There is no difficulty in recognizing the bride as the speaker in verses 2-7. The words are not those of one dead in trespasses and sins, to whom the LORD is as a root out of a dry ground -- without form and comeliness. The speaker has had her eyes opened to behold His beauty, and longs for a fuller enjoyment of His love.
Let Him kiss me with the kisses of His mouth:
For Thy love is better than wine.
It is well that it should be so; it marks a distinct stage in the development of the life of grace in the soul. And this recorded experience gives, as it were, a Divine warrant for the desire for sensible manifestations of His presence -- sensible communications of His love. It was not always so with her. Once she was contented in His absence -- other society and other occupations sufficed her; but now it can never be so again. The world can never be to her what it once was; the betrothed bride has learnt to love her LORD, and no other society than His can satisfy her. His visits may be occasional and may be brief; but they are precious times of enjoyment. Their memory is cherished in the intervals, and their repetition longed for. There is no real satisfaction in His absence, and yet, alas! He is not always with her: He comes and goes. Now her joy in Him is a heaven below; but again she is longing, and longing in vain, for His presence. Like the ever-changing tide, her experience is an ebbing and flowing one; it may even be that unrest is the rule, satisfaction the exception. Is there no help for this? must it always continue so? Has He, can He have created these unquenchable longings only to tantalize them? Strange indeed it would be if this were the case. Yet are there not many of the LORD'S people whose habitual experience corresponds with hers? They know not the rest, the joy of abiding in CHRIST; and they know not how to attain to it, nor why it is not theirs. Are there not many who look back to the delightful times of their first espousals, who, so far from finding richer inheritance in CHRIST than they then had, are even conscious that they have lost their first love, and might express their experience in the sad lament: --
Where is the blessedness I knew
When first I saw the Lord?
Others, again, who may not have lost their first love, may yet be feeling that the occasional interruptions to communion are becoming more and more unbearable, as the world becomes less and He becomes more. His absence is an ever-increasing distress. |Oh that I knew where I might find Him!| |Let Him kiss me with the kisses of His mouth: for Thy love is better than wine.| Would that His love were strong and constant like mine, and that He never withdrew the light of His countenance!|
Poor mistaken one! There is a love far stronger than thine waiting, longing for satisfaction. The Bridegroom is waiting for thee all the time; the conditions that debar His approach are all of thine own making. Take the right place before Him, and He will be most ready, most glad, to |Satisfy thy deepest longings, to meet, supply thine every need.| What should we think of a betrothed one whose conceit and self-will prevented not only the consummation of her own joy, but of his who had given her his heart? Though never at rest in his absence, she cannot trust him fully; and she does not care to give up her own name, her own rights and possessions, her own will to him who has become necessary for her happiness. She would fain claim him fully, without giving herself fully to him; but it can never be: while she retains her own name, she can never claim his. She may not promise to love and honour if she will not also promise to obey: and till her love reaches that point of surrender she must remain an unsatisfied lover -- she cannot, as a satisfied bride, find rest in the home of her husband. While she retains her own will, and the control of her own possessions, she must be content to live on her own resources; she cannot claim his.
Could there be a sadder proof of the extent and reality of the Fall than the deep seated distrust of our loving LORD and MASTER which makes us hesitate to give ourselves entirely up to Him, which fears that He might require something beyond our powers, or call for something that we should find it hard to give or to do? The real secret of an unsatisfied life lies too often in an unsurrendered will. And yet how foolish, as well as how wrong, this is! Do we fancy that we are wiser than He? or that our love for ourselves is more tender and strong than His? or that we know ourselves better than He does? How our distrust must grieve and wound afresh the tender heart of Him who was for us the Man of Sorrows! What would be the feelings of an earthly bridegroom if he discovered that his bride-elect was dreading to marry him, lest, when he had the power, he should render her life insupportable? Yet how many of the LORD'S redeemed ones treat Him just so! No wonder they are neither happy nor satisfied!
But true love cannot be stationary; it must either decline or grow. Despite all the unworthy fears of our poor hearts, Divine love is destined to conquer. The bride exclaims: --
Thine ointments have a goodly fragrance;
Thy name is as ointment poured forth;
Therefore do the virgins love Thee.
