Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
Isaiah 65:24, "Before they call I will answer," etc. The soul hears the knock of Christ, opens the door, and at once he comes in (Revelation 3.). Cf. Jacob, "Surely the Lord was in this place, and I knew it not;" Mary Magdalene at the sepulchre: "She knew not that it was Jesus." In this verse we learn -
I. SUCH SOUL IS CHRIST'S GARDEN. For it has been chosen, separated, watered, cultivated, adorned, made fruitful.
II. IT HAS CHRIST'S PRESENCE AND IS HIS DELIGHT.
1. The aspirations of such soul proves his presence. They are his footprints, though not perceived to be so. Cf. "Their eyes were holden, that they should not know him" (Luke 24.). He is the unperceived Author of its holy desires and purposes.
2. And he delights in it. He calls it "my garden" (cf. on Song of Solomon 4:9-15).
III. THE ANGELS ARE SUMMONED TO SHARE IN HIS DELIGHT. "Eat, O my friends." Not that we say this address to his "friends" proves this truth, but suggests it. We know that "there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over," etc. (Luke 15.); and see Revelation, passim, where the joy of Christ is ever shared in by all heaven. They know what transpires here, and they rejoice in what is joyful. They are the "great cloud of witnesses" by which we are surrounded and surveyed. And what gladdens Christ must gladden them. They "enter into the joy of their Lord." The good conduct of those whom we behold makes us glad. Can it be otherwise with them? What great encouragement, therefore, we have in our Christian life in knowing that we can further the joy of our Lord and of the holy angels! Be it ours so to do. - S.C.
I. THE PRESENCE OF THE DIVINE BRIDEGROOM' AND HOST. "I," says he, "have come into my garden." It is the presence, first visibly in the body, and since invisibly in the Spirit, of the Son of God, which is alike the salvation and the joy of man.
II. THE GREETING OF THE DIVINELY CHOSEN BRIDE. The language in which this greeting is conveyed is very striking: "My sister-spouse." It is the language of affection, and at the same time of esteem and honour. It speaks of congeniality of disposition as well as of union of heart. Christ loved the Church, as is evident from the fact of his giving himself for it and to it, and as is no less evident from his perpetual revelation of his incomparable kindness and forbearance. "All that I have," says he, "is thine."
III. THE PROVISION OF DIVINE BOUNTY. How often, in both Old and New Testament Scripture, are the blessings of a spiritual nature which Divine goodness has provided for mankind set forth under the similitude of a feast! Satisfaction for deep-seated needs, gratification of noblest appetite, are thus suggested. The peculiarity in this passage is the union of the two ideas of marriage and of feasting - a union which we find also in our Lord's parabolic discourses. We are reminded that the Divine Saviour who calls the Church his own, and who undertakes to make it worthy of himself, provides for its life and health, its nourishment and happiness, all that infinite wisdom itself can design and prepare.
IV. THE INVITATION OF DIVINE HOSPITALITY. "Eat, O friends; drink, yea, drink abundantly, O beloved!" Thus does the Lord of the feast ever, in the exercise of his benevolent disposition, address those whose welfare he desires to promote. This invitation on the part of the Lord Christ is
(1) sincere and cordial;
(2) considerate and kind;
(3) liberal and generous.
V. THE FELLOWSHIP OF DIVINE JOY. True happiness is to be found in the spiritual companionship of Christ, and in the intimacy of spiritual communion with him whom the soul loveth. The aspiration of the heart to which Christ draws near in his benignant hospitality has been thus well expressed: "Pour out, Lord, to me, and readily will I drink; then all thirst after earthly things shall be destroyed; and I shall seek to thirst only for the pleasures which are at thy right hand forevermore." The spiritual satisfaction and festivity enjoyed by the Church on earth are the earnest and the pledge of the purer and endless joy to be experienced hereafter by those who shall be called to "the marriage supper of the Lamb." - T.
I. SOMETIMES, AS HERE, BUT ONE OF THESE IS AWAKE.
1. Here it was the spirit.
(1) This fact an argument against materialism, which insists that the spirit is altogether dependent upon the body. Hence that death ends all. But, as here, the body may be weighed down with sleep, but the mind is active; the body is dead, but the mind alive. Surely, therefore, the mind is something more than some special arrangement of the molecules of the brain.
(2) It is well that, if the spirit be willing, the flesh should be weak. As a general rule it is well, for else, unless the wholesome drag of the body were put on, brain workers would not live out half their days.
(3) But it is at times the occasion of much harm. It was so here. It was so to our Lord through his disciples yielding to the sleep that weighed on them. And the flesh is a tyrant which will, if allowed, enslave the spirit. Hence we need to "keep under the body." For:
2. Often it is only the flesh that is awake. This a fearful condition. Cf. St. Jude, "These be sensual, not having the Spirit." Men may, do, sink down into gross animalism. It is horrible as well as disgraceful. It was that which led to the destruction of Sodom, of the Canaanites, etc. It is a dread possibility threatening very many. God keep us therefrom!
II. SOMETIMES NEITHER ARE AWAKE. There are many people of whom one would have much more hope if they were a little better or a little worse than they are. They are such as we have just named. They are generally decent people outwardly; they never offend against the conventionalities; they are to be found in all Churches, more's the pity; for they are but caricatures of the Christian character. They are dull, cold, selfish, hard, and spiritually dead. What is to be done with such? They are the despair of the earnest Christian, who would almost be willing that they should fall - were it possible - into some miserable sin if so only their present self-content could be shattered and they made to wake up.
III. SOMETIMES BOTH ARE AWAKE. This the ideal condition. It is that, and more than that, which is meant by the "Sana mens in corpore sano." For wherever this condition is, the spirit will, as is right, rule the flesh, having it well in hand, causing it like a properly trained dog to come to heel at once at the word of command (Huxley). The body will be the active, faithful servant of the master will, the spirit of the man. And when that spirit is inspired by the Spirit of God, then that is salvation, which means "health." May such health be ours! - S.C.
