Songs 1:5, 6
I am black, but comely, O you daughters of Jerusalem, as the tents of Kedar, as the curtains of Solomon.…
A genuine Christian will take a modest estimate of himself. "He has learnt not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think." Many Christians undervalue themselves; and though this practice is not so obnoxious in the eyes of others as over valuation, yet this also is a fault. It is better to pass no judgment on ourselves; it is seldom called for; it is often a folly.
1. EXTERNAL BLEMISH. "I am black."
1. This blemish (if it be one) is very superficial; it is only skin deep. A strong comparison is employed to convey more vividly the impression - "black as the tents of Kedar." These were manufactured from camel's hair, and, from long exposure to sun and dew, were in colour a dingy black. So when a Christian views himself as he appears externally to others, he sees, perhaps, his ignorance, his poverty, his imperfections, his obscurity, the contempt with which he is regarded by others, If the heavenly Friend should view him only in his outward appearance, he is devoid of attraction, destitute of ordinary beauty.
2. This blemish arises from the hard treatment of others. "My mother's children were angry with me; they made me keeper of the vineyards." Compulsion was used. The speaker had been coerced into employment which was menial and exhausting. It demanded long exposure to scorching sun and to chilling dews. The effect was to mar the beauty of the countenance. Yet the eye of love would detect beneath the surface a richer beauty - the beauty of patient obedience and unmurmuring submission. Men of the world may oppress and persecute; they cannot injure character. Earthly kings and magistrates may scourge and imprison the bride of Christ; they may despoil her of much external comeliness; but in the eye of reason - in the eye of God - she is more comely than before. Only the dross is consumed; real excellence of soul comes clearer into view.
3. Or this may be a real blemish through self-neglect. "My own vineyard have I not kept." Possibly, in the endurance of such hardships, it might have been possible to escape the blemish. Suitable precautions were not taken. Under stress of cruel compulsion, there had been a feeling of self-abandonment - a weak yielding to despair. It is hard to maintain a heavenly tempor under daily provocations; yet it can be done. It is hard to cultivate the Christian graces amid scenes of suffering and mockery; yet it ought to be done. The King Omnipotent has said, "My grace is sufficient for thee." We shall render the most faithful and useful service to others when we maintain in vigour our own piety. The healthful face of a holy character must under no circumstances be neglected.
II. INTERNAL BEAUTY. Though black (i.e. sun-browned), she was yet "comely" - yea, beauteous "as the curtains of Solomon." Likely enough, there is in this poetic drama a conversation, the parts of which are not distinctly marked. Likely enough, the daughters of Jerusalem here interject the remarks, "comely;" "as the curtains of Solomon."
1. The judgment of others respecting us is often more equitable than self-judgment. Some persons, confessedly, have a sad habit of overrating their virtues; but others are diffident and over-modest - they are given to self-depreciation. Through a jealousy for truth, or through a fear of self-delusion, they underrate their real goodness. As we can judge the merit of a painting or a statue a little distance removed, so a judicious onlooker can often more accurately judge us than we can judge ourselves. It is better for our comfort and for our usefulness neither to underrate nor to overrate ourselves. Very precious is the inward spirit of truth.
2. Internal beauty is preferable to external. It is not so apparent to the eye of man, but it is more prized by God, by angels, and by the best class of men. It is superior in itself, because it belongs to the soul. It is more influential for good. It brings more joy to the possessor. It is permanent, and outlasts all changes of time and pain and death. The genuine Christian may be poor in earthly wealth, but he is endowed with the treasures of heaven. He may wear coarse and homespun apparel, yet his soul is clothed in a robe of perfect righteousness. His face may be marred with suffering and ploughed with the effects of arduous toil, yet is he comely with holiness and beautified by the hand of the great Artificer.
3. Internal beauty is obtained through self-sacrificing service. The bride was really comely, though she had been compelled to work, like a slave, in the vineyards; yea, she was comely in character, as the result of this toil. Very true is it that no persecution can injure us; it brings, sooner or later, real advantage. The noblest characters have been fashioned and burnished in the furnace of suffering. Even of the Son of God we are told that "he learned obedience by the things which he suffered." The statue is not perfected until it has felt ten thousand strokes of the chisel. The diamond does not sparkle at its best until it has been well cut on the wheel of the lapidary. The pearl of great price is the fruit of pain. The verdict of experience records, "It was good for me that I was afflicted." Suffering is God's lancet, whereby he produces health. A vital lesson is here taught. Without personal piety there can be no permanent usefulness. A man's character is the mightiest instrument for recovering and elevating others. If we long to see the vineyards of others fair and fruitful, our own vineyard must be a pattern of good culture. Our first duty is respecting ourselves. If we are full of light, we can lead others along the path to heaven. Personal holiness is the great desideratum. - D.
Parallel VersesKJV: I am black, but comely, O ye daughters of Jerusalem, as the tents of Kedar, as the curtains of Solomon.