There was no such ointment as that with which the High Priest was anointed: our Bridegroom is a Priest as well as a King. The trembling bride cannot wholly dismiss her fears; but the unrest and the longing become unbearable, and she determines to surrender all, and come what may to follow fully. She will yield her very self to Him, heart and hand, influence and possessions. Nothing can be so insupportable as His absence! If He lead to another Moriah, or even to a Calvary, she will follow Him.
Draw me: we will run after Thee!
But ah! what follows? A wondrously glad surprise. No Moriah, no Calvary; on the contrary, a KING! When the heart submits, then JESUS reigns. And when JESUS reigns, there is rest.
And where does He head His bride?
The King hath brought me into His chambers.
Not first to the banqueting house -- that will come in due season; but first to be alone with Himself.
How perfect! Could we be satisfied to meet a beloved one only in public? No; we want to take such an one aside -- to have him all to ourselves. So with our MASTER: He takes His now fully consecrated bride aside, to taste and enjoy the sacred intimacies of His wondrous love. The Bridegroom of His Church longs for communion with His people more than they long for fellowship with Him, and often has to cry: --
Let Me see thy countenance, let Me hear thy voice;
For sweet is thy voice, and thy countenance is comely.
Are we not all too apt to seek Him rather because of our need than for His joy and pleasure? This should not be. We do not admire selfish children who only think of what they can get from their parents, and are unmindful of the pleasure that they may give or the service that they may render. But are not we in danger of forgetting that pleasing GOD means giving Him pleasure? Some of us look back to the time when the words |To please GOD| meant no more than not to sin against Him, not to grieve Him; but would the love of earthly parents be satisfied with the mere absence of disobedience? Or a bridegroom, if his bride only sought him for the supply of her own need?
A word about the morning watch may not be out of place here. There is no time so profitably spent as the early hour given to JESUS only. Do we give sufficient attention to this hour? If possible, it should be redeemed; nothing can make up for it. We must take time to be holy! One other thought. When we bring our questions to GOD, do we not sometimes either go on to offer some other petition, or leave the closet without waiting for replies? Does not this seem to show little expectation of an answer, and little desire for one? Should we like to be treated so? Quiet waiting before GOD would save from many a mistake and from many a sorrow.
We have found the bride making a glad discovery of a KING -- her KING -- and not a cross, as she expected; this is the first-fruit of her consecration.
We will be glad and rejoice in Thee,
We will make mention of Thy love more than of wine.
Rightly do they love Thee.
Another discovery not less important awaits her. She has seen the face of the KING, and as the rising sun reveals that which was hidden in the darkness, so His light has revealed her blackness to her. |Ah,| she cries, |I am black|; -- |But comely,| interjects the Bridegroom, with inimitable grace and tenderness. |Nay, black as the tents of Kedar,'| she continues. |Yet to Me,| He responds, |thou art comely as the curtains of Solomon!'| Nothing humbles the soul like sacred and intimate communion with the Lord; yet there is a sweet joy in feeling that He knows all, and, notwithstanding, loves us still. Things once called |little negligences| are seen with new eyes in |the secret of His presence.| There we see the mistake, the sin, of not keeping our own vineyard. This the bride confesses: --
Look not upon me, because I am swarthy,
Because the sun hath scorched me.
My mother's sons were incensed against me,
They made me keeper of the vineyards;
But mine own vineyard have I not kept.
Our attention is here drawn to a danger which is pre-eminently one of this day: the intense activity of our times may lead to zeal in service, to the neglect of personal communion; but such neglect will not only lessen the value of the service, but tend to incapacitate us for the highest service. If we are watchful over the souls of others, and neglect our own -- if we are seeking to remove the motes from our brother's eye, unmindful of the beam in our own, we shall often be disappointed with our powerlessness to help our brethren, while our MASTER will not be less disappointed in us. Let us never forget that what we are is more important than what we do; and that all fruit borne when not abiding in CHRIST must be fruit of the flesh, and not of the SPIRIT. The sin of neglected communion may be forgiven, and yet the effect remain permanently; as wounds when healed often leave a scar behind.
We now come to a very sweet evidence of the reality of the heart-union of the bride with her LORD. She is one with the GOOD SHEPHERD: her heart at once goes instinctively forth to the feeding of the flock; but she would tread in the footsteps of Him whom her soul loveth, and would neither labour alone, nor in other companionship than His own: --
Tell me, O Thou whom my soul loveth,
Where Thou feedest Thy flock, where Thou makest it to rest at noon:
For why should I be as one that is veiled
Beside the flocks of Thy companions?
