My Beloved has gone down into His garden, to the beds of spices.
I. CHRISTIAN DUTY. The Church is here represented as Christ's garden, into which He then descends to delight Himself with the gracious fruits of the believer's spiritual life. And our lesson of duty is, that the Sacrament we should experience and exhibit such spiritual affections as seem unto Christ precious — fruits to be eaten — lilies to be gathered I Consider these graces: —
1. Faith. This is the foundation of all religious life. Now this grace Christ delights in, for it greatly honours and glorifies Him. In its ascription of salvation to Him alone it virtually places the mediatorial crown upon His head.
2. Love, — the soul's crowning grace, or a grand composite of all graces. For, in strict speech; they are all modifications of love. Penitence is love grieving — faith is love resting — obedience is love working — hope is love waiting. So that love toward man and toward God is at once the law fulfilled, and holiness perfected. And in this Christ delights.
II. THE CHRISTIAN'S PRIVILEGE. Regarding the believer as the subject it represents his soul as greatly rejoicing in the Sacrament, gathering in Christ's garden the heavenly fruit. These fruits are the gracious gifts imparted by the Saviour. Consider a few of them. Take them as they are presented in Christ's discourse in that guest-chamber.
1. Peace. Quiet, tranquillity, spiritual and immortal rest I And for this we come to Christ in the Sacrament. Behold a garden walled up to heaven. And through its open portal the soul passes leaning on the Beloved, to bathe heart and spirit in the everlasting fulness of God's glorious peace!
2. Joy. "These things have I spoken unto you, that My joy might remain with you, and that your joy might be full. And what glorious, joy imparting words they were! And this is better than peace; for that is but a passive rest, this is a reigning rapture.
He feedeth among the lilies.
(H. Macmillan, D. D.)
Thou art beautiful, O my love, as Tirzah, comely as Jerusalem, terrible as an army with banners.
I. WHY IT IS THAT THE CHURCH OF GOD IS SAID TO BE AN ARMY WITH BANNERS. That she is "an army" is true enough, for the Church is one, but many; and consists of men who march in order under a common leader, with one design in view, and that design a conflict and a victory. But why an army "with banners"? Is not this, first of all, for distinction? How shall we know to which king an army belongs unless we can see the royal standard? The Church unfolds her ensign to the breeze that all may know whose she is and whom she serves. Unfurl the old primitive standard, the all-victorious standard of the Cross of Christ. In very deed and truth — in hoc signo vinces — the atonement is the conquering truth. Let others believe as they may, or deny as they will, for you the truth as it is in Jesus is the one thing that has won your heart and made you a soldier of the Cross. Banners were carried, not merely for distinctiveness, but also to serve the purposes of discipline. Hence an army with banners had one banner as a central standard, and then each regiment or battalion displayed its own particular flag. An army with banners may be also taken to represent activity. When an army folds up its colours the fight is over. It is to be feared that some Churches have hung up their flags to rot in state, or have encased them in dull propriety. It is high time that each Church should feel that if it does not work, the sole reason for its existence is gone. May we all in our Church fellowship be active in the energy of the Spirit of God. Does not the description, "an army with banners," imply a degree of confidence? Banners uplifted are the sign of a fearlessness which rather courts than declines the conflict. The warriors of the Cross, unfold the Gospel's ancient standard to the breeze; we will teach the foeman what strength there is in hands and hearts that rally to the Church of God. Once more, an army with banners may signify the constancy and perseverance in holding the truth. If we give up the things which are verily believed among us we shall lose our power, and the enemy alone will be pleased: but if we maintain them, the maintenance of the old faith, by the Spirit of God, shall make us strong in the Lord and in the power of His might.
