Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
Romans 9:1-3; Romans 10:1. She who speaks could not wish to be not betrothed, and only as a sister. Some, therefore (Newton), have regarded these verses as an address to the unconverted and unsaved. Others have held that the "brother" means only an infant brother. But we take it that as Paul could wish himself unsaved for Israel's sake, so here, she who speaks could even wish that she did not hold so dear a relationship to the beloved, but only that of a sister, so that those about her, etc. (cf. supra). The words in Romans and here are to be regarded as hyperbolical expressions, telling of strong desire for others' good, but not to be regarded au pied de la lettre. We note that -
I. MEN WILL ACCEPT THAT WHICH THEY REGARD AS NATURAL. The expression of affection between brother and sister all understand, allow, and approve. And some expressions of religious feeling they will also admit, provided they are marked by what, they deem sobriety and conformity to general usage. All beyond that they despise.
II. BUT THE VEHEMENT AFFECTION OF THE SOUL FOR CHRIST THEY DESPISE. Several marks of such affection are suggested here.
1. Open avowal of love to him. "The religion of every sensible man," said one, "is that which every sensible man keeps to himself." Therefore such confession as is suggested by ver. 1, "When I should find... I would kiss thee," is of course extravagant and to be despised.
2. Proselytizing in the family. (Ver. 2.) "I would bring thee into my mother's house." Sincere religion is often deprecated as bringing strife into households, and it is difficult to see how our Lord's word, "I came not to send peace on earth, but a sword," can be escaped under such circumstances. And even if there be not absolute proselytizing, the mere presence of an earnest disciple in a house troubles those therein who have no or but little love for Christ.
3. The habitual heed to his teaching. (Ver. 2.) "That thou mightest instruct me" (Revised Version, margin). She would, like Mary, sit at her Lord's feet and listen to him. And even good people like Martha think such conduct not "a good part," and that opportunity for it ought to "be taken away from her."
4. The giving to him of her best. This the meaning of "the wine prepared from the pomegranate" (ver. 2). Such a sincerely loving soul will not be content with mere ordinary and routine service, but the best of all she has to give she will offer to him.
5. But all this wins scorn and dislike. She who speaks here was evidently "despised" for her devotion to her beloved, and so it is still when the like is seen towards Christ.
III. OUR AIM SHOULD, THEREFORE, BE TO SHOW MEN THAT WHAT THEY DESPISE IS ALTOGETHER REASONABLE AND RIGHT. That men might see this is what is so desired here. But men are as a child playing on a railway line in front of an advancing train. Some kind bystander rushes forward and clutches the child and puts it out of danger before the train is upon it. The child probably only stares displeasedly at him who has roughly interrupted its play; no spark of gratitude is there. So men now do not see what Christ has done for them and is willing to do, and so their hearts are cold to him. The truth, therefore, that "God so loved the world" must be held up, insisted on, and shown by lives consecrated to him under the sense of that love. - S.C.
I. THE OBJECT OF SPIRITUAL LOVE.
1. In loving Christ the soul centres its purest and strongest affections upon One who is in himself infinitely excellent. Earthly love is often the creature of the imagination, conceiving beauty and excellence which do not exist, or which exist in a measure extravagantly exaggerated. There is no possibility of thinking too highly of the Saviour, of admiring him too absorbingly, of loving him too warmly. He is all, and more than all, that our imagination can picture.
2. In loving Christ the soul does but render to him what his services and his sufferings deserve from our hearts. "We love him, because he first loved us." He has done for us what none other could or would have done. "While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." Is it possible to overstate our obligations - to offer him more than he has a right to expect and to claim from us?
II. THE YEARNING OF SPIRITUAL LOVE. Love would receive from the beloved. Two points are suggested by the passionate and glowing language of the text.
1. A desire for intimacy, for closest fellowship, for endearing friendship.
2. A desire for instruction, for lessons such as Christ only can convey to the soul of the disciple. It is well that we should look to our Lord for all things, for the wisdom that guides, the love that cheers, the grace that supports and sustains. The proper attitude of the Christian towards his Lord and Saviour is an attitude of dependence, of supplication, of expectation.
III. THE TRIBUTE OF SPIRITUAL LOVE. Love would give to the beloved. And the saved, rejoicing soul would fain offer of its best to Christ. The kisses, the spiced wine, and the pomegranate juice which the bride would offer to her spouse may suggest to us that Christ looks for the affection, the holy service, the consecrated devotion, of those for whom he died. What can we give him? If we cannot bathe his feet with tears or anoint his head with precious and fragrant unguents, we can at all events offer to him the sincere affection of the heart, a constant place in our thoughts, the tribute of our praise, and, to crown all, the service which, being rendered to his people, he will accept as given to himself. - T.
Song of Solomon 2:7; Song of Solomon 3:5. And now the scene changes. She has been rescued from or permitted to leave her gilded but none the less hated captivity in Solomon's palace, and with her beloved is returning to her old home. A band of friends exclaim, "Who is this," etc.? Applying the words spiritually, we may take them of the soul's home coming. And they tell -
I. WHITHER SUCH SOUL COMES. It is ever an upward coming. For all the characteristics of the soul's true home are far above the soul's natural condition. For here, assuredly, we have not peace. "Man is born," not to peace, but "to trouble." Who knows not that? For sin is the great troubler. Therefore, for the soul to have what it so desires, it must come up and away from the wilderness. Purity, likewise. How here can we keep ourselves undefiled? Who amongst men unregenerate and unsaved ever does so? But as the soul in coming home enters into the peace of God, so also shall it partake of his purity. Rest. The trials, crosses, and disappointments of life, its manifold adversities, all ceaselessly proclaim to the soul, "This is not your rest." But "there remaineth a rest for the people of God." And the soul, uprising in faith and love towards God, does even here know much of the truth of Christ's promise, "I will give you rest." And then there is the course and consummation of all these in the presence of God eternally in heaven. Here we have pledges and foretastes, but there only are we made perfect.
II. WHENCE. "From the wilderness." How fit that word for the soul's condition here ere it is redeemed by Christ! Are not the distress of conscience, the sense of guilt, the tyranny and cruelty of sin, the trials of life, and at length the grave, - are not all these wilderness like things? But when the soul comes home, it comes away from all these. It is not a coming in them, as every soul has to make acquaintance with them when it is born into the world; nor is it a coming through them - that is what we are occupied in now whilst we linger here; but it is coming from them, leaving them all behind. Oh, blessed home coming of the soul!
III. How. "Leaning upon her beloved." This tells of the soul's relation to Christ. He is "her Beloved." Of its union with him. As it were linked lovingly together as the soul leans upon him. Of its dependence upon Christ. It is a long, rough, lonely, and difficult way that the soul has to traverse. It needs, therefore, that the Lord should be her "arm" every day (Isaiah 33:2). Of its communion with Christ. Note the affectionate converse of the next verse. The maiden is represented as coming to a particular tree where once she had awaked him from a noonday slumber, and where, too, he had been bern. "In Oriente non raro accidit at mulieres in aperto pariant" (cf. Genesis 35:16). And they talk of these reminiscences. It was natural, and tells of the familiar intercourse, the happy communion, which the soul enjoys with Christ. Yes, it is thus that we make our way homeward, heavenward. In union, in dependence, in communion, with Christ. Thus we come up from the wilderness leaning on our beloved Lord. - S.C.