Matthew 26:40-43 and parallels). We have -
I. THE DISTRESSED SAVIOR. (Ver. 2.) He desired his disciples to watch with him. He needed and desired their sympathy and the solace which their watchful love would have given him. His soul was troubled. He was as he who is told of here, and to whom the cold drenching dews and the damp chills of the dreary night had caused much distress, and who therefore asks the aid of her whom he loved. So did Jesus seek the aid of those he loved. He had right to expect it. He said to Peter, "Simon, sleepest thou? - thou so loved, so privileged, so loud in thy profession of love to me, so faithfully warned, sleepest thou? And still the like occurs. The Lord looking for the aid of his avowed disciples, distressed by manifold causes, and that aid not forthcoming, though he has such right to expect it. But he too often finds now what he found then -
II. HIS DISCIPLES ASLEEP. (Ver. 3.) So the spouse here, as the disciples there, and as man now, had composed herself to sleep. The repeated calls of him who by voice and knock sought to arouse her failed. And so did the repeated visits of Jesus to his disciples fail. And he finds the same still. The poor excuses of ver. 3 serve well to set forth the excuses of today when he calls on us now to aid and sympathize with him. Who really rouses himself for Christ, and puts forth earnest self-denying endeavour to help his work? No doubt the disciples had their excuses, and Christ then, as now, makes all allowances. But the fact remains the same. Christ wants us, and we are asleep. The sleeper told of in this dream evidently was filled with self-reproach. It can hardly have been otherwise with the disciples, and it is so with us now when in our holier moments the vision of our Lord in all his love for us comes before our hearts. Then we confess, It is high time to awake out of sleep."
III. THE SORROWFUL AWAKENING. The sleeper told of here awoke (ver. 5) to find her beloved gone. And in Gethsemane the disciples awoke at last. In this song (ver. 5) we are told how he had thrust in his hand by the latch hole (see Exposition). But he had withdrawn it, as she whom he had appealed to had not awaked; and, finding this, her heart was touched, and she rose to open to him. And doubtless when the disciples saw the gleam of the lanterns and heard their Lord's word, "Arise," and the tramp of the armed multitude who had come to arrest him, then their hearts were touched, and. they arose. But it was too late. And like as the sleeper here (ver. 5) did not withhold tokens of her affection - she richly perfumed herself, her hands especially, in token thereof as the Oriental manner was - so, too, the disciples in their way made plain their love for their Lord. They would have fought for him - Peter drew his sword at once - had he let them. But the opportunity for real service was gone. The sleeper of this song tells how her heart smote her when her beloved spoke, and we may well believe that it was so when the disciples heard their Lord's voice. But in both cases it was too late. Who does not know the sorrow that smites the soul when we realize that opportunities of succouring, serving, and making glad the heart of some beloved one have been allowed to pass by us unused, and now cannot be recalled? Oh, if we had only been awake then!
IV. THE UNAVAILING SEARCH. (Ver. 6.) Cf. Peter's tears; the sorrow of the disciples. The reproaches of conscience - they were the watchmen who met and sternly dealt with her who is told of here, and made her ashamed. Such failures in duty are followed by unavailing regrets and prayers. "Oh that I knew where I might find him!" Conscience, the Word of God, faithful pastors, - these are as the watchmen who meet such souls, and scant comfort is or ought to be had from them, but only deserved rebuke and reproach. It is all true. What is told of in this verse must have happened then, does happen now. Our Lord has left us, our joy is gone, we cannot find him, tears and prayers and search seem all in vain.
V. THE HELP OF THE HOLY WOMEN. (Ver. 8 and Song of Solomon 6:1.) It was wise of the sleeper, now awake, to solicit help from the friends of her beloved. And in the Gospel narrative it is plain that the holy women who loved and ministered to our Lord when on earth were a great help to his sorrowing disciples. They were last at the cross and first at the sepulchre; they first brought the glad tidings that he was risen. They represent his true Church. And the sorrowing soul cannot do better than seek the sympathy and prayers of those who love the Lord. Restoration often comes by such means. Here is one of their intercessions: "That it may please thee to strengthen such as do stand, to comfort and help the weak hearted, to raise up them that fall, and finally to beat down Satan under our feet." Blessed is he who hath intercessions such as that offered for him. But better still not to need them. - S.C.
I. HERE IS A STATE OF INSENSIBILITY CONFESSED. "I sleep." It is a figure of speech borrowed from the sensations of the body. Our physical nature needs periodic sleep. But many indolent persons sleep when they do not need it; and it is this needless sleep - this ignoble sleep - that is here described. Unlike the body, the soul requires no sleep.
1. It is a state of inaction. For the time being sight and hearing are suspended. All bodily sensations are awaiting. The sleeper is unconscious of all that is occurring round about him. Sleep is the brother of death. So, if the soul sleeps, it is a transient death. Our best Friend is near, but we cannot see him. If he speaks, we do not hear his voice. We have no enjoyment of his friendship. The sun of God's favour may shine upon our path; we do not perceive it. We have no conscious communion with Jesus. We find no nourishment in the sacred Word. The ordinances of the sanctuary have lost their charm. We do not grow in grace. We make no progress heavenward. It is inglorious inaction.
2. It is a blamable condition. We are servants of God, and to sleep is to waste our Master's time. It is an act of unfaithfulness. The Son of God has entrusted to us the campaign against error and sin; yet, lo! we sleep on the battlefield. Tens of thousands round about us know nothing of God's salvation; and yet we sleep. Satan is busy ensnaring men in the pitfalls of vice; and yet we sleep. The heathen world is waiting to hear Heaven's gospel; now and again a voice booms across the sea, "Come over and help us!" yet we sleep. Our own crown is imperilled; yet we sleep. This brief life is slipping from us; the day of service wilt soon terminate; the great assize is close at hand; yet we sleep. Is it not matter for self-condemnation?
3. It is a state of peril. A time of sleep is the time for robbers to do their evil work; and we imperil the heavenly treasures when we slothfully sleep. Our wily adversary lies in wait for our unguarded moments. If he can breathe upon the Church a spirit of slumber, he has gained a great advantage for himself. To lull Christians into sleep is his most successful stratagem. In one of his parables Jesus tells us that "while men slept, the enemy sowed his tares." Saul, the King of Israel, exposed his life to imminent danger when he slept in the cave. If a man is insensible to the deadly paralysis that is creeping over him, he is not far from death. And if we Christians become insensible to our sin, or insensible to our dependence on Christ, or insensible to God's claims, we are in great danger. What if God should say to us, "They prefer their sleep: let them alone"! Then our sleep would deepen into the collapse of death.
