Expositor's Dictionary of Texts
I am the rose of Sharon, and the lily of the valleys.The Winter Is Past (Tuesday after Low Sunday)
Song of Solomon 2:10-13
I. 'My Beloved spake.' You must lay hold of that little word my: in it lies the chief virtue of love to God: it will be useless that He should be Chief among ten thousand, and altogether lovely, unless it may be—my Lord and my God. But it is more than this here. 'My Beloved spake:' so He does in a thousand different ways, and with a thousand different voices. But that is not enough. 'My Beloved spake, and said unto me.' That is the joy of all joys, if He will but do so! If He will but speak to each of you, it need be but one word, it need be but by your own name. As of old time, 'Jesus said unto her, Mary! She saith unto Him, Rabboni, which is to say, Master.'
II. And what are His first words? 'Rise up.' Is it possible that you should not? Rise up from all lower love, from all lower desires, to Him Who only is worthy of perfect love—to Him Who alone, when we awaken up after His likeness, can make us satisfied with it 'My love!' And in what words are we to speak of that condescension of our dear Lord, which thus applies to you the nearest and dearest term of earthly affection? The term which speaks of perfect nearness, perfect confidence, satisfied love, common hopes, a common home, a union which God has made, and which man cannot unmake.
But still He speaks. 'Rise up, My love, My fair one.' So much done that ought not to have been done, if you are to shadow out His Image, and still, 'My fair one!' So much left undone that ought to have been done, if you would show forth the likeness of the King, and still, 'My fair one!' So much infirmity and irresolution of purpose, so much despondency, so much self-indulgence, so much temper that is not His temper, and still, 'My fair one!' But He has said it. And why? Because, beyond and above all things else, He looks to love. It is that which is fair in His eyes.
'And come away.' From what? Still further and further from everything that is opposed to Him—that is not stamped with His Image—that is of His enemies—that belongs to the world. Daily come apart from every little thing that keeps you in the least away from Him. What they fable of the fish called the remora is, at all events, true enough in the Christian life—how being very small, it attaches itself to the keel of great ships, and so impedes their progress that in vain are the sails spread—in vain is the breeze favourable: they are sore let and hindered by this one little obstacle.
'For lo, the winter is past.' Nature itself tells us that now: the Church tells the same thing. we know that we have passed from death unto life: from the death of snow and frost to the life of green leaves and budding flowers. From the death of Lent and Passiontide to the new and everlasting life of Easter. 'The rain is over and gone:' not now have we to remember the strong crying and tears which He offered up to Him that was able to save Him from death, and was heard in that He feared: the tears of His dear Mother when the sword passed through her own heart also: the tears of the faithful ones who stood by the Cross, and watched Him as He yielded up His most blessed Spirit into His Father's Hands. 'The flowers appear on the earth'. All those are glorious consequences of His Resurrection. It is well said, 'On the earth': when it was by His sleeping in death that He so hallowed the whole face of this world, that He asserted in a new and higher sense that which was written long before, 'The earth is the Lord's, and the fullness thereof'; when He gave promise that some day or other, in a time known to Him, 'the little hills,' namely, the graves, 'should rejoice on every side'. 'The time of the singing of birds is come.' What else but every answer, every response, every antiphon, every hymn, which speaks of our Paschal joy? But they only can sing who, like the birds, rise above this earth: who, like the birds, rise above this earth by means and in virtue of the sign of the Cross: and that, not without labour, not without opposition and buffeting by the winds of temptations; but still rise, and, like Noah's dove, find no rest for the soles of their feet in the crowd and the turmoil of this world.' And the voice of the turtle is heard in our land.' Till the Conqueror of Satan rose in triumph, the Giver of all good gifts could not come down in glory. Till the winter of our Lord's sufferings was over, the voice of this Heavenly Dove could not be heard elsewhere than in His Own Land.
—J. M. Neale, Sermons on the Song of Songs, p. 92.
References.—II. 10.—H. J. Wilmot-Buxton, Sunday Sermonettes for a Year, p. 217. J. R. Popham, Sermons, p. 242. II. 10, 11.—R. E. Hutton, The Crown of Christ, vol. ii. p. 573. II. 10-13.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. viii. No. 436.
The Soul's Summer
Song of Solomon 2:11-12
Every period of the year has its charms. The spring has: fresh, flowery, green, sweet; summer has; autumn has; so has winter. We do not recognize the charms of winter as perhaps we might. The cause of the winter, the properties of the winter, the effects of the winter, all combine to give the winter a bad name. And yet the winter is not only necessary and God's ordering, but it has its uses, and even its blessings. It kills weeds; it freezes out disease; it builds up vegetable life in its hidden parts. And not only has winter its uses but it brings real blessings.