I. OBSERVE THE CHRISTIAN'S FORMER STATE. It is described as a "wilderness."
1. It is a wilderness on account of its barrenness. So in our unregenerate condition there was in us no fertility and no beauty. There may have been a few barren stalks of common morality; but they yielded no fragrance, they bore no fruit. In this wilderness there was nothing to satisfy the desires and aspirations of the soul. This world has its possessions, its pleasures, its honours, its shows, but none of these please or elevate the soul. We aspire after righteousness, after moral excellence, after the friendship of God; and with respect to these things this world is barren and empty. No man can lie down fully contented in it. It is not suitable for us as a possession; so that most men, burdened with care and infirmity, sigh out, "I would not live alway." "He that loveth silver shall not be satisfied with silver." The vapid joys of this world soon pall upon the appetite. They do not increase the capacity for joy; they diminish it. And many a man who has taken his fill of this world's pleasure concludes life with this dismal verdict on his lips, "Vanity of vanities; all is vanity!"
2. Moreover, this wilderness is infested with foes. If in the Arabian desert the Hebrews were exposed to human foes, to wild beasts and fierce serpents, so in this world many foes infest the way. Many and subtle are the snares which the enemy sets for our feet. We are liable to ten thousand annoyances. Evil men tempt us with a view to ruin us. "Satan goeth about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour." We have need for perpetual watchfulness. We have to fight with many adversaries. Clearly "this is not our rest."
II. MARK THE CHRISTIAN'S PRESENT ASCENT. "He cometh up." 'Tis an ascent.
1. Progress is the only way to perfection. It is true that God might have brought about perfection by some other way; but, as a fact, he has ordained this way, and this only. All the similitudes employed in Scripture to set forth the Christian life describe it as a thing of progress. The progress may be slow or more rapid; nevertheless, if there is life there is growth. In some believers the processes of enlightenment, conversion, and edification may be more rapid than in others (just as in some climates the processes of budding, blossoming, and ripening in fruit trees are more rapid than in our own land); still, in every instance perfection is attained by distinct stages. The life of every Christian is a progress along the heavenly way.
2. Discomfort is incident to a pilgrimage. No one expects to find the same comforts on a journey which he finds at home. On a journey one is content with the bare necessaries of existence. Would it not be madness to encumber one's self with soft couches and luxurious indulgences while on a journey? Would not such things seriously impede our progress? And is it not the one desire of a pilgrim to advance as rapidly as possible? To reach the end of his pilgrimage at the earliest hour is the uppermost desire of every true pilgrim. Therefore needless burdens are left behind. This is how ordinary pilgrims conduct themselves. And should not every Christian be more eager to advance along the way than to cumber himself with lands, or houses, or worldly honours? He who is bent on heavenly progress is bent also on self-denial. To grow like Christ, that is the Christian's daily business. Every day another step.
3. The pilgrim often pursues a solitary path. He is much alone. In the vision of the text only one is seen "coming up from the wilderness." She had left the broad path where many were found. She had left her old friends and companions. More and more the Christian has to walk alone. When first he resolved to follow Jesus he had to abandon former acquaintances; and, as often as he essays to reach a loftier level, he has to part with some comrades. He has learnt the art of personal decision. If others will not ascend with him to the higher planes of holy living, he must go alone. He would rather miss the company of a hundred than lose the company of his Well-beloved. Hence the frequent solitariness of the pilgrim. So far as outward connection with Christ's disciples is concerned, he will not separate himself. He cultivates all possible bonds of unity. He fosters Church life. But with regard to the inner life of his soul, i.e. his personal fellowship with Jesus, he is much alone. Yet, when most alone, he has the best society.
III. NOTE THE CHRISTIAN'S HELPFUL COMPANION. "Leaning on her Beloved."
1. This leaning implies a sense of Christ's nearness. We cannot lean upon anything that is not close at hand, yea, in actual touch with us. Though we cannot perceive Jesus with the organ of the body, we have a stronger proof still of his nearness. The experience of the soul is far more real and far more reliable than any sensation of the body. No organ is more easily deceived than the eye. Certainly our Immanuel gains immediate entrance to the heart. This fact is contained in his name, "God with us." So, without the intervention of words or other vehicle, he imparts good cheer and strength straight to the soul. He comes nearer than any human friend can come. He knows all the secret doors by which to pass in. He touches all the secret springs of life and reanimates them. He comes "to give life, to give it more abundantly."
2. Leaning means the transference of all our weakness to Jesus. To lean is to find support in another. If I am too weak to walk a distance of fifty miles, and I take a seat in a railway train, I transfer my weakness to that steam engine, and I take the benefit of its strength. At the outset of our Christian life we laid the whole weight of our sin upon our Substitute. We said, "God be merciful, for the sake of Jesus!" This was the foundation of our hope. As we grow in grace we learn more and more to leave our burdens in the hand of Jesus. We overcome the tempter, not by our own native strength, but through Christ, "who strengtheneth us." "I live," said St. Paul: "yet not I, but Christ liveth in me." This righteousness I have is Christ's righteousness. This love for sinful men is Christ's love "shed abroad in my heart." This wisdom to instruct and guide others is Christ's wisdom. I am "leaning on my Beloved." He takes on him all my weaknesses. He imparts to me his all-sufficient strength. It is a sacred and a vital partnership. Faith is perpetual dependence.
3. This leaning implies that Jesus is a consenting party. He loves to be used, loves to be trusted. Our weakness can never be a strain upon him, for his strength is omnipotence. He cannot fail, for such faithfulness was never seen among men - no, nor among angels. I could not trust to him for my eternal well being if I did not know that he shared in the Godhead. Clearly he is fully competent to take the whole weight of my salvation. And equally certain is it that he is willing. His love is as great as his power. His patience has often been severely tried, but it has proved abundantly adequate. The sun may cease to shine, the mountains may bow their snowy crests, the sea may vacate its bed; yet his loving kindness and his faithfulness eternally abide - these cannot fail. It is to him a real delight to help the weak and needy. After fifty or sixty years' experience of his tender grace, he says to us, "You have never half used me yet; you have never trusted me half enough. Hitherto you have asked nothing, comparatively nothing. Ask, and ye shall receive." So that our response ought to be spontaneous, "My soul, wait thou only upon God; for my expectation is from him" As the ivy clings for support to the oak, or as the limpet clings to the solid rock, so may we in our native weakness cling to the eternal Strength. As our faith grown, so will grow our love; and love, again, will encourage faith. There is a beautiful interaction. We lean upon Jesus because he is our Well-beloved. - D.
I. THE CHURCH'S INNATE WEAKNESS. Men sometimes use extravagant language regarding the Church, as though in itself it were great and powerful. But the juster view to take is that suggested by the posture of the beloved coming up out of the wilderness. All the Church has is derived; she can neither stand nor walk alone; her steps would falter if unsupported, would stray and err if unguided.