She will not mistake the society of His servants for that of their MASTER.
If thou know not, O thou fairest among women,
Go thy way forth by the footsteps of the flock,
And feed thy kids beside the shepherds' tents.
These are the words of the daughters of Jerusalem, and give a correct reply to her questionings. Let her show her love to her LORD by feeding His sheep, by caring for His lambs (see John xxi.15-17), and she need not fear to miss His presence. While sharing with other under-shepherds in caring for His flock she will find the CHIEF SHEPHERD at her side, and enjoy the tokens of His approval. It will be service with JESUS as well as for JESUS.
But far sweeter than the reply of the daughters of Jerusalem is the voice of the Bridegroom, who now speaks Himself. It is the living fruit of her heart-oneness with Him that makes His love break forth in the joyful utterances of verses 9-11. For it is not only true that our love for our LORD will show itself in feeding His sheep, but that He who when on earth said, |Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these My brethren, ye have done it unto Me,| has His own heart-love stirred, and not infrequently specially reveals Himself to those who are ministering for Him.
The commendation of the bride in verse 9 is one of striking appropriateness and beauty: --
I have compared thee, O My love,
To a company of horses in Pharaoh's chariots.
It will be remembered that horses originally came out of Egypt, and that the pure breed still found in Arabia was during Solomon's reign brought by his merchants for all the kings of the East. Those selected for Pharaoh's own chariot would not only be of the purest blood and perfect in proportion and symmetry, but also perfect in training, docile and obedient; they would know no will but that of the charioteer, and the only object of their existence would be to carry the king whithersoever he would go. So should it be with the Church of CHRIST; one body with many members, indwelt and guided by one SPIRIT; holding the HEAD, and knowing no will but His; her rapid and harmonious movement should cause His kingdom to progress throughout the world.
Many years ago a beloved friend, returning from the East by the overland route, made the journey from Suez to Cairo in the cumbrous diligence then in use. The passengers on landing took their places, about a dozen wild young horses were harnessed with ropes to the vehicle, the driver took his seat and cracked his whip, and the horses dashed off, some to the right, some to the left, and others forward, causing the coach to start with a bound, and as suddenly to stop, with the effect of first throwing those sitting in the front seat into the laps of those sitting behind, and then of reversing the operation. With the aid of sufficient Arabs running on each side to keep these wild animals progressing in the right direction the passengers were jerked and jolted, bruised and shaken, until, on reaching their destination, they were too wearied and sore to take the rest they so much needed.
Is not the Church of GOD to-day more like these untrained steeds than a company of horses in Pharaoh's chariot? And while self-will and disunion are apparent in the Church, can we wonder that the world still lieth in the wicked one, and that the great heathen nations are barely touched?
Changing His simile, the Bridegroom continues: --
Thy cheeks are comely with plaits of hair,
Thy neck with strings of jewels.
We will make thee plaits of gold
With studs of silver.
The bride is not only beautiful and useful to her LORD, she is also adorned, and it is His delight to add to her adornments. Nor are His gifts perishable flowers, or trinkets destitute of intrinsic value: the finest of the gold, the purest of the silver, and the most precious and lasting of the jewels are the gifts of the Royal Bridegroom to His spouse; and these, plaited amongst her own hair, increase His pleasure who has bestowed them.
In verses 12-14 the bride responds: --
While the King sat at His table
My spikenard sent forth its fragrance.
It is in His presence and through His grace that whatever of fragrance or beauty may be found in us comes forth. Of Him as its source, through Him as its instrument, and to Him as its end, is all that is gracious and divine. But HE HIMSELF is better far than all His grace works in us.
My Beloved is unto me as a bundle of myrrh,
That lieth betwixt my breasts.
My beloved is unto me as a cluster of henna-flowers
In the vineyards of En-gedi.
Well is it when our eyes are filled with His beauty and our hearts are occupied with Him. In the measure in which this is true of us we shall recognize the correlative truth that His great heart is occupied with us. Note the response of the Bridegroom: --
Behold, thou art fair, My love; behold, thou art fair;
Thine eyes are as a dove's.
How can the Bridegroom truthfully use such words of one who recognizes herself as
Black as the tents of Kedar?
