By A. B. Simpson
This is the story of the calling of the Bride. It is recited as a sort of song or soliloquy. Perhaps it was told to the attendant maiden as she waited in the palace for her wedding day. Her home had been amid the beautiful scenes of Northern Galilee, somewhere among the foothills of Lebanon. There in her simple rustic home, with her mother and her brothers, for her father is not mentioned and she was probably an orphan girl, she had lived in seclusion, having even to labor with her hands in taking care of her brothers' vineyards. Her beauty, however, had attracted the notice of Solomon, and he had found her out in her quiet home and the story of his coming is here described with great vividness and beauty.
Appearing at her lattice-window one day in the spring time, doubtless after his first acquaintance had given him the right to make such a visit, he whispered the startling call to her to leave her lowly home and come away with him into a sweeter springtime of love.
"For, lo, the winter is past, the rain is over, and gone. "The flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land. "The fig tree putteth forth her green figs, and the vines with the tender grape give a good smell. Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away."
And as she coyly hid away he pleaded, "O my dove that art in the clefts of the rock, in the secret places of the stairs, let me see thy countenance."
The words that follow seem to be a request to her to sing for him one of her simple country songs, which she does in the playful strains of the fifteenth verse.
Perhaps she meant in her little song to put him off in half playful mood or invite him to come and help her in the care of the garden, as her duties were more practical than he seemed to imagine, and instead of going with him it would be more fitting for him to come and help her in the care of her vineyard and catch for her the little foxes that eluded her ability; but at the same time she sings softly to herself in an undertone, perhaps not meant altogether for him,
And then she resumes her little song again in the seventeenth verse, gently hinting to him to withdraw for a little until the day cool and the shadows flee away, that is, until the eventide, and then to swiftly come from the mountains of division which are to separate them for a little while. In a word it is a quiet hint to him to come back at another time when perhaps they shall be less exposed to curious eyes and she less busy with her practical duties.
Then follows the sad dream of the third chapter. That night was a very lonely and gloomy one and in her sleep she thought she had lost her beloved whom she had thus foolishly sent away. "By night I sought him whom my soul loveth, I sought him but I found him not."
And then she tells how she went forth into the city and sought him in the streets in vain and how she went to the watchmen for direction and at last after a painful search, she found him and she gladly welcomed him and brought him to her mother's home, and feared not to have the world know her love because she would thus atone for the folly which before had let him go. This is the beautiful story of the call of this ancient bride, and back of it lie the deeper teachings of our spiritual life and the experiences of many of us.
The coming of the Beloved. This is a picture of the Savior's coming to the heart which He calls to the fullness of His love. It looks back to His first coming to save a ruined world. He is represented as coming upon the mountains and leaping over the hills. What mountains of sin, hills of provocation, obstacles that nothing but infinite power and love could ever have surmounted. Oh the hindrances which our depravity, which our prejudices, which our willfulness have placed between His love and our wicked hearts, but how swiftly and victoriously He came!
And to each of us has He come. With His whole heart has He sought us. How touching the picture of His standing behind the wall looking forth at the windows, showing Himself at the lattice. It tells of Him who has waited long to gain our attention, to win our confidence, to reach our hearts, and He is still crying to many of us, "Behold! I stand at the door and knock. If any man hear my voice and open the door, I will come in unto him and sup with him and he with me."
His call. Verse 10, "My Beloved spake and said unto me, Rise up my love, my fair one, and come away."
This is the Master's call to do something and to leave something. We shall never get anywhere in the life of consecration until we take a positive step and positive stand. We must rise up sometimes. The act of rising up in the congregation and committing one's self to a consecrated life is often the first real step in a life of holiness, but whatever be the step, there is something that must be done before we can make any headway, and there is something that must be left. We must "come away." There are associations from which we must break away, worldly entanglements that we must separate from, forbidden occupations that we must abandon, doubtful relationships that we must dissolve, pleasures that we must forsake, friends that we must surrender. "Come ye out from among them and be ye separate, and touch not the unclean thing," is the peremptory condition of the promise, "I will receive you and be a father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters," saith the Lord Almighty.
And therefore we must go somewhere. At least we must go with Him wherever He may go.
Enough to know that He leads; enough to be with Him.