II. THE CHURCH'S DIVINE FRIEND AND HELPER. Christ, who has called his Church into fellowship with himself, is alone able and willing to take her under his protection and control. He knows the way in which she is to walk, the enemies she will encounter, the dangers by which she will be assailed. And he has all resources of spiritual strength and wisdom, encouragement and love. Every earthly counsellor and friend has limited powers, which sooner or later will surely fail. There is no measure to Christ's capacity to save and bless.
III. THE CHURCH'S WILLING, GRATEFUL, AND CLINGING DEPENDENCE. They who would fain go alone are not Christ's. So surely as he chooses his own, so surely does he put within them a spirit of subjection and attachment to himself. A cry for leading and for support comes up from the depths of the spiritual nature - a cry to which Christ is never indifferent, to which Christ always responds. He bids her "lean hard" upon him.
IV. THE CHURCH'S HAPPY SECURITY. Having given herself into his keeping, she knows that she is safe; that he will lead her aright, that he will never leave and never forsake her; that if she stumbles, she will not be allowed to fall; that if she is faint and weary, he will uphold her tottering steps; that if she is fearful, his words and his smile will banish her apprehensions and restore her peace. - T.
1. That she may be precious in Christ's esteem. As a seal, a signet ring, of great value.
2. That she may dwell in his love. "On thine heart." Also:
3. That she may enjoy the benefit of his intercession. There is allusion, apparently, to the jewels engraved as a signet, and which were on the breast of the high priest of Israel (Exodus 28:15-30).
4. That she may be defended by his might. "On thine arm."
5. That she may express and satisfy his will. As a seal does this for any writing on which it is impressed. Let not our "Amen" be lacking to such a prayer. - S.C.
I. ITS STRENGTH. "Strong as death." Death reigns. Who can resist his will? "Pallida mors," etc. (cf. Psalm 90). So love is all-powerful. It is a universal passion. It bears away all men in its might. It is an irrepressible force. This is true of human love. And in the love of the redeemed soul for Christ it has proved itself again and again "strong as death." Every one of the noble army of martyrs has faced death and vanquished it. "They loved not their lives unto the death;" "For thy sake we are killed all the day long." And yet more in Christ's love for us. Physical death, even the death of the cross, could not daunt him. Spiritual death, even that in which we all were - dead in trespasses and sins - has not been and shall not be too strong for him, though sometimes it seems to be so. His love is surely as strong as that death. "Where sin did abound, grace," etc.
II. ITS TENACITY. "Jealousy," or, rather, ardent, intense love - this is what is meant, not the mean passion which is known as jealousy. The same love is spoken of all through. And it is "cruel," or rather firm, tenacious, unyielding, "as the grave," as Sheol. Does hell ever give up its dead? Can we call back any from the grave? Can they who are there come back thence? So love holds fast that which it loves. The story of this song, as many a beautiful human story, proves the tenacity of true love. And the story of the Christian Church, in her love for her Lord, shows the same. What has not been done to compel redeemed souls to give up their love for Christ? And his love for us above all. "My sheep shall never perish, neither shall any pluck them out of my hand" (John 10.).
III. ITS VEHEMENCE. "The coals thereof are coals of fire," etc. Think of what such fire is and does. How it melts, fuses, and subdues that which comes under its power! How, as in volcanoes, it struggles for the mastery until it finds vent in victory! How it burns, consumes, tortures! Apply all this to intense human love - to the soul's love for Christ, and his for us. Are not many sinful souls conscious of Divine love's torturing power? See Peter when his Lord's look of love drove him forth in agony from the scene of his denial. Listen to Christ's word to Saul, "It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks." The baptism of the Holy Spirit is a baptism of fire (cf. Luke 12:49, 50).
IV. ITS UNQUENCHABLENESS. "Many waters," etc. There were such "many waters" which tried, in the beautiful human story of this song, but they could not quench the maiden's love for her beloved. And so has it been again and again in human experience. And think of the waters that sought to quench, and the floods to drown, the love of Christ in saintly souls. And they have failed, and will fail. And think of the like that could not extinguish, though so many more and fiercer far, the love which Christ bore towards us. Think of them, and see if Christ's love does not pass knowledge.
V. ITS INCORRUPTIBILITY. "If a man would give," etc. It is not for sale; it cannot be bought or bribed. Again, apply this test to the three forms of love we have spoken of - human, Christian, Christ's. And apply all these tests to our own love, and see if it will endure them. If it will, be thankful indeed, and make it evident to all that it is so. If it will not - and this is the sadder and more probable truth - behold, gaze on, contemplate earnestly, Christ's love to us; and then for us, too, it may come to pass, "whilst I was musing, the fire burned." - S.C.
I. NOTE THE SUBSTANCE OF THIS PRAYER.
1. It is a plea for love. Unless God had revealed to us the fact that in his heart there glowed a vehement flame of love for sinning men, we could never have surmised it. We might have carefully noted his many arrangements in nature for ministering to our happiness. We might have reasoned in our mind that, since he had given us the capacity to love, the spring and fount of that love must be in his own breast. Yet this would have been at the best conjecture. We could not have built on it any hope of enjoying his personal friendship, or of sharing his society eternally. But he has given us a veritable gospel. He has assured us that his highest love centres in men. He has given us plain and practical proofs of the ardour of his love. He has given us the sure pledge that his love is a permanent force in his nature; yea, an attribute of his Godhead. Therefore this love kindles our hope, excites our profoundest desire. God loves me; hence I can become a better man. I can rise out of the mire of sin. I can emerge out of the grave of dark despair. I can become a child of God, a prince in the kingdom of heaven. My heart is deeply moved. I love him who gave himself for me. I want to love him more. But he must soften my nature, and draw out my love. Will he condescend to do it? Will he have pity on undeserving me? I want to have this question solved. Jesus, I pray thee make me thy friend!
2. It is a petition for the assurance of Christ's love. The language is very probably borrowed from an impressive scene in the temple. It was a part of the duty of the high priest, when he went into the holy place, and came into immediate contact with God, to wear upon his breast and upon his shoulders the names of the tribes of Israel. These names were graven upon precious stones, and this ceremony indicated the affectionate interest which the high priest felt in the welfare of the people. He lived for them. He made oblation for their sins. He interceded with God on their behalf. Their misfortunes and their fails became his misfortunes and his burdens. He identified himself completely with the people. So his influence with God was used for them. Now, we too have a great High Priest; not a frail, erring man like Aaron and his successors. We have a perfect Mediator, even the Son of God himself. He has passed into the heavens as our Representative. If he will identify himself with me, and undertake my salvation, I am fully content. For so excellent is he that his pleading always does and must prevail. Can I be sure that he feels an interest in me? Yes, it is possible. If I ask for this blessing I shall have it. Hence I pray, "Set me as a seal upon thy heart."