II. The Church is said to be TERRIBLE. To whom is she terrible? I answer, first, in a certain sense she is terrible to all ungodly men. Even in the most ribald company, when a Christian of known consistency of character has wisely spoken the word of reproof, a solemn abashment comes over the majority of those present; their consciences have borne witness against them, and they have felt how awful goodness is. Not that we are ever to try and impress others with any dread of us; such an attempt would be ridiculed, and end in deserved failure; but the influence which we would describe flows naturally out of a godly life. If there be real goodness in us — if we really, fervently, zealously love the right, and hate the evil — the outflow of our life almost without a word will judge the ungodly — and condemn them in their heart of hearts. Holy living is the weightiest condemnation of sin. There will be always in proportion to the real holiness, earnestness, and Christ-likeness of a Church something terrible in it to the perverse generation in which it is placed; it will dread it as it does the all-revealing day of judgment. So is there something terrible in a living Church to all errorists. They do not dread those platform speeches in which they are so furiously denounced at public meetings, nor those philosophical discussions in which they are overthrown by argument: but they hate, but they fear, and therefore abuse and pretend to despise, the prayerful, zealous, plain, simple preaching of the truth as it is in Jesus. Even to Satan himself the Church of God is terrible. He might, he thinks, deal with individuals, but when these individuals strengthen each other by mutual converse and prayer, when they are bound to each other in holy love, and make a temple in which Christ dwells, then is Satan hard put to it. It is not every Church that is terrible thus, but it is a Church of God in which there is the life of God, and the love of God; a Church in which there is the uplifted banner, the banner of the Cross, high-held amid those various bannerets of truthful doctrine and spiritual grace, of which I have just now spoken.
III. WHY IS THE CHURCH OF CHRIST TERRIBLE AS AN ARMY WITH BANNERS? First, because it consists of elect people. The elect shall overcome through the blood of the Lamb, and none shall say them nay. Ye are a royal priesthood, a peculiar people, a chosen generation; and in you the living God will gloriously declare His sovereign grace. The Church, again, consists of a praying people. Now prayer is that which links weakness with infinite strength. We cry unto the Lord, and He heareth us; He breaketh through the ranks of the foe; He giveth us triumph in the day of battle: therefore, terrible as an army with banners are those who wield the weapon of all-prayer. Again, a true Church is based upon eternal truth. Men who love the truth are building gold and silver, and precious stones; and though their architecture may progress but slowly, it is built for eternity. Ramparts of truth may often he assailed, but they will never be carried by the foe. We are now to observe, that the chief glory and majesty of the Church lies mainly in the banner which she carries. What cause for terror is there in the banner? We reply, the enemies of Christ dread the Cross, because they know what the Cross has done. Wherever the crucified Jesus has been preached, false systems have tottered to their fall. Dagon has always fallen before the ark of the Lord. Rage the most violent is excited by the doctrine of the atonement, a rage in which the first cause for wrath is fear. The terribleness of the Church lies in her banners, because those banners put strength into her. Drawing near
to the standard of the Cross the weakest soldier becomes strong: he who might have played the coward becomes a hero when the precious blood of Jesus is felt with power in his soul. Martyrs are born and nurtured at the Cross. Moreover, the powers of evil tremble at the old standard, because they have a presentiment of its future complete triumph. Jesus must reign; the crucified One must conquer. Will each one here say to himself: "An army, a company of warriors, am I one of them? Am I a soldier? I have entered the Church; I make a profession; but am I really a soldier? Do I fight? Do I endure hardness? Am I a mere carpet-knight, a mere lie-a-bed soldier, one of those who are pleased to put on regimentals in order to adorn myself with a profession without ever going to the war?" And then "terrible." Am I in any way terrible through being a Christian? Is there any power in my life that would condemn a sinner? Any holiness about me that would make a wicked man feel ill at ease in my company? If I am not a soldier, if I am not a servant of Christ in very truth, and yet I come to the place of worship where Christians meet, and where Christ is preached, the day will be when the church of God will be very terrible to me.
( C. H. Spurgeon.)
Turn away thine eyes from Me, for they have overcome Me.