I. God's winter gifts. Think of one or two of God's winter gifts which are distinctly inconvenient and unpleasant, but really bring blessing. Here is one. I quote the actual Word of God, 'He giveth snow like wool,' bleak as it is it warms the soil and nourishes the earth and incubates the seed which is underneath it. Or again, from the same Psalm, 'He scattereth the hoar-frost like ashes,' to cleanse the ground, to purify the soil, to rid the fields and gardens of the hundred pests that swarm and creep and devour vegetable life.
II. When God sends a winter into our heart, or, perhaps withdraws a sense of His presence, there is always a purpose, intention, blessing—'snow like wool,' 'hoar-frost like ashes '. And there are limitations to His severity—'He casteth forth his ice, but only like morsels,' perhaps that we may grow at the roots, perhaps to purify, to cleanse, to eat up that which would otherwise destroy our spiritual union with the Lord. But it happens sometimes that we make our own winter—God does not always get away from us; we sometimes get away from Him. The simple reason why we are chilled in winter is because we are where we cannot receive the full rays of the sun; and as an American writer says, often the reason why we are cold and prayerless and faithless is that we have 'swung away from God '.
III. The opportunities of summer. What shall we do in life and work if our spiritual winter is past? But is it past? Is the summer come to our soul? The summer comes when the Christian enjoys Communion with Christ wherever he is; when he increasingly loves his Bible, and is spoken to in it; when he is blessed with the outward privileges of the Gospel, and is satisfied with inward peace. And if it is thus with you and me, what shall we do?
1. Improve your summer opportunities, outdoor opportunities of doing good ought to be seized on. I believe in outdoor preaching. Jesus Christ did.
2. And in our experience and life are work. Look for the summer fruit The prophet Amos speaks of a basket of summer fruit. Look for the flowers; look for the figs even if they are only green; for the grapes even if they are only tender. Look for some spiritual habits, feelings, aspirations, which flesh and blood cannot produce, but God's grace can.
References.—II. 11, 12.—Stopford A. Brooke, The Fight of Faith, pp. 324, 337. T. A. Gurney, The Living Lord and the Opened Grave, p. 176. II. 11, 12, 13.—S. Thornton, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxix. 1906, p. 347.
The Singing Time (For Easter)
Song of Solomon 2:12
Spring is a season enjoyed by all. It speaks to us of life, of hope, of plenty; of bright skies instead of leaden ones, of greenness instead of grey bareness, of days growing warmer and longer, and sweeter with the perfumes of flowers, and gladder with the songs of birds.
I. Singing Suggests the Resurrection of Hope.—'Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away.' So Christ says to His Church, and the Church responds and 'returns with singing and everlasting joy upon her head'. There was much singing in connexion with our Lord's Advent. (Canticles, Benedictus, Magnificat, Nunc Dimittis, the Songs of the Angels.) We do not read of angels or men singing at His Resurrection. It is in another sphere. The book of the Revelation tells us of the great multitude whom no man can number singing,' Amen, blessing and glory and honour and power,' and the harpers singing the song of Moses and of the Lamb. And here on earth the Church sings. We celebrate the Resurrection of our Lord with songs of holy gladness, and though at times our songs go into the minor, yet even when we commit our loved ones to the tomb we do so in sure and certain hope of the resurrection of the just Yes, for the Church 'the time of the singing is come'. Our Lord hath broken the bars of the prison of death, and 'them also that sleep in Jesus will God bring with Him.' So also, there are songs of hope as regards our own resurrection and future life. Singing is the expression of joy, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.
II. Singing Expresses the Joy of Life.—It is hard to sing in sorrow. In captivity Judah hung her harp on the willows. But when the door of hope should be opened in the Valley of Achor the prophet tells her she will sing there. The two disciples journeying to Emmaus were sad. Yet their sorrow was turned into joy. Why? 'Then were the disciples glad when they saw the Lord.' Not these two only, but all the disciples. The indisputable and certain fact of our Lord's Resurrection turned their sorrow into joy. So the true joy of life to the Christian is the radiancy which flows from our Lord's risen body, and as when the sun shines after rain the air becomes vocal with the songs of birds, welcoming its genial rays, so when the Sun of Righteousness arises the heart of the believer sings with joy. The night is past; Gethsemane, with its dark shadows, Calvary with its blackness, are things of the past. The Easter of glorious Resurrection is with us. Rejoice therefore. Christ is Risen.