3. This also is a plea for practical help. "Set me as a signet upon thine arm." The love of Jesus is not an inactive sentiment. It is sympathetic; it is personally helpful. His love puts into gracious operation all the energies of his being. I want the protection of a mighty arm. I want superior help. My heart has grown very insensible through sin, and I want him to soften it. I want him to eradicate from me the old roots of lust and folly. I want him to break off my letters of evil habit, I want him to remodel and revitalize my whole nature. No one else can do it. His strength is almightiness. If he will use his Divine power for my good, I shall be emancipated and purified and ennobled. I shall run gladly in his ways. And he is willing to do it. He delights in saving men and in doing good. So I will pray, "O Saviour, let thy great power work in me. Put forth thy strength on my behalf. 'Set me as a signet on thy arm.'"
II. OBSERVE THE ARGUMENT IN THIS PRAYER. "For love is strong as death." The Christian has large hope and has large expectation, because the principle or quality in God concerned about his salvation is love. So he argues with his heavenly Friend in this way: "It is for my eternal good that my name should be engraven on thy heart, for this I know that love is strong; yea, the mightiest thing in the world."
1. This plea for the assurance of God's love is founded on the power of love. Commentators have differed whether the writer had in view here Immanuel's love to us, or our love to him. But it is evident that the inspired writer is thinking about love in the abstract. Real love everywhere is strong. The timid bird, that usually flees from man or dog, will, to defend its young, risk its own life and attack its fiercest foe. Love is strong. What peril has not a human mother faced to save her child? Can we measure the strength of love by any known test? Can we express it by any metaphor? I cannot conceive any difficult feat too formidable for love. I think of love as I observe its working among men. I think of it as I experience its strength in me. It is next to omnipotent in man. It will readily confront death and grapple that mysterious foe. Amongst men, it is strong as death; yea, stronger, mightier! What, then, must love be in our Immanuel? Here it exists in perfect form, in uncreated measure, without a flaw or blemish. If love in Christ be the same sort of thing as love in my breast (and it is), then that love will endure anything to save its object. H my name is on Jesus' heart, this is my best-founded security for all good, present and eternal.
2. The argument proceeds on this ground, that baffled love is poignant pain. "Jealousy is cruel as the grave." This, again, is spoken of jealousy in the abstract. If I love, and my love is encouraged, and for a time reciprocated, until it burns with ardour; then, if a rival comes between me and my object, what pain, what fierce indignation, follows! Such jealousy springs out of injured love, that the heart passion is uncontrollable. It overleaps all barriers of law, all limits of reason. You cannot hold it in check. "It is cruel as the grave;" cruel as hell. Now, if Jesus has set his heart upon me; if he has sacrificed much on my account; if he has attested his affection by the cross and by the grave; then will he allow any rival to supplant him? Would there not be a feeling of intense pain, akin to jealousy, burning in his breast if anything came between him and the object of his love? Hence, for his own sake, he will not cast me off. For his own sake he will not cease to love me, nor cease to win my love in return. We are told that "he hates putting away." Here, then, is a very forceful argument, that for his own peace of mind, for his own honour, he will give me - poor, unworthy me - a larger place in his heart. "Having loved his own, he loves them unto the end."
3. The argument proceeds on love's unchangeableness. Literally translated, it is, "The coals thereof are the coals of God." This flame never decreases; it is fed from a storehouse of infinity. Changeableness is incident to man, but it has no place with God. We may love a person under a false estimate of that person's excellence. The charms may be plausible and pretentious rather than real. Hence our affections may diminish, undergo complete change. This can never happen with God. He does not love us Because we are lovable. He loves us in order to make us lovable and worthy of himself. His love chose us when we were aliens, rebels, depraved, dead in sin. As there was nothing in us to attract him at the first, so nothing in us will drive him away. He will correct, chastise, prune, purify us, but will not allow his love to change. Says he, "I have loved thee with an everlasting love." The flame of love which glows in his breast is a flame that cannot die out, so long as God is God.
III. THE RESPONSE TO THIS PRAYER. We may very properly regard this verse as the bridegroom's response. To the pathetic, yearning appeal of the bride, he promptly replies, "Thy argument is most valid; cogent in the extreme. Yea, verily, many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it."
1. Love is all-victories. If it be imaged forth as a flame of fire, then in one respect the figure fails. You can extinguish flame with water, if only you can pour on a sufficient quantity; but on this flame of love no amount of coldness or opposition will cool it in the least degree. Let Satan and his legions do their very utmost to lessen the intensity of this heavenly flame, their labour is vain. They only prepare for themselves a bitter disappointment. Or let the floods of human vice and human antagonism rise as they may, they can never rise as high as this heavenly flame. The finite can never o'ermaster the Infinite. The love of God to men is a sacred principle, an integral part of the Divine nature. There is nothing outside God to be compared in potency with what is within him. As the creature can never be a match for the Creator, so no kind of opposition can ever injure or diminish the eternal love of God. Just as nothing on earth nor in hell can diminish God's power or tarnish his righteousness, so also nothing can lessen or dim the fervent flame of his eternal pity. "Many waters cannot quench love;" yea, love turns all human hatred into fresh coals to feed the flame.
2. Love has a priceless value. The argument on the part of the Bridegroom seems to be, "Wherefore should my love abate. If it should, there must be some reason for it. What reason can there be what advantage? what gain?" Even were there some advantage to be gained, this would not weigh in the scale. For love scorns all advantage. Love delights in sacrifice. Only let love discover how it can make some new surrender, in order to bless the fallen and the wretched, and straightway love makes the surrender. Jesus will give up his heaven, his joy, his crown, today; give all up without hesitation, if he can thereby lift some poor sinner into a righteous life. On his part nothing shall impede the activities of his ardent love. Will he ever listen to any proposal to allow his love to rest? Never! Will he at any time prefer ease, or rule, or fame, or worship, to the outgoings of practical love? Never! A thousand times, never! Do I feel myself now more unworthy of his love than ever in my past history? Then, my soul, be hopeful! Here is greater scope for Immanuel's love! Spirit of truth, show me more clearly yet my guilt, my ingratitude, my inward corruption! For then shall I see how much I need my Saviour's pity, my Saviour's help. Then I know that he will run to my deliverance. For "Christ died for the ungodly." He loves to save the needy. If I have had much sin forgiven, then shall I love much. "Therefore, Lord, write my name upon thy heart, for in me thy love shall have a glorious triumph!" - D.
I. ARDENT. "A very flame of the Lord;" "the flashes thereof like flashes of fire." The story of the Church tells us of many whose affection and devotion to their Lord cannot be justly described in less fervent terms. There have been consecrated apostles, zealous missionaries, seraphic saints, who have been consumed with this sacred passion. And lowly Christians have lived, and yet live, unnoticed by the world, and little recognized even by the Church, in whose breasts this pure fire has burned with fervour so glowing as to verify this glowing language.
II. STRONG AND TENACIOUS. There is a frequent belief that as a keen bright flame soon burns itself out, so it is not to be expected that piety should long retain its utmost fervour. It is presumed that the exalted mood must pass away, that the spiritual passion must give place to the cold ashes of indifference. But this is not so with the love which consciously responds to the love which passeth knowledge. This is persistent, and is "strong as death."