And still more strong are the Bridegroom's words in chapter iv.7:-
Thou art all fair, My love;
And there is no spot in thee.
We shall find the solution of this difficulty in 2 Cor. iii. Moses in contemplation of the Divine glory became so transformed that the Israelites were not able to look on the glory of his countenance. |We all, with unveiled face (beholding and) reflecting as a mirror the glory of the LORD, are transformed into the same image from glory to glory (i.e. the brightness caught from His glory transforms us to glory), even as from the LORD the SPIRIT.| Every mirror has two surfaces; the one is dull and unreflecting, and is all spots, but when the reflecting surface is turned towards us we see no spot, we see our own image. So while the bride is delighting in the beauty of the Bridegroom He beholds His own image in her; there is no spot in that: it is all fair. May we ever present this reflection to His gaze, and to the world in which we live for the very purpose of reflecting Him.
Note again His words: --
Thine eyes are as dove's,
Thou hast dove's eyes.
The hawk is a beautiful bird, and has beautiful eyes, quick and penetrating; but the Bridegroom desires not hawk's eyes in His bride. The tender eyes of the innocent dove are those which He admires. It was as a dove that the HOLY SPIRIT came upon Him at His baptism, and the dove-like character is that which He seeks for in each of His people.
The reason why David was not permitted to build the Temple was a very significant one. His life was far from perfect; and his mistakes and sins have been faithfully recorded by the HOLY SPIRIT. They brought upon him God's chastenings, yet it was not any of these that disqualified him from building the Temple, but rather his warlike spirit; and this though many of his battles, if not all, were for the establishment of GOD'S Kingdom and the fulfilment of His promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Solomom, the Prince of Peace, alone could build the Temple. If we would be soul-winners and build up the Church, which is His Temple, let us note this: not by discussion nor by argument, but by lifting up CHRIST shall we draw men unto Him.
We now come to the reply of the bride. He has called her fair; wisely and well does she reply: --
Behold Thou art fair, my Beloved, yea, pleasant:
Also our couch is green.
The beams of our house are cedars,
And our rafters are firs.
I am (but) a rose of Sharon,
A lily of the valleys.
The last words are often quoted as though they were the utterance of the Bridegroom, but we believe erroneously. The bride says in effect, Thou callest me fair and pleasant, the fairness and pleasantness are Thine; I am but a wild flower, a lowly, scentless rose of Sharon (i.e. the autumn crocus), or a lily of the valley.
To this the Bridegroom responds: |Be it so; but if a wild flower, yet
As a lily among thorns,
So is My love among the daughters.|
Again the bride replies: --
As the apple tree (the citron) among the trees of the wood,
So is my Beloved among the sons.
I sat down under His shadow with great delight,
And His fruit was sweet to my taste.
The citron is a beautiful evergreen, affording delightful shade as well as refreshing fruit. A humble wild flower herself, she recognizes her Bridegroom as a noble tree, alike ornamental and fruitful. Shade from the burning sun, refreshment and rest she finds in Him. What a contrast her present position and feelings to those with which this section commenced! He knew full well the cause of all her fears; her distrust sprang from her ignorance of Himself, so He took her aside, and in the sweet intimacies of mutual love her fears and distrust have vanished, like the mists of the morning before the rising sun.
But now that she has learned to know Him, she has a further experience of His love. He is not ashamed to acknowledge her publicly.
He brought me to the banqueting house,
And His banner over me was love.
The house of wine is now as appropriate as the King's chambers were. Fearlessly and without shame she can sit at His side, His acknowledged spouse, the bride of His choice. Overwhelmed with His love she exclaims: --
Stay ye me with raisins, comfort me with apples:
For I am sick of love.
His left hand is under my head,
And His right hand doth embrace me.
Now she finds the blessedness of being possessed. No longer her own, heart-rest is alike her right and her enjoyment; and so the Bridegroom would have it.
I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem,
By the roes, and by the hinds of the field,
That ye stir not up nor awake My love,
Until she please.
It is never by His will that our rest in Him is disturbed.
You may always be abiding,
If you will, at Jesus' side;
in the secret of His presence
You may every moment hide.
There is no change in His love; He is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever. To us He promises, |I will never leave thee, never fail thee, nor forsake thee|; and His earnest exhortation and command is, |Abide in Me, and I in you.|