4. Spiritual sleep entails loss. How much of spiritual blessing the eleven lost, when they slept in Gethsemane, no tongue can tell. We lose the approval of a good conscience, and that is a serious loss. We lose the approving smile of Christ, and that is a loss far greater. We lose the vigour of our piety. We lose the freshness of enthusiasm. We lose courage. We lose spiritual enjoyment. We lose self-respect. A sense of shame sweeps over the soul. The temperature of our love has gone down. Instead of pressing forward, we have gone backward. It is a loss immeasurable.
II. HERE IS A VERY PROMISING SIGN. "My heart waketh." How true is this record to the facts in ourselves! The heart is the spiritual organ that wakes first. For the heart is the seat of feeling, desire, and affection. The heart must move before the will, and the will before the feet.
1. This language denotes disquietude. The man is neither quite asleep nor quite awake. This is an uncomfortable state. It denotes a divided heart. It is not altogether with Christ nor altogether with the world. We cannot endure the thought of leaving Christ, and so forego the hope of heaven. We like some of the experiences of religion. But then we love self in about an equal proportion. We grasp as much pleasure as we can. Hence this vacillation. This is a great loss of Christ's friendship; a sin to treat Jesus thus. This self-indulgence now will produce a large fruitage of remorse by and by.
2. It is a good sign that this indecision is recognized. It might have been otherwise. The sin might have been unfelt. Conscience might have been drugged with the opiate of self-confidence. When a Christian perceives his own imperfections, and confesses them, there is manifestly some spiritual life within. His state is not hopeless. God's Spirit has not withdrawn his activities from that man. If he will diligently follow the light which he has, it will lead him to his true home and rest.
3. This language indicates desire for a better state. The heart is the seat of desire, and, thank God, the heart is awake. If this desire be not overpowered by stronger desires of an evil sort, all will yet be well. This desire, unhindered, will work like leaven, till it has leavened the whole man. It will disturb the man's peace until it is gratified. This desire is the work of God's good Spirit; and, if we will only yield to his quickening influence, he will make desire ripen into resolve, and resolve into action. A man's desires are a gauge of the man's character. "As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he."
4. It is another good sign when a sleepy Christian recognizes Christ's voice. "It is the voice of my beloved that knocketh." The bride in our text not merely heard a sound, but she was so far awake as to know that it was her lover's voice. It is a fact that we hear the voice of one we know, and of one we love, much sooner than we bear the voice of a stranger. A mother will hear the cry of her babe sooner than she will hear the cry of another child. If we hear our Master's voice, then faith is not asleep. "Faith cometh by hearing." Of all Christ's sheep this is a sure mark; they hear Christ's voice. "A stranger will they not follow, for they know not the voice of strangers." We know well that if any one strives to arouse us out of sleep, it will be our best Friend. No one else will take such pains to bless us. Ah! if I hear in my soul a rousing voice, if I am moved to holier aspiration, I instinctively say, "It is the voice of my Beloved that knocketh." Then ought I most gladly to respond, "Speak, Lord; for thy servant heareth."
III. HERE IS A GRACIOUS CALL. This is the reason why the Christian's heart is awake: Jesus calls and knocks. A Christian cannot sleep under such an appeal.
1. Christ's whole Person engages in this call. He not only speaks with his voice; he knocks with his hand. He knocks by the preaching of faithful ministers. He knocks by the counsels of a pious friend. He knocks by his afflictive providences. He knocks by his royal bounties. Every fresh gift is a fresh appeal. He knocks by many a startling event that happens about us. He knocks at the door of memory, at the door of feeling, at the door of conscience, at the door of affection. He tries every door, if so be his kindly errand may succeed. He has too much earnest love for us easily to desist. Such love is born, not on earth, but in heaven.
2. He not only knocks; he speaks. He appeals to our intelligent nature. He will not use force or compulsion. That were unseemly on the part of love. Jesus will use measures equally potent, but of a winsome, spiritual sort. He speaks to the heart of saints in a "still small voice." There is a latent power in his gentleness. When God spake to despondent Elijah in the desert, he did not speak in earthquake, or in thunder, or in whirlwind, but in a soft human voice. No sound breaks on the ear; the message goes straight to the conscience and to the heart. Have we not, in hours of retirement, often heard the music of his voice, gently chiding us for neglect, or sweetly moving us to closer fellowship? We may resist the appeal, but, alas! we increase our guilt; we cheat our souls of joy.
3. He addresses us by the most endearing epithets. "My sister, my love, my dove, my undefiled." Every argument that can move us to a better life he will employ. The whole vocabulary of human speech he will exhaust, to assure us of his interest. He reminds us of our many professions of attachment. He brings to our remembrance our plighted troth. Did we not at one time say that we were his? Have we not pledged ourselves to be faithful over and over again? What an array of perjured vows lie on his book? Can we think of them without self-condemnation?
4. He appeals to us on the ground of his deeds and endurances. "My head is filled with dew, and my locks with the drops of the night." It is the pathetic picture of a friend who has been refused customary hospitality, and who has spent the cold night appealing for admission. This is the picture, and the meaning thereof is plain. Jesus Christ has to endure hardship and pain through our self-indulgence and our spiritual stupor. Alas! we shut him out from his own temple. We shut out our best Friend'. Alter all that he has done for us, yea, suffered for us, in proof of his strong affection, shall we treat him with cold neglect, with heartless contempt? Shall he be all ardour, and shall we be frigid as an iceberg? Shall his nature be all love, and shall ours be all selfishness? Then we are not like him. Is not this to "crucify our Lord afresh, and put him to open shame"? Surely here is a test of character. He who can hear these gracious appeals unmoved, hath never felt the stirrings of the new life; he hath no part in the covenant of grace. - D.