III. UNQUENCHABLE. "Many waters" roll over it in vain, "neither can the floods drown it." Opposition and persecution try their power upon this spiritual passion, only to find that it is more than able to resist them. The oil which is poured upon the fire by the hand that is unseen is mightier than the water which is dashed upon it by the carnal, cold, and unbelieving world, Nay, the worldliness and indifference too often distinctive of professing Christian society, more dangerous than open hostility, is powerless to extinguish the flame which God himself has kindled.
IV. UNPURCHASEABLE. How true is this language even of human love, which, if it be sincere, is surely spontaneous and unbought! If love is to be purchased, it is love and not money which must be paid for it; "the substance of a man's house" is no equivalent for the priceless treasure. Gratitude and service may be bought, but love is beyond the value of jewels and of gold. We are taken into another region than that of market value and of merchandise. It is the love of the Saviour, that love which shone through the lurid darkness of Calvary, which wins the love of human hearts.
"I give my heart to thee, V. IMMORTAL. It is sealed, i.e. for an everlasting possession. An ancient writer said, "Christ seals us in the heart, that we may love him; in the forehead, that we may confess him; in the hand, that we may profess him, and that we may practise what we profess." Over this love time and death have no power. It burns brighter when the lamp of life bums low; it breaks forth in perfect lustre when, beyond this murky atmosphere of earth, it reaches the clear air of heaven. - T.
V. IMMORTAL. It is sealed, i.e. for an everlasting possession. An ancient writer said, "Christ seals us in the heart, that we may love him; in the forehead, that we may confess him; in the hand, that we may profess him, and that we may practise what we profess." Over this love time and death have no power. It burns brighter when the lamp of life bums low; it breaks forth in perfect lustre when, beyond this murky atmosphere of earth, it reaches the clear air of heaven. - T.
Ezekiel 16:46). Hence we may take this sister as telling of the whole heathen world, and that world in its worst state. If so, then we may learn -
I. THAT THE HEATHEN, EVEN THE VILEST, ARE, AS WE ARE, CHILDREN OF ONE FATHER. "We have a sister. Christ stands in the relation of an elder Brother to the Gentile as well as to the Jewish Church; therefore these two must be sisters." All men are to say, "Our Father which art in heaven."
II. CHRIST WILL CALL FOR THEM TO BE HIS OWN. There will come a "day when she shall be spoken for." Cf. "Other sheep I have" (John 10:16); "Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for," etc. (Psalm 2:8).
III. THEY ARE NOT READY FOR HIM. Not ready for that spiritual union with Christ into which his Church shall enter. How certain this is! They are sunk in sin.
IV. THIS IS A MATTER OF MUCH CONCERN TO THOSE WHO ARE CHRIST'S. "What shall be done for her?" This has been the impulse of all true missions, of all endeavours to bring in others to Christ.
V. THEY ASK AND GAIN COUNSEL FROM HIM. Ver. 9 gives his answer to the inquiry, "What shall be done?" "If she be a wall," etc. In the literal story this probably refers to her steadfastness in virtue (cf. ver. 10), and the "door" to an opposite character. We may take the words as telling:
1. Of preparedness to receive the truth. There is amongst some people a preparedness for the faith which greatly facilitates its reception. That preparedness is as a wall which shuts out the inroads of the vile vices which too commonly belong to heathenism, and, as a wall, strengthens them in the maintenance of many excellences. Where this is, there Christ will build a glorious Church (cf. Psalm 48:12, 13).
2. Of ordinary heathenism, which is as a door, in and out of which come and go all manner and kinds of evils. If it be so, then, as in Romans 2:7, then she should be shut in, enclosed with sacred restraints, as with boards of cedar. And the providence of God has in the past and will in the future so work that it will restrain the grosser practices of heathenism. For often is it seen that even where the heart is not yielded to Christ, yet the sacred restraints of religious custom do tend to regulate conduct and hinder it from much evil See the influence of Sunday on our national life. The counsel suggested, therefore, as to what to do in regard to those as yet not Christ's, is that where there is preparedness, encourage it; and where not, restrain the practice of evil, make sin difficult so far as you can. - S.C.
2 Timothy 4:7). Solomon had sought by every means in his power to bend her will to his, but she had remained faithful to her beloved. She tells of his great estate and of the wealth he obtained from it; but - speaking of her own love - she says she has kept her vineyard, and that it needed no guardian. King Solomon may keep his wealth, and his tenants theirs. She desired neither, but was glad and thankful, her heart was filled with joy, that, tried as she had been, she had yet remained true. Taking all this as a parable, we may learn that -
I. THE CONSCIOUSNESS OF SPIRITUAL VICTORY IS FULL OF JOY. (cf. ver. 10.) What exultant tone there is in it: like that of the psalms which celebrate victory over enemies! The battle may often have wavered, defeat may have been very near, the struggle very severe; all such considerations invest the victory, when it comes, with great joy. To have kept ourselves unspotted from the world, how blessed this! And our own experience, we trust, has often known this union of joy with victory. The calm of spirit, the sense of the Divine approval, the "Well done!" of conscience, the sunshine in the soul when we have overcome some spiritual foe, all attest what we have said.
II. TOWARDS SUCH VICTORS ENEMIES BECOME FRIENDS. "Then was I as one that found peace." The meaning seems to be that the king, finding all his attempts to win her to be in vain, and struck, it may be, also, with admiration of her constancy, ceased from his solicitations, and let her depart. How often the like of this is witnessed! True, there may be foes who will remain so, though they cease from their temptations. Satan so ceased because he found he could not prevail when he tempted our Lord. But there may be those who cease their persecutions because they have ceased to be our foes. The centurion at the cross confessed, "Surely this was a righteous Man." And they who, returning from "that sight," smote their breasts in sorrow and repentance, - they would gladly have undone the work which that morning they had helped to do. And in the history of the Church, how perpetually was it the case that the constancy and fidelity of her martyrs won over those who before had been her foes; so that the saying went forth, "The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church"! And similar fidelity still wins similar triumphs; foes become friends (cf. history of Daniel).
III. THE POSSESSION OF ONE'S OWN SOUL IS BETTER THAN ANY OTHER POSSESSION BESIDE. (Cf. supra as to the probable meaning of these verses, which tell of Solomon's vineyard and her own.) She spurned all his wealth, but she prized her own truth and faithfulness. She had striven as Paul had, and succeeded in having a conscience void of offence. And no earthly honour or wealth can be put on a level with such possession, and can never compensate for its loss. Judas lost it, and went out and hanged himself. Hence the Bible says, "Keep thine heart with all diligence, for out of it," etc. Not only the kingdom of God, but your own kingdom - that which is your own indeed, and the source of your well being - is within you. - S.C.
I. OBSERVE THAT GOD IS THE GREAT PROPRIETOR. "The earth is the Lord's, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein." No part of this vast and illimitable universe is exempt from his lordship.
