is my Friend.” Yes; Jesus himself says, “I call you not servants, but friends.” Nor can you imagine any act of friendship which he will not most gladly execute for you. “Abraham was the friend of God.” See, then, what God wrought for him! and know, that that, yea, and infinitely more, will the Lord Jesus Christ work for you in the time of your necessity. On every occasion will he come to you, to counsel you by his wisdom, to uphold you by his power, and to enrich you with his benefits. We are told. “There is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother:” verily, there is no brother in the universe, that will be so entirely at your command as he. Only apply to him, and spread your wants before him, and you shall never go empty away. On the contrary, “He will do exceeding abundantly for you, above all that you can ask or think.”]
Now then let me ask of you, my Brethren,
“What think ye of Christ?”
[This was a question which Christ himself put to his Disciples: and I now put it to you. You know what is said, “To them that believe, he is precious,” even preciousness itself. Is he viewed in this light by you? This will determine whether ye be true Believers, or not: for in every Believer, and in him exclusively, this grace is found. Verily, if you are really his, you will say, “Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire besides thee” — — — Your sublimest joy on earth must be to say, “My beloved is mine, and I am his [Note: Song of Solomon 2:16; Song of Solomon 6:3.].”]
2. How are you endeavouring to requite his love?
[If you love Christ, it must be not in word only, but in deed and in truth. Are you then living in the enjoyment of his presence? — — — Are you consecrating yourselves unreservedly to his service? — — — Above all, Are you seeking to grow up into his image, so that he may be as well satisfied with contemplating your relation to him, as you are in viewing his to you? See how, in the chapter before my text, Christ views his bride [Note: Song of Solomon 4:1.]: see how he views her with admiration, as it were, from head to foot [Note: Song of Solomon 4:2-6.]; and what a blessed testimony he bears respecting her [Note: Song of Solomon 4:7.]. Let it be your ambition so to walk before him, that he may testify the same of you; and that the union which has thus been commenced between you on earth, may be consummated in heaven for evermore.]