By A. B. Simpson
As we have already seen, the book of Canticles opens with the picture of the bride waiting in the palace of the king for her wedding day. She has come from her Galilean home, and is surrounded by her attendants, the daughters of Jerusalem. The poem opens with a song by her, and a chorus in which her maidens join, occupying the first eight verses. This is followed by another solo, in which she calls upon her lover to tell her where she may find him, followed by a response by her maidens, who bid her go forth and search by the footsteps of the flocks. Then her Beloved himself appears, and the rest of the scene is a conversation between them in one of the arbors of the king's gardens, followed by a repast in the banqueting house of the palace. The whole scene is full of spiritual parallels, reminding every one of us of our own most precious experience.
We have her heavenly call. "Draw me and we will run after thee. The King hath brought me into His chambers." She recognizes even her love as the response of her heart to another love that first drew her. How true of us! "We love Him because He first loved us." "By the grace of God I am what I am." With loving kindness hath He drawn us because He hath loved us with an everlasting love. Our highest longings after God were first inspired in us by God Himself, and we never can more than apprehend that for which we are apprehended of Christ Jesus. Well may we say of that great love that has anticipated long ago all that it has brought us, and much more that is to follow, "How precious are thy thoughts to me, O God! They are more in number than the sands of the sea." "God, who is rich in mercy, for His great love wherewith He loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, and hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus."
Her heavenly robes. "I am black but comely, as the tents of Kedar, as the curtains of Solomon." That is, "I am black as the tents of Kedar, comely as the curtains of Solomon."
We have here a beautiful blending of perfect humility and perfect confidence. This is the spirit which should run through our entire Christian life. True first of the sinner's justification, it will ever be as true of the saint's holiness. It is practically Paul's own confession, "the chief of sinners, but I obtained mercy." "I am not sufficient even to think anything as of myself, but my sufficiency is of God." It is the lowliness that prostrates itself in the dust, evermore conscious even after the longest experience of Christ's grace, that we still are nothing but worthless empty vessels, and that all our righteousness is not self-constituted but constantly dependent on Christ alone. It is just because our righteousness is not our own that we can speak of it in such high terms, and dare to say, I am comely; I am clothed with the righteousness of Jesus; I am kept by the power of God; I can do all things through Christ who strengtheneth me. He hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, He hath covered me with the robes of His righteousness. I am sanctified by Christ Jesus and filled with the Holy Spirit, and enabled to walk with Him in Holy obedience unto all pleasing, and yet I am nothing by myself, but "by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace towards me was exceeding abundant with faith and love which is in Christ Jesus our Lord." There is no modesty in sitting down in the kitchen if we are the sons of God and the beloved of our Father's family. He expects us, with becoming dignity, to take the place His love has given us, and to feel at home in the heavenly robes in which His grace has arrayed us, daring to say, as He says of us, "The blood of Jesus Christ cleanses from all sin."
Her higher longings are for her Lord Himself. It was not enough for her to be in His palace and arrayed in His robes of loveliness and honor, but she wanted her Lover Himself. "Tell me," she cries, "Thou whom my soul lovest, where thou feedest, where thou makest thy flock to rest at noon; for why should I be as one that turneth aside by the flocks of thy companions?" She cannot be content with the society of others, nor can any of them be her shepherd. Three things she wants in Him. She wants Him to feed her; she wants Him to rest her; and she wants Him to be her companion and give her His sweet society.
This expresses the soul's deep longing for a closer fellowship with Jesus. Its first cry is for His love to minister to its deep need, "Tell me where thou feedest." The spirit has its own peculiar capacities and needs, and Christ alone can satisfy them. He is our living bread. "He that eateth me shall live by me." "My flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood dwelleth in me and I in him. Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood ye have no life in you." This is the source of spiritual freshness, gladness and growth. This is the spring of physical healing and victorious life in every sense. Without this, Christian work will soon exhaust us. We are as dependent upon Him as the babe upon its mother's breast. The restlessnesses, frets and failures of most Christians arise from the lack of spiritual nourishment and not knowing "where He feeds His flock." But nobody can tell you the secret but Him. The daughters of Jerusalem could not answer the question any more than John the Baptist could tell Andrew and Simon where the Master dwelt. He Himself had to take them home to His own abode and welcome them to His inner fellowship. If you want to know the secret of abiding in Jesus and feeding upon His life, go to Him and tell Him, like Shulamith, your desire, and, although you may not see Him at the time nor feel His presence, although He may be absent from your consciousness as He was from hers, still you can stretch out your hands in the darkness and breathe out your cry in His ear, as she did, "Tell me where thou makest thy flock to rest at noon," and lo! He will be by your side, as He was by hers, answering Himself the longing of her heart. The only way to Jesus is Jesus Himself. The answerer of your hard questions, the light of the blind as well as the life from the dead is He, who is the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last.