1. His claim is founded on creation. God alone is uncreated. The unfallen hosts of angels, all principalities and powers in heaven, no less than the tiniest insect on earth, are the workmanship of his skilful hands. Creation gives a prescriptive and an indisputable right. What I make I claim as my own, though probably the raw material belonged to another. But God created out of nothing, or rather out of himself; therefore his title is without a flaw.
2. His claim is founded on preservation. For preservation is simply a continuous act of creation. He sustains in existence every atom of material, every form of life, every dynamic force, and this through every successive hour. In this way he asserts perpetually his supreme rights of property. Every vineyard is his workmanship. The life of every tree is his gift. The nourishing qualities of the soil; the sunshine, dew, and rain; all influences of the revolving seasons - all are his contributions to the maintenance of the vineyard. This is simply a sample of God's sustaining activity. My life hangs upon him through every hour. "In him I live and move;" "By him all things consist."
3. His claim is founded on acknowledgment. We admit that we are not our own. The enlightened conscience of every man testifies that God is the supreme Owner. We are not masters even of ourselves, nor of our own life. We did not choose in what year, or in what city, or in what family, we would be born. We have no control over our continuance in life. The voice from heaven says, "Return to the dust, ye children of men!" We have no control over the mode or the time of our departure. Nor have we unlimited control over our property. Sudden misfortune may scatter our wealth. "Riches make themselves wings and fly away." We feel that we are accountable to God; for to the bar of our own consciences are we frequently brought, to be prejudged of the use we have made of life, and the decision of this court will simply be ratified in the great assize. We are tenants at will. We have only a life interest in our earthly possessions. We are stewards, not proprietors.
II. OBSERVE THAT GOD HAS MADE US KEEPERS, OR STEWARDS. "He let out the vineyard unto keepers." The interest of the Proprietor is to be kept in view. We are "keepers" of his property. His good, not ours, must be sought.
1. This stewardship comprises everything. My body is not my own; it is a temple of the living God. Every organ of body and of mind is simply entrusted to my care. My tongue is not my own; it is an instrument for praising God. My learning is not my own; it should be laid on God's altar. My will is not my own; it should be made submissive to God's will. Hourly my prayer should be, "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?" Even the skill for gaining money belongs to another. "Say not in thine heart, My power, and the might of my own hand, have gotten me this wealth. But thou shalt remember the Lord thy God, for it is he that giveth thee power to get wealth." If I live to please myself, I am usurping the place of my Lord, and I incur his displeasure.
2. We are stewards who know the will of our Master. He has not left us in ignorance respecting the business of our life, or in what way his property should be employed. The vineyard must be "kept," and must be made fruitful. His Word is full of instruction, which demands our careful study and our faithful observation. In these living oracles he clearly speaks, "Son, go work today in my vineyard." "As ye have opportunity, do good unto all men." "Follow me," says Jesus. In other words, he means, "Live as I live. Spend life in doing good." We cannot plead as an excuse for slothfulness that we know not the will of our Master. And if we desire to obtain fuller direction, the Master himself is at hand, and guides every submissive soul "Ask, and ye shall receive." For the promise still runs, "I will guide thee with mine eye."
3. We are stewards who have the ability to do our Master's will. He is no hard Taskmaster, requiring the tale of bricks without providing raw material. On the contrary, his yoke is easy. In every circumstance, his friendly voice whispers, "My grace is sufficient for thee." Often do we put up the prayer, "Thy kingdom come, thy will be done." But it behoves us to remember that the means for attaining this great end lie within our reach. Had all servants of God been faithful in their office, what a different world would this be today! How large a proportion of our fellow men would be in the kingdom of God! It does not suffice that we serve Christ with one talent, while we allow other talents to lie idle. We cannot, with our money gifts, buy release from personal service. As no man can transfer to another his mental endowments, or his social influence, or his personal responsibility; so no man can transfer to another man his work. In these vineyards, service by proxy is not allowed. That person whom I presume to employ is already under the same obligation as myself, and cannot therefore serve as my substitute. Nor can we hope to see any great enlargement in the kingdom of Christ until each separate disciple feels and realizes that the burden of the world's salvation rests upon him. "As each one hath received the gift, let him minister the same, as a good steward of the manifold grace of God"
III. NOTE THAT GOD APPOINTS A RECKONING TIME. In the annual vintage season, the husbandman was required to make a proper return to the owner. This return might be made either in kind or in some equivalent.
1. There is a special season for this reckoning time. Speaking generally, the reckoning time will be at the day of judgment. Yet, for all practical purposes, this tenure terminates st death. Then our Lord comes, and convoys his servant home. Then the authoritative voice says, "Give an account of thy stewardship, for thou mayest be no longer steward." Then the faithful servant gives in his account with joy. "He has boldness in the day of judgment." It is the end for which he has toiled and waited. Just as the busy farmer rejoices greatly when his last harvest sheaves are garnered, because his toil has reached a successful end; so the disembodied Christian presents himself before his Lord with rapturous joy. For, with the fruits of his toil surrounding him, he confidently says, "Here am I, Lord, and the children thou hast given me. It is only thy talent I have thus multiplied. Not unto me, not unto me, but unto thy Name be all the glory."
2. Note the system of the reckoning. In God's kingdom the system must be strictly equitable; on God's part generous. That system is that a fair proportion of the gain belongs to God. He that is entrusted with ten talents is required to bring more gains than the man with only five. In proportion to our faith, fidelity, and zeal will be the measure of our success. Divested of all imagery, the simple fact is that each Christian is required to increase righteousness, loyalty, and love in God's world. I am expected to leave this world better, i.e. holier, than I found it. My business in life is to bring men nearer to God. If I can increase in men repentance, faith, piety, mutual benevolence, I have fulfilled my stewardship in some measure. If I have persuaded men to abandon a life of sin and to follow Jesus, I have brought honour to my Master's Name. My life work as a Christian is to enlarge the spiritual empire of Messiah. As in the fields of nature seed corn will produce sixty, or eighty, or a hundredfold; so each servant of Jesus Christ should lead sixty, or eighty, or a hundred men out of a state of rebellion into the covenant grace of our Immanuel. Saved ourselves, it should be our main business in life to save others.
"What is my being but for thee,
I. A TRUST GRACIOUSLY COMMITTED. As Solomon let out his vineyard at Baal-hamon to certain tenants, so the Divine Lord and Ruler of all has appointed for each one of us a certain province of opportunity for improvement and for service. This is more strikingly the case with regard to those who occupy positions of eminence, but in reality such is the position of every intelligent and reasonable creature of God. We are tenants to whom his goodness has assigned a sphere of action in which we may be negligent or diligent, responsive to his behests or indifferent to his claims.
II. A TRUST FAITHFULLY FULFILLED. In the parable the keepers or tenants are represented as having cultivated the vineyards entrusted to them with skill and success, so that they were able to pay the king the rent which was agreed upon or the tribute which he required. In this they are representatives of all those who, having received privileges and enjoyed opportunities, turn them to good account. The scholar who cultivates his mind, enlarges his knowledge, and fits himself to influence aright the opinion and convictions of his less favoured fellow men; the man of wealth who employs his riches in a spirit of wise and expansive knowledge; the Christian minister who cultivates the corner of the spiritual vineyard committed to his care; every faithful child of God who diligently and prayerfully endeavours to do the will of the heavenly Husbandman, may be said to be faithful in his discharge of the obligations of his trust.