III. Singing Means Victory—the victory of faith. Satan's power is great, for he hath the power of death. But Christ, the risen Christ, 'destroys him that hath the power of death, that is the devil'; and further, 'delivers those who through its fear are subject to bondage'. Hear the testimony of some dying saints. Dr. Goodwin: 'Ah! is this dying? How have I dreaded as an enemy this smiling friend!' Another: 'I have so learned Christ that I am not afraid to die'. Another: 'Let my people know that their pastor died undaunted, and not afraid of death'. Fletcher: 'God is love! love! love! Oh that a gust of praise might sound throughout the earth.' Such could rejoice even in death. It was the time of singing to them. Christ gave them songs in the night, even the night of death. But the song of faith is not for the dying alone. It is for the living. It is like singing the battle-song of victory as the troops enter the field of battle, the song of anticipated triumph. Let us have stronger faith and we shall have sweeter songs.
IV. Singing Suggests the Tunefulness of a Consecrated Life.—There is the melody of one pure life of single aim; there is the unison of souls in Christian brotherhood, and there is the harmony of the Divine and human wills, when the latter is fully surrendered to God. The Resurrection of our Lord strikes the keynote of all soul-singing.. The life that is holy is holy because it is attuned by Him, the love of the brethren is love that finds its one centre and meeting-place in the heavenlies, whither He has gone before. Self and pride must be humbled to bring us into tune with God. The proud heart cannot sing.
References.—II. 12.—A. Macrae, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxi. 1902, p. 364. T. Sadler, Sermons for Children, p. 164. H. J. Wilmot-Buxton, Sunday Sermonettes for a Year, p. 146. II. 13.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xlii. No. 2480. II. 14.—C. G. Clark-Hunt, The Refuge of the Sacred Wounds, p. 1.
Christ Waiting At the Gate
Song of Solomon 2:15
Did you ever hear, not of a Maud, but a Madeleine, who went down to her garden in the dawn, and found One waiting at the gate, whom she supposed to be the gardener? Have you not sought Him often; sought Him in vain, all through the night; sought Him in vain at the gate of that old garden where the fiery sword is set? He is never there; but at the gate of this garden He is waiting always—waiting to take your hand—ready to go down to see the fruits of the valley, to see whether the vine has flourished, and the pomegranate budded. There you shall see with Him the little tendrils of the vines that His hand is guiding—there you shall see the pomegranate springing where His hand cast the sanguine seed;—more: you shall see the troops of the angel keepers that, with their wings, wave away the hungry birds from the pathsides where He has sown, and call to each other between the vineyard rows, 'Take us the foxes, the little foxes, that spoil the vines, for our vines have tender grapes'. Oh—you queens—you queens; among the hills and happy greenwood of this land of yours, shall the foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests; and in your cities shall the stones cry out against you, that they are the only pillows where the Son of Man can lay his head?
—Ruskin, Sesame and Lilies, §§ 94, 95.
References.—II. 15. J. M. Neale, Sermons on the Song of Songs, p. 106. T. Teignmouth Shore, The Life of the World to Come, p. 213. S. Martin, Rain Upon the Mown Grass, p. 36. E. Browne, Some Moral Proofs of the Resurrection, p. 77.
My Beloved Is Mine
Song of Solomon 2:16-17
If there be one happy, peaceful verse in the Bible, thoroughly happy, thoroughly peaceful, this is it.
I. Beloved, indeed, He ought to be, Who wrote such a large letter of love to us with His own Hand: Who for us, but without us, bore the burden and heat of the day: Who for us endured the Mocking and the Crown of Thorns, and the Scourging and the great Nails and the Cross.
But the word Beloved is not enough. It is my Beloved. If we were not so familiarized with it by custom, it would be a wonder beyond all wonders, that expression, my God. It was Jacob who first said, 'Then shall the Lord be my God '. And in the New Testament he that was the first so to speak was none other than Thomas, making up the failure of his faith by the boldness of his confession: 'Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God'.
It goes on—'And I am His'. In a certain sense, this is true of every one: 'we are His people, and the sheep of His pasture'.
II. It follows—'He feedeth among the lilies'. It is written of Behemoth, the type of Satan in the book of Job, that 'he lieth under the shadow of the tall trees'. But this spotless Lamb chooses no such lofty places. And what are these lilies among whom He feeds? Surely the pure in heart. The straight stalk standing up erect from the earth, its flowers as high from the ground as possible—do not they tell us of heavenly mindedness? Do they not seem to say, 'Set your affections on things above, not on things of the earth?' And, if the spotless snow of the leaves teaches us of the grace, then the gold of the anthers tells us of that crown which shall be the reward of the grace. He feedeth among the lilies, then, here: but, in a more full and glorious sense, He rests among them in that land where these lilies thrive best.