Beloved, have we answered this call, "Rise up and come away?" This is speaking to some of us today, as it finds us in some forbidden place, and bidding us decide like Rebecca when the servant of Abraham brought her the proposal to be the wife of Isaac and pressed the solemn question for her immediate decision, "Wilt thou go with this man?" And she answered, "I will go." He was a stranger to her. The land to which he led her was a strange land. She knew not the way. She had not even seen her bridegroom, but her trusting heart accepted it all without reserve, and her prompt decision was, "I will go." When the soul thus answers to the call of Jesus it has begun an everlasting progression of blessing and glory. So He is calling thee today, "Rise up and come away." Come from this perishing world, come from the low claims of your selfish life, come out from the fellowship of the worldly, come out from the hopes that end with earth, put your hand in His, commit your future to His will, invest all your hopes in His kingdom and coming, and you shall find how true it is, "He that loses his life for my sake shall keep it unto life eternal."
His pleading. He urges her to come by all the beauty and gladness of the world around, which, no doubt, He means as a type of the brighter springtime and summer of happiness and love into which He is to introduce her. Much more true is this of our heavenly Bridegroom's call. The summer land of love into which He brings us is one whose beauty no springtide glory can express and no sunlit sky adequately set forth.
Oh! that we may hear His pleading and that we too may have cause to sing,
"I've reached the land of Beulah, the summer land of love, Land of the Heavenly Bridegroom, land of the Holy dove. My winter has departed, my summer time has come. The air is full of singing, the earth is bright with bloom. Oh! blessed land of Beulah, sweet summer land of love. Oh! blessed Heavenly Bridegroom, oh! gentle Holy dove. Oh! Savior keep us ever, all earth-born things above, In the blessed land of Beulah, the summer land of love."
The winter is past. It stands for the coldness, the barrenness and the wretchedness of our old selfish life, the first-bound misery and the selfishness in which we dwell until the warm Sun of Righteousness lights up our life with heavenly radiance and melts our frigid hearts to love and sweetness. The coming of Christ to the heart is like a great thaw. Not so great is the difference between December and May, as between the earthbound heart and the soul into which Christ has come to reign.
The rain is over and gone. This is the figure of clouds, mists, spiritual darkness and gloom. Many Christians live in an atmosphere where they never see the sun. It is all mists and tears, doubts and fears, clouds and cares, but when we follow Him the rain is over and gone, the sky is ever clear, the sun is ever bright, the face of our Lord is ever unclouded and unveiled. Our sun shall no more go down nor our moon withdraw her shining, for the Lord shall be our everlasting light and the days of our mourning shall be ended.
The flowers appear on the earth. Blossoms are the beautiful earthly types of faith; the flower is just the promise of the fruit. It is nature anticipating the coming seed and running over with the joy of the anticipation. The flower is just a fruit in embryo, and so faith is just the bud and blossom which foretells the coming blessing. How full of luxuriant beauty and blossom God has made the summer time of the world. Blossoms are everywhere; wild flowers are running to waste on every mountainside and wayside and in the wilderness where no eye ever sees them but the insects and the birds. God's prodigal hand scatters them everywhere, for the delight of His own heart and the joy of the meanest creatures that gaze upon their beauty. So God wants our lives to effloresce in the overflowing beauty and luxuriance which will not only fill up the actual routine of duty, but which will run over in such fullness that we shall be a blessing to every creature we touch, and that even the insects that buzz around us, the sparrows that play on the sidewalk or at the door, the birds that sing in our branches, our very horse and our dog will be the better and the happier for our religion and shall almost know that something has happened to us. An engineer remarked the other day that since he had become a consecrated Christian his old engine seemed to know it and went better. When it didn't work rightly he used to swear at it, but now he only lifted his heart and voice in a word of prayer or a note of song, and the old engine tried to keep time, as the piston moved apace with his song and seemed to say Amen! When we follow Christ in all His fullness, then our heart will be a land of flowers; our life a garden of bloom.
The time of the singing of the birds is come -- rather, the time of singing is come. The spirit of praise is one of the signs of a consecrated life. We pray less and sing more. Certainly we groan less, or rather we turn all our murmurs and moans into Hallelujahs and life is one sweet everlasting song. Sorrow cannot quench it, but we count it all joy even when we cannot see or feel the joy. Beloved! God is calling some of you to a life of song. You do not praise enough, and you never will until you know the love-life of the Lord, and then the song will be like a nightingale in the house. It will sing at midnight because it cannot help it. It will sing when there seems no rational cause for singing. It will sing just because the song is there and it must sing even amid the darkness, the raging tempest, or with the dirges of death and despair on every side.