III. FIDELITY TO THE TRUST AMPLY RECOGNIZED AND REMUNERATED. Whilst the king received his thousand pieces of silver, the cultivators of the vineyard were rewarded with two hundred pieces as the recompense of their toil. And God suffers no faithful labourer to be the loser by his service. True, the recompense may not be material or temporal. Many a diligent servant of God is allowed to live a life of privation and to die in poverty. But there is a rich reward reaped by such a faithful trustee and steward of God's grace. He has the recompense of a good conscience; he may have the affectionate gratitude of some whose best interests he has promoted; and he certainly has the approval of him who can appoint to a higher ministry, who can confer lasting honours and true blessedness. - T.
Song of Solomon 2:17. But we prefer to understand the whole as her appeal to him. Note, therefore -
I. THE TITLE SHE GIVES HIM. "O thou that dwellest in the gardens" (ver. 13). The gardens are the souls of his loving people. Rightly are they so called, for he chose them for himself, loves to dwell in them, and it is needful for them that he should. (Cf. sermon by C.H. Spurgeon on 'Supposing him to be the Gardener.')
II. THE PLEA SHE PUTS FORWARD THAT SHE MAY HEAR HIS VOICE. "The companions hearken to thy voice." We regard these companions as the angels "that do his commandments, hearkening to the voice of his word" (Psalm 103:20). They hear his voice; then why should not the soul that loves him? Doubtless we deserve it less than they, but we need it more than they. Theirs is not, as ours, the perverse and unruly will; theirs is not, as ours, the daily need to confess sin and to seek its forgiveness, for they are holy as we are not. But then all the more we need to hear his voice causing us to know the way wherein we should walk. And we love it as much as they. "Sweeter is thy Word to me than honey," etc.; "The law of thy mouth is better unto me than thousands," etc. (and cf. Psalm 119.). And we will strive to obey it even as they; therefore may each soul plead, "Cause me to hear it."
III. HER EAGERNESS FOR HIS COMING. (Ver. 14.) Cf. last verse of the Revelation, "Amen, come quickly. Even so, come, Lord Jesus" (cf. Song of Solomon 2:17). Wherefore this eagerness? Because to the soul aglow with love to him all joy is sorrow without him, and all sorrow joy with him. The kingdom of evil needs to be subdued, the kingdom of God to be set up. Therefore would the soul have it that Christ should come swiftly as the bounding hart or the springing roe. That saintly soul, Samuel Rutherford, thus writes on this verse, "Oh, how long is it to the dawning of the marriage day? O sweet Jesus, take wide steps! O my Lord, come over the mountains at one stride! 'O my Blessed, flee as a roe or young hart upon the mountains of separation!' O time, run, run, and hasten the marriage day, for love is tormented with delays!" And what is St. Paul's word but an echo of this? "Our conversation is in heaven, from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ." Thus "looking for and hastening unto the coming of the Lord" may we ever be! - S.C.
I. OBSERVE THE CHRISTIAN'S ABODE. "Thou that dwellest in the gardens."
1. This description of the Christian's dwelling implies quiet retirement. Formerly he loved bustle and excitement; now he loves a place for quiet meditation and prayer. He finds more pleasure in being among the works of God than among the works of men. As at the beginning God provided for Adam a garden, because most suited for healthfulness both of body and of soul; so the man who has the mind of Christ feels strongly the attractiveness of a garden. He loves to be shut out from the world, and to be shut in with God. He is a learner; and in deep quietude he best learns the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven.
2. A garden implies privilege. It is a privileged place. It is not open to all comers. The believer is no longer a rover, wandering up and down the earth in quest of some unpossessed good. He is not, like Cain, an outcast. He does not inhabit a wilderness, like the Edomites. The best situation this earth can furnish is for him. The place where God reveals himself is the place for him. Once it was a wilderness, now it is a garden. Among the lilies the good Shepherd feeds his flock; so there the Christian loves to abide. In the cool of the evening God walks among the trees; so there the Christian will walk also. It is Christ's garden, Christ's workmanship; a place of special privilege. This garden is, of course, the Church. Here the Christian sees what beauty and what fruitfulness adorn others; so he is emulated to be fragrant and fruitful also.
3. A garden implies useful occupation. For though God himself is the chief Husbandman, there is something forevery Christian to do in the garden. He cannot give life to the plants, yet he can water them; he can shield them from peril; he can prune and train the branches. He is a worker along with God; a partner in service. Such occupation is contributive to his own life and health and joy. An idle Christian is an anomaly. So long as I am in the Church, my influence is felt in moulding the church. The Church will be either better or worse for my presence. My zeal for fruitfulness will be contagious. My devoutness will lift the Church to a loftier elevation. Or my unspirituality will chill the ardour of the Church's love. I cannot be an idle spectator. I must do good work in the Church or bad. I am called unto usefulness.
4. A garden implies abundance of good. Whatever can meet the hunger of the body, or gratify the nostrils, or please the eye, or bring delight to the whole man, is found in a perfect garden. The word suggests abundance. So, in the Church, Jesus Christ spreads a perpetual banquet. He well knows our every requirement, and. he anticipates every need. Here is truth for the nourishment of the soul, wisdom for practical guidance, refreshing cordials for hours of weariness, strength for dally duty, deep wells of water for the soul's thirst, grace forevery time of need. No earthly garden can fitly picture forth the lavish provision God makes for our souls. Not a blessing is withheld. "All things are ours; for we are Christ's, and Christ is God's." Much as I have already received, there's much more to follow.
II. MARK THE CHRISTIAN'S SPEECH. "The companions hearken to thy voice."
1. This means that a Christian is social. If he has withdrawn from the society of worldly men, he is the more drawn into the fellowship of the saints. A Christian cannot be a recluse. This is a mistaken idea of his position and his obligation. Christian love excludes selfishness. His new instinct impels him to help others. He yearns that all men may be saved. God has given him the talent of speech. It is a wondrous gift. He can convey his thoughts to others. He can express tender feeling and brotherly sympathy to others. He can reprove faults and encourage virtues by his speech. He can have intimate friendships, which shall be helpful to him and to others. He dare not leave neglected the social side of his nature, or he will be disloyal to his Master.
2. His speech is attractive. "The companions hearken to thy voice." They did not complain of the harshness or bitterness of his speech. The very reverse: "they hearkened." It was pleasant. There was a heavenly savour about it, that made it winsome. It was like a breath of spring that quickened and refreshed them. The Christian's converse sheds new light into others' minds. It stimulates gently all the better impulses of the soul. It strengthens faith and love and hope. He hears new revelations from God's lips, and communicates the message to his fellows. Each Christian can help and instruct other Christians. Each has his own peculiar experience of the new life, and the interchange of experience is comforting and stimulating. If we speak what "we have known, and tasted, and felt, and handled of the good word of life," if we speak under an impulse of love, our speech will be attractive, and will minister grace to the hearers. "As iron sharpeneth iron," so do wise and gracious words quicken friendship.