I. PROMPT TO HEAR THE VOICE OF HEAVEN. The mother awakes at once when the babe cries; the surgeon wakes at once when the bell rings; the nurse wakes at once when the patient asks for medicine or for food. When the heart is awake, the ear hearkens, the eye is ready to unclose, the sleeper is half alert and prepared to rise. The heart that loves the Saviour is prompt to hear any word of his, whether it be a word of encouragement, a word of admonition, a word of command. "Speak, Lord; for thy servant heareth," denotes the vigilant attitude, the true preparedness of the soul.
II. PROMPT TO RESPOND TO THE LOVE OF CHRIST. The true heart is not wakeful to every call, to every presence, to every appeal. It is mutual love that ensures a heart that waketh. The Christian gives love for love. "We love him, because he first loved us." Hence the very sound of Jesus' name enkindles upon the devout and grateful heart the flame of pure and fervent affection. Nothing that concerns the Lord is indifferent to the Christian; for his heart is awake to every token of the Divine presence, and eager for the spiritual communion which is the privilege of the friends of Jesus.
III. WATCHFUL AGAINST THOUGHTS AND PURPOSES OF EVIL. The deep slumber into which the careless may fall is likely to render them a prey to the assaults of the tempter. Christ found his three nearest friends sleeping in the garden whilst he was enduring his bitter conflict. "Watch and pray," was his admonition, "lest ye enter into temptation." As soldiers during a campaign must take rest in sleep, yet, as it were, with one eye and one ear open, so that they may spring up, and fly to arms, if the foe approach them under cover of the darkness; so must the Christian take even his refreshing rest and recreation as upon the alert, and as ready to resist an approaching enemy. Watchfulness and prayer must guard him against surprise. The heart must be ever wakeful. "Keep thy heart with all diligence."
IV. READY TO ENGAGE IN ALL REQUIRED SERVICE. The service of the hands, of the lips, alone is unacceptable to our Divine Lord, who desires above all things the devotion and loyalty of the heart. This, if the heart slumbers, cannot be given. But a wakeful heart, being ready to receive impressions, is ready also to obey commands, to summon all the powers of the nature to engage in that service which combines dimity with freedom, and submission with joy. - T.
I. THE SUMMONS.
1. Its nature. There is the knock which demands attention, and there is the speech which articulately conveys the appeal. Christ comes to the world, and comes to the heart, with such tokens of Divine authority as demand that heed should be given to his embassage. The supernatural arrests the attention even of the careless and the unspiritual. That in Christianity which is of the nature of portent, the "mighty works" which have been exhibited, summon men to yield their reverent attention to a Divine communication. But the miracle is a "sign." The display of power is revelation of a wisdom, a love, which are deeper and more sacred than itself. The knock that arouses is followed by the speech that instructs, guides, comforts, inspires. Authority is not blind; it accompanies the appeal to the intelligence, to the heart.
2. The danger of neglecting it. To give no heed to the Divine appeal, to sleep on when God himself is calling, - this is to despise the Highest, to wrong our own soul, to increase our insensibility and to confirm ourselves in spiritual deadness, and to tempt the departure of the heavenly Visitor.
3. The duty of welcoming and responding to it. This appears both from the dignity of him who knocks, his right to the affection, gratitude, and devotion of the soul; and from the complete dependence of the soul upon his friendship for its highest welfare.
II. THE RESPONSE. When Christ "stands at the door and knocks," there is but one thing to do - to open wide to him, the Beloved, the door of the heart. This is the true response, and it should be:
1. Glad. His absence is mourned, his presence is desired; his summons, therefore, should be joyfully acknowledged. The heart may well beat strong with gladness, high with hope, when the voice of Jesus is heard; for it is "the voice of the Beloved."
2. Grateful. The picture is one of poetic pathos and beauty. The head of the Beloved is filled with dew, his locks with the drops of the night. How suggestive of what the Saviour has endured for our sake, of his earthly humiliation, of his compassionate sacrifice! The contemplation of Christ's weakness and weariness, distress and anguish, all endured for us, is enough to awaken the strongest sentiments of gratitude on our part. To whom are we indebted as we are to him? Who has such claims upon our heart's gratitude and devotion? What language can justly depict the moral debasement of those who are unaffected by a spectacle so touching as that of the Redeemer, the "Man of sorrows," appealing for admission to the nature he died to save and bless?
3. Immediate. Delay is here altogether out of place. The sensitive and responsive nature is forward to exclaim, "Apparitio tua est apertio!" - "To see thee is to open to thee!" The hesitation and apologies described in the dream are introduced toshow, by suggestion of contrast, how utterly unsuited they are to the circumstances and the occasion.
4. Eager and expectant. "My heart was moved for him; I rose to open to my Beloved." The hope is fulfilled, the prayer is answered, the vision is realized, Christ has come. With him all Divine blessings approach the soul The prospect of his entrance into the spiritual nature is the prospect of a fellowship and intimacy fraught with purest joys and tenderest consolations - a fellowship and intimacy which will never fail to bless, and which no power on earth can avail to darken or to close. - T.
I. A TRANSIENT ESTRANGEMENT AND BRIEF WITHDRAWAL. There have been periods in the history of the Church of Christ, resembling the captivity of Israel in the East, when the countenance of the Lord has been hidden from the sight of his people. The heart, which knoweth its own bitterness, is now and again conscious of a want of happy fellowship with the best and dearest Friend. But it is not Christ who changes. When the sun is eclipsed, it does not cease to shine, though its beams may not reach the earth. And when Christ is hidden, he remains himself "the same yesterday, and today, and forever." But something has come between the Sun of Righteousness and. the soul which derives all its spiritual light from him, and the vision is obscured. Selfishness, worldliness, unbelief, may hinder the soul from enjoying the Saviour's presence and grace. The fault is not his, but ours.