III. 'He feedeth among the lilies.' Till when? 'Until the day break, and the shadows flee away.' The eternal day to which we are all looking forward: the day of which the promises of God are like the grey clouds that gather over the place where the sun is about to arise speaking, but still very faintly, of His coming glory. It follows, then, that through the night in which we now are, we have our Lord with us. It is as if He said to us, 'That darkness in which you now are, O my true servants, I also was in: according to that saying of My Prophet, I walked in darkness, and had no light: but I will not leave you so: I will be with you till the day break '.
—J. M. Neale, Sermons on the Song of Songs, p. 118.
References.—II. 16.—H. E. Manning, Sermons, p. 411. C. Bickersteth, The Shunammite, p. 71. J. Duncan, In the Pulpit and at the Communion Table, p. 159. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. vii. No. 374; vol. xx. No. 1190; vol. xxvii. No. 1634; vol. xli. No. 2442.
Donec Aspiret Dies (Advent)
Song of Solomon 2:17
Hope is the flower of the root Penitence: and so the season of the expectation of Christ is a penitential season.
I. The whole meaning of Advent is the expectation of Christ.
But this hope of Christ's coming is no vague, natural poetry in us, like our blind longing for the first signs of spring coming after winter. It is an energy of conscience, reason, and will, set upon things above, seeking the highest and the loveliest; yes, an energy of our highest faculties, and of all of them, even of our earthly body, because we know that we are not created only to think of what is highest, but to suffer and strive for it, attain, and possess it.
And the expectation of God proves to be the only expectation in which man can never hope too much, and can not be disappointed; because man is made for God, and in God is all perfection.
II. This expectation of God gives the specially Christian character to a man, and to all that he does. Each act of his has a true purpose and principle in it; it is not done for the moment; it has secret relations with eternity. It may be a mere act of ordinary duty, but that means for him an act of fellowship with God. Or if it is some heavy, loss, or great pain which he has to bear, it is the same; it is not merely external evil, crushing a man to earth; here is the man's love welcoming God's will in the pain—making the pain his own treasure, and lifting it up to God in sacrifice, that is, something offered as a means of union with God.
But this expectation of God which characterizes all Christian life implies penitence, self-mastery, humility of mind, patience, self-renunciation. There must be a breaking of bondage to the unreal, temporal good if there is to be a sincere reaching forth in desire to win the eternal.
St. Peter the Penitent is the Apostle of Hope When he is converted he strengthens his brethren, he teaches them to 'hope to the end'.
III. And then if out of our penitence expectation of Christ grows, and makes everything we do and suffer a seed of hope for ourselves and others, this new energy has a natural development and expression in prayer. A life that becomes full of hope is a life in which prayer overflows the stated hours of prayer, a life which becomes prayerful. And that is the essence of the dedicated life. In Advent we are not waiting drowsily for Christ as a nurse waits through the night for the inevitable crisis in the sickroom. Our waiting for Christ is the silent cry of hearts that are awake and seeking Him.
—G. Congreve, The Spiritual Order, p. 59.
References.—II. 17.—T. T. Munger, The Freedom of Faith, p. 379. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xlii. No. 2477.
As the lily among thorns, so is my love among the daughters.
As the apple tree 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.
He brought me to the banqueting house, and his banner over me was love.
Stay me with flagons, comfort me with apples: for I am sick of love.
His left hand is under my head, and his right hand doth embrace me.
I charge you, O ye daughters of Jerusalem, by the roes, and by the hinds of the field, that ye stir not up, nor awake my love, till he please.
The voice of my beloved! behold, he cometh leaping upon the mountains, skipping upon the hills.
My beloved is like a roe or a young hart: behold, he standeth behind our wall, he looketh forth at the windows, shewing himself through the lattice.
My beloved spake, and said unto me, Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away.
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 turtle 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.
O my dove, that art in the clefts of the rock, in the secret places of the stairs, let me see thy countenance, let me hear thy voice; for sweet is thy voice, and thy countenance is comely.
Take us the foxes, the little foxes, that spoil the vines: for our vines have tender grapes.
My beloved is mine, and I am his: he feedeth among the lilies.
Until the day break, and the shadows flee away, turn, my beloved, and be thou like a roe or a young hart upon the mountains of Bether.