3. This Christian speech was praiseworthy. Had it not been so, the Divine Master would not have asked to hear it. May we not learn here how ready our Immanuel is to find occasion for commending us? Instead of being in a mood for censoriousness, he is always ready to put the best construction on our doings. If he can find in us a virtue to praise, he will do it. It well behoves us, then, to ask ourselves whether our converse with others is always edifying. Our speech greatly influences men; is that influence always on the right side? In the dark days of Israel's fall, there were a few "who spake often one to another: and the Lord hearkened, and heard, and a book of remembrance was written before him" During his earthly ministry, Jesus often reminded men of the power that resides in human speech, and of the tremendous issues that follow. "By thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned."
III. THE CHRISTIAN'S FELLOWSHIP SOUGHT BY CHRIST. "Cause me to hear it."
1. A rare instance of Christ's meekness. There is nothing more edifying or more delightful to the Christian than to listen to the voice of Jesus. "Never man spake like this Man." His words are like pearls of wisdom, and for sweetness are like the droppings of the honeycomb. But how comes it to pass that Jesus can find pleasure in listening to our imperfect speech? This is almost a crowning act of condescension. He delights to hear our voices. He asks us so to speak that he may hear. He loves to hear us speak as his witnesses among men. He is pleased to hear our testimony concerning himself. His ear is gratified with our songs of adoration and gratitude. Specially he rejoices to hear our voices in prayer. "Hitherto," he says, "you have asked nothing" - comparatively nothing - "in my Name. Ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full." As an earthly father delights to hear the silvery prattle of his little child, and no request from an infant's lips goes unheeded; so our God finds peculiar pleasure in hearing our voice of childlike appeal. Before we finish our petition, the answer is on the way.
2. This request is an outcome of Christ's relationship to us. Since he has entered into intimate and affectionate union with us - ay, made with us a marriage covenant - it follows that communion with us is a thing to be desired. If he had not been willing to live with us on familiar and reciprocal terms, he would not have entered into this mystic and organic union. Having made the greater sacrifice, he will not refrain from the lesser. It is not his fault that his intercourse with us is not more frequent, more close, more sensibly enjoyed. He is ever asking us to treat him as our bosom Friend, and to trust him forevery kind of need. It is as if he said to us, "You tell your troubles unto others; why not tell them unto me? Cause me to hear thy voice!" Would a loyal wife tell her cares and her griefs to one and to another, while refraining from speaking of them to her husband? Would not this be a scandalous folly? Hence Jesus says to us, "Tell me everything. There is nothing that disturbs your peace which is not a care to me." We are charged to "cast all our care upon him." And our simple duty is, "in everything...to make known our wants unto God."
3. This request of Christ will serve as a corrective. To remember that Jesus wants to hear our voice, will this not often be a check upon our speech? Those hasty or unkind words of ours respecting another, did not Jesus hear them? Or, if we are forming in our minds an ungenerous estimate of a neighbour, does not Jesus whisper to us, "Cause me to hear thy voice"? Even thoughts are heard by him. The voice that Jesus hears is not always the voice that others hear. They hear the words which escape the lips. Jesus hears the intention uppermost in the mind. Jesus hears the "still small voice" of our motives. Our every feeling, our every ambition, has a voice, and Jesus says, "Let me hear it." It is for our good that he should hear it all. My best Beloved is ever listening. How soft and loving and true should my voice always be! I must "set a watch on the door of my lips, that I sin not with my tongue."
IV. THE CHRISTIAN'S RESPONSE TO HIS LORD'S REQUEST. "Make haste, my Beloved, and be thou like to a roe or to a young hart upon the mountains of spices."
1. Note the promptness of true obedience. Jesus had said, "Cause me to hear thy voice." Forthwith the loving soul responds, "Lord, thou shalt hear it. Come, Lord Jesus; come quickly!" No word could be more welcome to Jesus than that. It is as if the spouse had said, "Mayhap my voice may express feelings and inclinations which are very faulty; but do thou, beloved One, come, and thou wilt correct all faultiness. Thy presence will be food and medicine, rest and growth, in one. The 'one thing needful' is thyself. I pass by all the streams of help; I come to the Fountainhead. Thou art the Fount of life. 'All my springs are in thee.'" Love is swift to obey
2. Yet absence is for a time expedient. The night is as needful to the plant as the day. Winter is as useful to agriculture as summer. It was expedient for the first apostles that Christ's visible presence should be withdrawn. They learnt to use the wisdom and the courage which he had given them. They gave themselves more to the study of Scripture and to prayer. They showed far more enthusiasm and zeal than when he was among them. We see, as a fact, that great advantage accrued to them from the departure of Jesus. So is it still. We have from him all the help we need. We have his mighty Spirit in our souls. To have the visible presence of Jesus would fill us with a new rapture. But enjoyment is not the main thing now. We want personal holiness and personal consecration; these are attained through faith.
3. The Christian interprets this command of Christ as a fresh proof of his love. Did he say, "Cause me to hear thy voice"? then this is a love token. He would not desire to hear my voice unless he loved me. What delicate reminders of his love does our Immanuel give! How he devises to do us good, and plans to give us pleasure! And the more love grows, the stronger grows the desire to see him as he is. We long to have nearer access to Christ, without a veil between.
4. Love is impatient of all delay. We cannot climb to the heavenly heights, or sometimes we would. Hence, if there is to be a meeting between Christ and me, he must come down to me. Where he dwells must be a mountain - a mountain of fragrant spice. As mountains are the eminences of nature the loftiest parts of this material globe, so they help us to ascend to those empyreal heights, where true purity resides, where the Highest dwells. Love can conquer every hindrance. Love annihilates distance and time. Already Love dwells in the future. To her eye the final consummation is reached; and hence she sings, "Come, Lord Jesus; come quickly!" - D.
I. CHRIST DELIGHTS IN THE VOICE OF HIS PEOPLE'S LOVE. He has not refrained from assurances of his love towards us, and he expects that we shall not repress the utterance of our affection towards him. His kindness evokes our affection, and that affection cannot be speechless; it must needs find a voice, whilst its expression will ever be welcome and grateful to his tender heart.
II. CHRIST DELIGHTS IN THE VOICE OF HIS PEOPLE'S SINCERE SUPPLICATIONS. The relation being such as it is, our addresses to our Lord must be constantly taking the form of prayer. There is no reason why we should withhold our petitions. We are altogether dependent upon him, and in our dependence he takes pleasure, because it affords him the opportunity of constantly displaying his kindred. When we come into his presence as suppliants, we do not come unbidden. "Cause me," says Christ, "to hear thy voice."
III. CHRIST DELIGHTS IN THE VOICE OF HIS PEOPLE'S GRATITUDE AND PRAISE. For such acknowledgments there is incessant occasion. He does not cease to give, nor should we cease to bless the Giver. If supplication is the special exercise of the Church on earth, praise is the undying exercise of the Church in heaven. Gratitude and adoration are as immortal as is love itself. - T.