The next cry is for rest. This is the deep need of the heart in this world of change, and in the midst of constant irritation, opposition, toil and sorrow. The human spirit finds no rest in earthly things, and has an instinctive longing for the deep repose which only God can give. This is the sweet blessing Christ has purchased for us. It was the legacy which He especially mentioned when leaving His beloved ones. "Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you"; and this peace must ever come to us on His bosom. Our only resting place is His heart. It is He "who causeth His flock to rest at noon." It is beautiful that the rest comes at the hottest, hardest hour of the day. It is when the sun is beating most fiercely from the tropical sky and all life is languishing under its fiery breath that He holds His own upon His breast at noon as under the "shadow of a great rock in a weary land." Oh, the peace Jesus gives! It passeth all understanding. They who come to Him indeed find rest unto their souls.
Beloved, do you not long for God's quiet, the inner chambers, the shadow of the Almighty, the secret of His presence? Your life perhaps has been all driving and doing, or perhaps straining, struggling, longing and not obtaining. Oh, for rest! to lie down upon His bosom and know that you have all in Him, that every question is answered, every doubt settled, every interest safe, every prayer answered, every desire satisfied. It is God's everlasting rest. You may have it. Lift up the cry, "Tell me, O thou whom my soul loveth, where Thou feedest, where Thou makest Thy flock to rest at noon!"
And the last longing of the heart is for His companionship and His love. The cry is addressed to Him whom her soul loved, and her appeal is for the love that will make her His exclusive object, and separate her from His companions. It is not their society she wants but His. Oh, how we need to be separated from people, even the best, and have such direct contact with Him that they will be dear to us only through Him, and in His blessed society we shall not even need any other, should He so order it, but Himself; and if He does link us, as He so sweetly does, with His own, they shall be reckoned as part of Him, and shall minister to us not in their human love, but the love and life of Jesus.
Blessed be His name! He has this for us, His exclusive love, a love which each individual somehow feels is all for himself, in which he can lie alone upon His breast and have a place which none other can dispute; and yet His heart is so great that He can hold a thousand million just as near, and each heart seem to possess Him as exclusively for its own; even as the thousand little pools of water upon the beach can reflect the sun, and each little pool seem to have a whole sun embosomed in its beautiful depths. And Christ only can teach us this secret of His inmost love. It is an old story that nobody else can make live for you but yourself. Marriages are made in China by middlemen but true hearts are not thus wedded, nor can you learn it out of a book; it has to be the spontaneous prompting of a loving heart. So Christ alone can unlock the secret door of love and wholly possess the heart as His shrine.
Her happy experience and the satisfaction of all her heart's desire.
Her cry is not in vain. The echoes have scarcely died away when lo! her beloved is by her side with words of affection and admiration and the unbroken fellowship of His love, and her own glad testimony tells the story of the completeness of the answer which He brings to all her heart's desire. Had she longed for rest? "I sat down," she says, "under his shadow with great delight." For His heavenly feeding, "His fruit was sweet to my taste; He took me into His banqueting house." For His more precious love, "His banner over me was love."
So He wants to give us rest, to cover us with His shadow, to make us now sit down under it with great delight. But we must sit down if we would know His rest. We must cease from our own activity and we must be willing to go into the shadow, lost to the sight of ourselves, lost to the sight of others, overshadowed by what they might call gloom, or even shadow. But it is the shadow of the Almighty, and oh! the delight of those who there sit down and trust where they cannot see! The most that we need to do to get rest is simply to rest, to cease from what we are thinking, questioning, planning, fearing, to suppress ourselves, to stop thinking, to stop trying, to stop listening, to stop answering the tempter, to hide our heads on the bosom of Jesus and let Him think and love and keep, seeing nothing but the shadow of our Beloved which hides everything else, even the light of our way, from our view.
And He has for us the heavenly fruit and the house of wine. "His fruit was sweet unto my taste." Not the fruit He gives but the fruit He bears; He is the apple tree and we feed on Him. The banqueting house literally means the house of wine, and wine is the scriptural symbol of life, of blood, of the richest form of life. He feeds us upon His very life. He gives us, not only the sacramental cup but every other, and says of it, "Drink ye all of it."
And finally, He is for us the satisfaction of our love. "His banner over me was love." This means, of course, that His love for us is the pledge and guarantee of our safety and protection. What can harm us if God be for us? His love defies every foe and secures every resource. But the words have a deeper meaning.
They suggest that our banner, too, is love; the power that will guard us, the defense that will save us from all evils and keep us in perfect victory is that which is the spirit and theme of all this song, the love-life of the Lord. Therefore we have given to the theme of this book this name. Its design is to teach us that love-life which is above every other life. It is when we are baptized into its perfect love, when our beings are penetrated and filled with this heavenly principle that we are bannered against all our foes and armed for perfect victory. Love is the weapon, even more than faith, that will disarm all our enemies and melt their fiery darts into harmless weakness as they strike our glowing breastplate of love. Archimedes, it was, who proposed to destroy the ships of the enemy by a simple burning glass, through which he converged upon them the rays of the sun and set them on fire. The love of the Lord, burning in our hearts, will consume everything that harms us. Satan cannot live against it a moment. It consumes all our enemies and turns their hatred into love. It is the antidote to every temptation that can come to us in disobedience and unfaithfulness. It is the charm which inspires and sustains every sacrifice and service for the Lord, and makes every burden light. It is the balm which brings even healing to our flesh and mortal frame. It is the joy of the earth and light of heaven.