II. DISTRESSING SYMPTOMS OF SUCH ESTRANGEMENT AND WITHDRAWAL. How simple and how touching is the complaint of the bride! "I sought him, but I could not find him; I called him, but he gave me no answer." Yet it is the nature of Christ to delight in the quest and the cry of those he loves, to reveal himself to such as ever ready to approach and to bless. There may, however, be a reason, and faith cannot question that there is a reason, for the withholding of an immediate response. There may be on the Saviour's part a perception that a stronger confidence, a more evident desire, a truer love, are needed, and are thus only to be called forth. It may be well that for a season the soul should suffer for its sin, that it may be encouraged to deeper penitence and to more fervent prayer.
III. AFFECTIONATE YEARNING THE EARNEST OF SPEEDY RECONCILIATION AND RENEWED HAPPINESS. The parable represents the bride as sad and anxious, as enduring bitter disappointment, as oppressed by the heartless insult and injury of those indifferent to her woes; yet as retaining all her love, and only concerned as soon as may be to find her beloved. A true picture of the devout and affectionate friend of Christ, who is only drawn to him the Closer by the sorrowful experiences and repeated trials of life. When the Christian offends his Lord, it is a good sign that he is not really forsaken, it is an earnest of the restoration of fellowship, if he ardently desires reconciliation, and takes measures to recover the favour which for a season he has lost. The beauty of Christ appears the more inimitable and supreme, the fellowship of Christ appears the mere precious and desirable. And this being so, the hour is surely near when the face of Christ shall appear in unclouded benignity, when the voice of Christ shall be heard uttering Divine assurances and promises in tones of kindliest friendship. - T.
The world asks this question. Upon the answer the Church gives depends whether the world remains as it is - alienated from Christ or drawn to him. If the Church makes it evident that Christ is "chiefest among ten thousand" and "altogether lovely," then the blessed era of the world's conversion will be at hand. The Church asks this question of those whom she receives into communion. It should be clear that Christ is enthroned in the hearts of those whom she receives. They are not really members of the Church unless it is so. We should ask ourselves this question, so that we may see to it that we are giving him the chief place in our hearts, and that in all things he has the pre-eminence. The question may be answered in various ways. As for example -
I. BY COMPARISON OF CHRIST WITH THE OBJECTS OF WORSHIP IN OTHER FAITHS. (Cf. Hardwick's 'Christ and other Masters.') There have been and are "gods many and lords many;" it is well to compare and contrast with them the all-worthiness of him whom we serve. Missionaries to heathen lands do well to make themselves acquainted with the points of contrast and resemblance - "the unconscious prophecies of heathendom" - which they will find in the faiths they seek to supplant by the pure faith of Christ. Often will they find in such study that he is "the Desire of all nations."
II. BY COMPARING THE OBJECTS OF MEN'S PRESENT PURSUITS AND AFFECTION WITH CHRIST, who is the Beloved of the believer's heart. Some set their affections only on earthly things - wealth, power, pleasure, fame, the favour of men. Some on those whom God has given them to love - wife, lover, children, friends. It is well to see how Christ surpasses all these, and deserves the chief place in our hearts: such place, when given to him, will not consign to a lower one than they before filled those objects of our lawful love; but, on the contrary, will uplift and enlarge our love for them, making it better both for them and us. But we prefer to take -
III. THE ANSWER GIVEN IN THIS SONG ITSELF. See vers. 10-16, translating its rich imagery into the plain language of "the truth as it is in Jesus." She who was asked this question replied by giving the description of her beloved which we have in these verses. And, translated, they suggest these reasons for counting Christ chief of all.
1. He is the perfect Pattern and Sacrifice that my soul needs. (Ver. 10.) It is a representation of the beauty of perfect physical health: "white and ruddy" (cf. 1 Samuel 16:12; 1 Samuel 17:42). Fit type, therefore, of that perfect moral and spiritual health which we behold in Christ, and which constitutes him our all-perfect Pattern. His perfect sacrifice also has been seen in this same description, and it has been compared with that similar description of him in Revelation 5:6, "a Lamb that had been slain." Not alone the whiteness of purity, but "ruddy" as with the stain of his precious sacrificial blood.
2. He is God in his essential Person. (Ver. 11.) Gold is, in the sacred symbolism of Scripture, ever associated with that which is of God. The head of fine gold suggests, therefore, that which St. Paul says (1 Corinthians 11:3), "The head of Christ is God."
3. Yet he consecrated himself for our sakes. The unshorn hair, "his locks are bushy," was the sign of consecration (cf. the vow of Nazarite).
4. And is evermore mighty to save. Youth and strength are signified by the "raven" hair. Whilst others wax old as doth a garment, he is "the same yesterday, and today, and forever" (cf. Psalm 102:27).
5. Gentleness, purity, and the love and light of the Holy Spirit beam in his eyes. (Ver. 12.) Cf. New Testament notices of the look of our Lord - hew he looked with compassion, hew he "looked upon Peter" (Luke 22:61).
6. To see his face is heaven. (Ver. 13.) To walk in the light of that countenance, to behold it fair and fragrant as sweet flowers.
8. He is invested with the authority of God. (Ver. 14.) "His hands are rings of gold," etc. The ring was the signet and seal of authority. He spake as one having authority; "I by the finger of God cast out devils;" "All things are put under him."
9. Stainless purity and heavenly mindedness marked his life. (Ver. 14.) The body, or rather the robe that covered it, as bright ivory, tells of the purity and perfectness of his life; the heavenly blue of the "sapphires" is the type of heaven. His conversation was in heaven. He walked with God.
10. He was firm and steadfast in God. (Ver. 15.) The legs, as "pillars of marble," tell of his steadfast strength; the "sockets of fine gold," of the Divine basis and foundation of that strength.
11. Full of majesty and beauty, as Lebanon and its cedars. Cf. his appearance at the Transfiguration; to the guards at his rising from the dead.
12. And yet full of grace and benignity. (Ver. 16.) "His mouth" - his smile - "most sweet." The little children nestled in his arms. The poor fallen women read the benignity of that look. Publicans and sinners crowded round him, irresistibly drawn by his exceeding grace.
13. No human tongue can tell how fair he is. "Yea, he is altogether lovely." The words tell of the giving up the task, of ceasing from the hopeless endeavour, to fitly fully set forth her beloved. She could only say, "He is altogether," etc.