The voice of the turtle is heard in our land; that is, the turtle dove, the sweet emblem of the Holy Spirit. How beautiful the notes of the wood-dove as some of us remember them in our childhood, sometimes on some distant mountainside. How much more beautiful as they ring,
sweet symbol of the gentle and peaceful voice of the Holy Spirit, as it is revealed to the listening ear of love. Oh! how delightful the first whisper of a Comforter in our hearts, sorrowing perhaps or lonely and afraid. Oh! shall we ever forget the blissful moment when first the voice of the turtle was heard in our land, and all heaven seemed to whisper, Peace! Peace! and the heart nestled under the wings of the heavenly Dove, and the soul grew still as it hearkened to the still, small voice that said, "Peace be unto you. Not as the world giveth give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid." Beloved, follow Jesus and you shall know the voice of the dove, the peace that passeth all understanding, the heavenly presence that folds you under the wings of everlasting love and stills you in the eternal calm of the bosom of God.
Let us not fail to notice the words "IN OUR LAND." The voice of the turtle is not heard in the old land of self-love and sin, but only in the land to which our Bridegroom calls us; the land of love and fellowship with God. How sweetly He calls it "OUR LAND." He does not say "My land." Already He recognizes the partnership to which He has called us, and shares with us even the better country into which we have not yet entered. Beloved, let us make it our land too.
There is one way of living in everlasting spring, even on this little globe; that is, like the birds of passage, to fly away when the winter comes and leave the land of winter for Southern climes where frosts are not and cold blasts never blow. How sweetly Cowper sings to one of these happy birds that live in continual sunshine.
This may be true of the heart that will migrate from the winter-land of the old life to the everlasting summer of His presence. There is such a land of love and peace for every weary, homesick heart. Beloved, let us rise and come away. The voice of the turtledove is calling us to do it.
The fig-tree puts forth her green figs, or rather ripens her green figs. They have been hanging all the winter on the tree, and they are green and sour, but with the springtime they ripen and become aromatic and mellow. As the beautiful Hebrew phrase expresses it,
How true of the Christian life. The ordinary Christian has figs, but they are winter figs. They are green and sour. He does something for God and has many a good feeling, but there is no perfume about it. It is raw and harsh; but when love comes, and the love-life of the Lord possesses all the being, oh, how mellow the spirit becomes, how tender the unction, how gentle the meekness and patience, how fervid the zeal and the love; how full of fragrance, how spiced with heavenly sweetness the whole being and bearing become!
The vines with the tender grape give a good smell. This is higher than fruit; it is fragrance, the very smell of the plant, and that which, as we shall see later in this beautiful song, is the highest expression of spiritual qualities, and the flavor of the Christian spirit. Many Christians have fruit, but they have no fragrance. There is much value in their lives, but there is no attractiveness. This is not as God would have it. He wants the vines with the tender grapes to give a good smell, and this never can be until our whole being is saturated with love. This love, then, must first come from the love of the Lord, revealed to us, accepted by us, and reflected from our happy, heavenly lives.
His repeated call. Once again He calls His beloved one. Verse 14, "Oh, my dove, that are in the clefts of the rock, in the secret places of the stairs, let me see thy countenance, let me hear thy voice." She had been turning away, and he pleads with her to turn back and let Him look upon her face and hear her voice. Christ wants us to turn our faces directly to Him. Is not this the attitude of prayer, and the prayer that looks up into the face of God with unveiled countenance and loving, wholehearted confidence. God wants our faces turned heavenward, and shining with the reflected glory of the skies. Too often we go with faces turned downward and earthward, but He says, "Let me see thy countenance." Lift up your face toward the heavens, for He wants to hear your voice in holy testimony and praise. Not until you give him your voice and fully confess Him with your lips shall you know all the fullness of His deeper abiding. He wants your lips to answer His question and to testify to His love, and the reason that many of you have never had the full witness of His Spirit is because your face has never fully witnessed unto Him. Beloved, let Him hear your voice.
Her response. Her answer was not worthy of His love. There was a little trifling in it, a little procrastination, and yet a good deal of sincere love, but enough hesitation and compromise to lose her full blessing. Her playful hint to him to come and catch the foxes that spoiled the vines was a little like the excuse that some of us make when Christ calls us to be all His own, that we are too busy with our earthly duties for what we sometimes consider sentimental religion, and that when we get a little more leisure from our secular cares and occupations we will give our attention to a life of devotion. That is the very time and place that we need our Lord the most.
He is indeed willing to come into our common life, and help us with our vines and little foxes, but not until we have first surrendered them to Him so fully that we are at leisure from them for His other calls, and are willing to turn aside from the most engrossing occupation to commune with Him or to follow Him wherever He may lead. Her great mistake, however, was the procrastination and delay which put Him off until the evening. Perhaps it was the shame of being seen with Him which prompted her proposal; perhaps it was the pressing cares of the day; but whatever it was, it was wholly wrong, and cost her a very sorrowful night. How often many of us are tempted to say, "Go thy way for this time." The children of Israel, when called by God to enter the promised land, hesitated only for a night, and were quite willing the next morning to follow the pillar of cloud from Kadesh Barneah had it led that way, but it was too late. God refused to go with them. Now it was their time, but it was not His. The time of His visitation was passed. Love brooks no delay. Oh, that each of us might be able to say of every call of the heavenly voice, "When thou saidst 'Seek ye my face,' then my heart replied, 'Thy face, Lord, will I seek.'" A hint is enough to repel a sensitive heart. Love is peculiarly sensitive, and the Holy Ghost is easily offended and grieved from our door. Let us take heed how we chill His overtures and appeals by even a qualified refusal, but let our whole heart ever meet Him as generously and uncompromisingly as He has given all to us.
The sad sequel of her reluctant response. The sorrowful dream which follows in the sad story of Shulamith, is also the story of many a Christian heart. "By night I sought him whom my soul loveth, I sought him, but I found him not." The grieved friend withdraws, and the heart is conscious of desertion and loneliness, and awakes to realize its terrible mistake. But still there is something we can do. We can seek Him as she did, and when we find Him not, we can, as she did, go to the watchmen and ask the way. They can tell us the way, but they cannot take us to Him. We must go beyond them. It was not until she passed the watchmen that she found her beloved, and it is not until we pass beyond the presence and the consciousness of even the best of men, and even those who have helped us most to find our Lord, that we really find Him. The lover always meets his loved one alone. No friend can be witness of the trysting hour. Heart to heart, and with no other heart between, the betrothal must be made. And so she passed from the watchmen's presence and followed their directions, and soon she was clasping the feet of her beloved. There was no reserve now, no desire to have Him withdraw to the mountains of Bethor, or separation, but the clinging embrace that would never again let him go, and the uncompromising welcome that brought him to her mother and to the most sacred chambers of her house, where the fondest place was given to him, and his dearness and nearness were recognized without reservation. Yes, even the mother's place to which, perhaps, she had clung hitherto, is now abandoned to a dearer and nearer. Beloved, thus you can seek the Lord, and they that seek shall find, and to him that knocks it shall be opened. Very blessed it is to open immediately when He knocks, but blessed is it also to knock until He opens. So, seeking one,
Knock, He knows the sinner's cry. Weep, He loves the sinner's tear. Watch, for heavenly love is nigh. Wait, till heavenly light appear.”
And when we find him we must give him the inmost chamber, the fondest love, the place that the dearest has held. It is when the sacrifice of the tenderest of earthly ties has been fully made that Christ becomes our All in All, and every earthly tie becomes more sacred and more true. The spirit of self-sacrifice is the secret of the truest happiness.
Once in India a company of soldiers were in extreme poverty and distress. The general entered a heathen temple. The natives besought him to spare their idols, and warned him that if he touched a certain chief deity that every calamity would fall upon him and his troops; but he boldly marched up to the proud idol and striking it from its pedestal, he dashed it to pieces on the temple floor, when lo! to his astonishment and the surprise of the witnessing multitudes, countless treasures of silver and gold poured from its shattered bosom. It had been the storehouse for centuries of the treasuries of kings, and all that it needed was to be shattered in order to enrich the needy whose hand had dared to strike the blow. Beloved, many of our idols stand between us and the wealth of God's infinite love and grace. Let us not fear to strike the fatal blow, and lo! from the bosom of that which we perhaps spare as an Agag or cherish with an unholy clinging, will come forth the wealth of infinite blessing and everlasting love.