CONCLUSION. Such was the answer given when asked, "What is thy beloved more," etc.? (ver. 9). And such answer is the best. The testimony of the loving heart to what Jesus is to such heart is more convincing than any argument. May such testimony be ours! - S.C.
I. WE HAVE HERE A PERTINENT INQUIRY. "What is thy beloved more than another beloved?"
1. This may be the language of intellectual curiosity. The inquiry about Jesus is more eager and widespread today than in any epoch since his birth. During the last twenty-five years more than twenty-five lives of Jesus Christ have appeared in the English language. Some inquiries are of a sceptical sort - are not honest searches after truth. Some inquirers hope to reduce Jesus of Nazareth to the level of a common mortal. In a past age, Lord Lyttelton and Gilbert West essayed to demolish the Divine credentials of Jesus; but they were conquered by the evidence, and became disciples. Many inquirers simply attempt to solve an old and curious question, "Is Jesus more than man?" They are not seeking any practical issues. Hence they obtain no success.
2. Or it may be the language of simple surprise. The kingdom of Christ hath in it many nominal adherents. For earthly advantages come from professing an attachment to Christ. It wins respect from men. It brings good reputation. It aids success in our worldly calling. Therefore many persons avow outwardly an indolent belief in Jesus Christ as Lord who yet can give no reasonable account of their belief. These see with wonder the ardour and zeal of genuine disciples. They smile when they hear the effusive and familiar language of true saints. They deem it religious extravagance. They label Christ's friends as fanatics. "Our Christ," say they, "is a Being far removed from us. We offer him our set praises and our set prayers on the sabbath. We hope for his rewards by and by. What is your Beloved more than ours?
3. Or it may be the language of nascent desire. The speaker has seen what a real and present Friend Jesus is to his adopted. To them his friendship is sweeter far than the friendship of a thousand others. His name is music, fragrance, health, life. His help is a real blessing, which gladdens every hour. His favour is a present heaven. They consult him in their distress, and he brings to them prompt sympathy and unerring wisdom. They find in him a restfulness of spirit under every circumstance, a peace of soul no one else can impart. Having Jesus within them, their life is transfigured. This is a mystery to the bulk of men. So one and another yearn to attain this joyous life, and they ask in a spirit of sincere desire, What is thy Beloved more than another beloved?"
II. WE HAVE HERE A PARTICULAR DESCRIPTION OF THE BRIDEGROOM'S PERSON. "My beloved is white and ruddy, the chiefest among ten thousand;" "He is altogether lovely."
1. Generally, he is pre-eminent. "Chiefest among ten thousand." Among all the tribes of men he stands alone, for he is sinless. He is pre-eminent among the angels, for they are only servants of the great King; and, when the Father "brought his Only Begotten into the world, he said, Let all the angels of God worship him." Among the gods of the nations he stands pre-eminent in power and in righteousness. They are dumb vanities, while he is absolute Power, eternal Righteousness, essential Love. In respect of the Godhead, he is eminent for condescension, for tender sympathy, and for self-sacrifice. Among all friends he stands pre-eminent, for "he is a Brother born for adversity." Among all orators he is preeminent for eloquence, for "never man spake like this Man." Among philanthropists he takes the highest place, for "he gave himself for us." "For our sakes he became poor." "In all things he has the pre-eminence."
2. He is altogether lovely as the Son of God. Such perfect Sonship was never before seen. His reverence for his Father was unique, was beautiful At the tender age of twelve, his delight was "to be about his Father's business." His spirit of childlike trust was perfect. He is "the Leader and Finisher of faith." During all the year's of his busy life he "had not where to lay his head," yet he declared that it was his meat and his drink to do the will of his Father in heaven. His own explanation of his ceaseless benevolence was this: "I do always the things that please him." As he entered the black cloud of the final tragedy, he interrogates himself thus: "What shall I say? Father, save me from this hour?" But instantly he adds, "Father, glorify thy Name." Filial reverence, filial trust, filial love and submission in him were complete - things till then unknown on earth. "Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered." Upon such sacred Sonship the Father expressed audible and public approbation - expressed it again and again: "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." "My Beloved is white and ruddy" the quality of perfect health.
3. His personal qualities transcend all comparison. Every virtue, human and Divine, blossom in his soul. There's not an excellence ever seen in men or in angels that is not found, the perfect type, in Jesus Christ. For nearly nineteen centuries shrewd men have turned their microscopes on the Person of Jesus, if haply they could find the shadow of a spot. The acutest eye has failed, and Jesus stands before the world today a paragon of moral perfection. His character is better known and better appreciated today than in any previous age, Modern criticism confesses at the bar of the universe, "I find no fault in him." As all the colours of the prism meet and blend in the pure rays of light, so all noble qualities blend in our beloved Friend. As in a royal garden or in the fields of nature there is unspeakable wealth of flowery bloom, all forms and colours composing a very paradise of beauty, so is it in the character of Jesus. Other men were noted for some special excellence - Moses for meekness, Job for patience, Daniel for constancy; but Jesus has every quality of goodness, and has each quality full-orbed and resplendent. "Whatever things are true, pure, just, lovely, honourable, of good report," they all unite in Jesus. Ransack all the homes of humanity if you will, cull out all the excellences that embellish the seraphim, and you shall not find a single grace that does not adorn our Immanuel. Yea, his soul is the seed bed of all the goodness that flourishes in heaven or on earth. "He is the Firstborn of every creature." The unfallen, no less than the fallen, adore him as worthy to be worshipped. "He has by inheritance a more excellent name than they." As the stars of heaven pale their ineffectual fires when the sun rises, so in the presence of Jesus Christ even Gabriel veils his face and bends his knee. Human thought fails to reach the height of this great theme, and. we can simply repeat the ancient words, "Altogether lovely."
4. He is incomparable in all the offices he fills. A splendid theme for contemplation is Jesus in his manifold offices. As a Teacher he has no rival, for he still speaks "as one having authority." "In him are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge;" and, with infinite patience, he unfolds these treasures to us in picture and parable, as we "are able to bear them." Who is so competent to teach us heavenly things as the living Truth? "The words he speaks are spirit and life." "His lips are as lilies, dropping sweet-smelling myrrh." As a Priest, does he not excel all who went before him? Other priests had to offer oblation first for their own sin. Jesus had no personal sin. Other priests "could not continue by reason of death." Jesus has no successor; his priesthood is perpetual. The best of earthly priests could only appear in material temples, gorgeous in marble and in gold though some of them were. Our great High Priest has gone on our behalf into the very presence of God. Our Advocate with the Father cannot fail, because he is "Christ; the Righteous." And, as a King, Jesus has no compeer. The sceptre belongs to him by eternal right. He is a King by birth. He is a King by reason of inherent fitness. Every fibre of his nature is kingly. He is a King through conquest. Every foe is, or shall be, vanquished. He is a King by universal acclamation. Angels and men combine to accord to him the highest place - "King of kings, and Lord of lords." As the good Shepherd, he has given his very "life for the sheep." As the Husband of the Church, he is perfect in fidelity; for "having loved the Church, he gave himself for her, and has cleansed her for himself a glorious Church, not having spot, nor wrinkle, nor any such thing." View our Master in any aspect or in any office, and he is fall of inexpressible charm. "He is altogether lovely."
III. WE HAVE HERE THE IDEA OF INTIMATE RELATIONSHIP. "This is my beloved, and this is my friend, O daughters of Jerusalem."
1. This means high appreciation. The believer in this passage means to say, "I have endeavoured to describe my heavenly Friend, but I have failed. I have mentioned some of the features of his character, yet I scarce think that these are the most precious. The theme is above me. I cannot do it justice. Mayhap I shall only lower Jesus in the estimation of mankind. Still, I have said enough to establish his superlative excellence, and to account for my enthusiastic love." Ah! who can adequately portray the Person of God's dear Son? Can Gabriel? Can Michael? Can Paul, after centuries of sweet companionship with him in heaven? I trow not! "What think ye of Christ?" is a question, likely enough, often asked one of another among the dwellers in glory. By and by we "shall see him as he is." At present we have only imperfect glimpses of his glorious Person; nevertheless, we know enough to warrant our profound admiration, to awaken our unfaltering faith, and to excite into activity our most passionate love.
2. This means appropriations. This Being of transcendent excellence I claim as "my Friend." Many of his august perfections seem to forbid my bold familiarity. Sometimes it seems like presumption to say this. But then his simple condescension to me, his genuine sympathy, his unlimited grace, his covenant with the fallen, "without respect of person," his repeated assurances of love for me - yes, for me - encourage me to call him mine. He has said to me, "Thou art mine;" is not, therefore, the converse also a fact? Must he not be mine? And if at present I am quite unworthy to claim this relationship, will he not, by his great love, make me worthy? His love would not find full scope for its exercise, if it were not for such an unworthy object as I. Though deserving of hell, I should east fresh dishonour on his royal goodness did I not believe his promise, did I not accept his friendship. Yes, "he is mine."
3. This means the public avowal of Christ. "This is my Beloved, and this is my Friend." It is as if the Christian meant to say, "I have chosen Jesus to be my Friend, and I call the universe to witness the fact. No other being was competent to save me, and I publicly pledge myself loyally to serve him." Such avowal is a fine trait in a renewed soul. To profess loyalty to Jesus while no love glows for him in the breast - this is an offence to him, a smoke in his eyes, a spear thrust in his heart. Nothing to him is so odious as hypocrisy. But when there is sincere love to our Immanuel, though it be accompanied with self-diffidence and timidity, there ought to be an open avowal of our attachment. It is but little that we can do to make the Saviour known and loved by others, therefore that little should be done with gladness of heart and with unwavering fidelity. Nor can we ever forget the words of our Well-beloved, "Whosoever shall deny me before men, him will 1 also deny before my Father which is in heaven." - D.
I. IN THE PROFUNDITY OF HIS INSIGHT INTO TRUTH, AND IN THE CLEARNESS WITH WHICH HE REVEALS TRUTH. Among the sages and philosophers who have arisen in ancient and in modern times, and to whom the world is indebted for precious communications, for great thoughts, which it will not willingly let die, there is none who can compete with Christ. His sayings are more original in their substance than those of others, with regard both to the character and service of God and to the duty and hopes of men. In fact, he is "the Truth," proved to be such by the persistence of those utterances which have sunk into the minds of men, enlightening and enriching humanity with its choicest treasures.
II. IN THE EFFECTUAL COMPASSION WITH WHICH HE RECOVERS THE MORALLY LOST. The Lord Jesus is not merely a wise Teacher; he is a mighty Saviour. He knew well that little good is done by communicating truth, unless at the same time the heart can be reached and the character moulded anew. During his earthly ministry he put forth his moral power in many and most memorable instances, and rescued the sinful, the degraded, those abandoned by men, restoring them to integrity, to purity, to newness of moral life. And since his ascension he has been exercising the same power with the same results. His Name, by faith in his Name, has made many whole. His gospel loses none of its efficacy, his Spirit exercises the same energy of grace, as generation succeeds generation. Ten thousand attempt what Christ alone performed.
III. IS THE SPIRITUAL POWER WITH WHICH HE RULES OVER HUMAN SOCIETY. If A comparison be made between Christ and other founders of religious systems and Churches, it will be seen that the superiority rests with him, in the sway wielded over the true nature of men. Compare him, for example, with Gautama, the founder of Buddhism, or with Mohammed. What is the result of such a comparison? There can be no question that, in the matter of spiritual authority, it will be to establish the supremacy of the Son of man. He lays hold, as none other has done, of the affections, the moral susceptibilities and convictions, the inner principles, of men's being, and thus controls and inspires their true life. In this respect ten thousand are inferior to him; but he stands alone - his banner towers above the host.
IV. IN THE WELL-FOUNDED PROSPECT WHICH HE IMPARTS TO THE WORLD'S FUTURE. Every well wisher to his race, in looking forward to what shall be after him, must often be assailed with fear and foreboding. There is much to make the outlook gloomy and stormy. And there is no principle which can subdue such natural anxiety, which can inspire confident and sustaining hope with regard to the future of human society, except the principle of Christianity, i.e. the personal and spiritual power of the Lord Christ to govern and to guide mankind to glorious issues. - T.
I. THAT WHETHER WE BELIEVE THEM OR NOT, THEY ARE ASSUREDLY TRUE. All generations have confessed them true. The hero of one age is not the hero of another; but Christ is the Beloved of all ages. Abraham saw his "day and was glad." Prophets and psalmists beheld him, and to them all it was a beatific vision. They sang of him as "fairer than the children of men;" they exhausted all imagery of beauty and delight to tell of him. And since he came, apostles, martyrs, and generation after generation of those who have loved and toiled, and often died, for him, have confessed the truth of our text. And today myriads of souls are aglow with love to him, and gladly take up the same confession. "The goodly fellowship of the prophets, the glorious company of the apostles, the noble army of martyrs, the holy Church throughout all the world, doth acknowledge" him. And so will all ranks and classes of men. The rich and the poor, the lofty and the low, have met together in this confession. And all ages, the young and the old. And all lands, north, south, east, and west. And all characters and dispositions. See how varied the characters of those who gathered round our Lord, and of the saints of the Bible, and of all ages. And seen in all aspects, he still receives the same confession. As a child, as a man, as a teacher, as a sufferer, in his death, in his resurrection, in his intercession for us in heaven. With the choicest works of art, with the fairest scenes of nature, with the most glorious buildings that men have reared, all depends on the point of view from which we behold them. Seen from the right standpoint, they are beautiful and glorious; seen from another, they excite no admiration, they may appear the reverse of beautiful. And so with the characters of men. They may be excellent in some things, but the best of men are but men at the best. There are faults and flaws in the fairest human soul. But with our Lord, see him how, when, and whence we may, to the heart that loves him he is still "altogether lovely." The testimony has come from every quarter, from every age; it is full, clear, complete, varied, reiterated, and has been tested and tried and found true always and everywhere. The holiest saints gaze on the perfect loveliness of their Lord as the one model to which they would be conformed, but from which they own they are far removed. His enemies themselves being judges confess that "they find no fault in him." He is as a lamb without blemish and without spot. But, alas! to many he is not this; they see in him no form or comeliness, no beauty that they should desire him. Therefore we say of these words of our text -
II. THAT SINCE THEY ARE TRUE WE OUGHT TO SEE THEM TO BE TRUE. If beautiful music, or works of art, or scenes in nature, do not impress men with their beauty, we pity such persons, we deem them lacking in a great good. And if they have no appreciation of moral beauty, we do not merely pity, but we Blame. What, then, must we ray of those who fail to see any beauty in him who is "altogether lovely"? But what is it that hinders in any soul that fails to see in Christ what the holiest and best of men always and everywhere have seen in him? Well, if men will not look they will not see. And this is one hindrance. The portraiture of Christ is given perfectly in the Gospels, but if men will not look into them, read them, and consider them, what wonder that they fail to see? And to see him as altogether lovely, that demands that we look long and attentively, that we study the portraiture that is given, and that we seek to be rid of all that would hinder the truth of cur seeing. But these persons never do this. Moreover, to see him as he is, we must stay with him. You cannot know a fellow man by a short interview. To know a man you must live with him. And so if we would really know Christ and see him as his saints have seen him, we must live with him, keep in his company, commune with him and be in daily intercourse with him. And we must be in right relationship to him; we must serve him, for that is his due. And then as we work for him, his true character will dawn upon us more and more; and we, too, shall come to see him as altogether lovely. Therefore -
III. LET US RESOLVE THAT WE WILL THUS SEE HIM. To encourage us herein let us think of the results and recompenses of such beholding him. We shall come:
1. To resemble him. For we shall come to love him, and nothing so assimilates character as love.
2. To rejoice in him. Of common earthly things the well known line says, "A thing of beauty is a joy forever." But of our Lord to behold him, it is the very joy of heaven. For there "they shall see his face."
3. Rest. The worries and frets of life will vanish in that beatific vision, like as even an unlovely landscape looks beautiful when the bright sun shines upon it. And so will it be with what is unlovely in life, that in itself irks and distresses us. If we see his face, if that vision of perfect loveliness shines before us, all will share more or less in that.
4. Reap for him, as never we did before. With our souls full of his love, even the stammering tongue will become eloquent, and our words will tell, and we shall wonder and rejoice to see how our children, our people, our friends and neighbours, listen to us and believe, and turn to him from whom we cannot and would not turn away. And at last we shall be:
5. Received by him into his own blessed presence, where we shall own that "the half was not told" us, and even the best of our seeing was but as through a glass, darkly. - S.C.
I. CHRIST IS ALTOGETHER TO BE LOVED AND DESIRED FOR WHAT HE IS IN HIMSELF. In his Person and character Christ is a Being who commands and attracts the love of all who are susceptible to the charms of spiritual excellence. There is beauty beyond that which is physical, beauty of which the charms of feature and of form are the appointed symbols. And for this beauty in most perfect manifestation we must look to Christ. Others have their excellences, but they have also their defects. In him alone every virtue is present and complete, in him alone every blemish is absent. He is at once above all praise and free from all blame. The soul that can recognize and delight in moral excellence finds all scope for such recognition and delight in him who is "fairer than the sons of men."
II. CHRIST IS ALTOGETHER TO BE LOVED AND DESIRED FOR WHAT HE HAS ACTUALLY AND ALREADY DONE FOR HIS FRIENDS. These know that he loved them, and that he loved them even "unto the end," that he "gave his life for his friends;" and this knowledge is ever in their memory, is ever affecting their hearts, is ever influencing the attitude of their whole being towards him. Nothing enkindles love like love. "We love him, because he first loved us."
III. CHRIST IS ALTOGETHER TO BE LOVED AND DESIRED AS THE SAVIOUR OF THE WORLD. He who is possessed with the Spirit of Christ is not selfish in his affections. He feels the spiritual power of his Saviour's self-sacrifice. He loves his Lord, because that Lord has pitied and has died for men. Our love to Christ is not pure, is not perfect, until it springs from a grateful and sympathetic recognition of what he has done who "came into the world to save sinners." - T.