I. First, notice that LOOKING ON HIS CHURCH HAS ALREADY OVERCOME THE HEART OF OUR HEAVENLY BRIDEGROOM. It was so in the far-distant past, not when she looked at Him, but when He looked at her, that she overcame Him. You know, too, when He lived down here among men, how often His inmost heart was stirred as He looked upon the people whom He loved. And, now that our Lord is risen from the dead, He still feels the power of the sight of His redeemed. He looks down to the saints on earth, and sees the myriads who are all trusting in Him, all conquering sin by His might, and all spared from going down to the pit by the merit of His precious blood; and He seems again to say, "Turn away thine eyes from Me, for they have overcome Me"; as if Christ felt that a glance at His people brought almost too much joy for Him. What a day will that be when He shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God; when all His people, raised from the dead, or changed in the twinkling of an eye, shall admire Him, and He shall be admired in them! I can well conceive of Him saying in that day, "Turn away thine eyes from Me, for they have overcome Me." The joy that Christ will feel in His own sight of His people, and in the glances of the multitudes that He has saved, must be a delight beyond anything we can even imagine.
II. THE EYES OF CHRIST'S CHOSEN ONES STILL OVERCOME HIM. And, first, the eyes of His chosen overcome Him, when they look up in deep repentance, glancing at Him hopefully through their tears. There is a wondrous power in the penitent eye, in the full confession that makes a clean breast of every sin before the face of the Lord Jesus Christ. Remember that when we have once repented, we do not leave off repenting, for penitence is a grace that is as long-lived as faith; and as long as we are capable of believing, we shall also necessarily need to repent, for we shall be always sinning. So, whenever the child of God feels that he has gone astray in any way, that, though he did live near to God, he has gone back, and grown cold in heart, he has only to come to Christ again, and cry after Him, and confess his folly in having left Him, and his ingratitude in having been so indifferent to Him, and Christ will receive him back again. Another kind of glance that has great power with the Lord Jesus is when the soul looks to Christ for salvation. Then it is that the eyes vanquish the Saviour. Many times since then, you and I have looked to Jesus Christ when a sense of sin has been very heavy upon us. While the eyes of faith are thus resting upon Jesus, He is overcome by them, and He darts inexpressible joy into our hearts as He says to us, "Turn away thine eyes from Me, for they have overcome Me." His heart is carried by storm by the faith-looks of His children. We also give another overcoming glance when we look to the Lord Jesus Christ for all things. When thine eyes are full of submission, full of hope, full of trust, it cannot be long before the Lord will, somehow or other, deliver thee, for He will say, "I cannot hold out against thee any longer." Turn away thine eyes from Me, for they have overcome Me." "I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify Me.'" Again, there are the eyes of prayer which often overcome the Lord Jesus Christ, and this victory comes, sometimes, when we are praying for ourselves. You cannot look steadily to God and say, "Lord, I am sure about Thy faithfulness, I am sure about Thy promise, and I cannot and will not doubt it," but before long you shall see the hand of the Lord made bare for your deliverance, and you also shall be among the happy number who have to bear witness that, verily, there is a God in Israel. Thus does prayer prevail with God when we present it for ourselves. So does it also overcome Him when we pray on behalf of others. Once again, there is another time when the eyes of the believer seem to overcome the heart of Christ, and that is, when we have turned right away from the world, and looked to Him alone. I have known it so again and again; have not you? At such seasons my soul has felt ready to swoon away in His presence. You remember how John in Parinos, when Jesus appeared to him, said, "When I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead;" and well he might, for he had a brighter vision of his Lord than you and I can have at present. But even faith's view of Him is enough to transport us straight away into heaven itself. Well, whenever we are thus happily engaged in contemplation of our Lord, not only is He very near to us, but He is greatly moved by our love, and He says to us, "Turn away thine eyes from Me, for they have overcome Me." And, meanwhile, to prove how overcome He is, He begins to reveal Himself more fully to us. Last of all, sometimes the eyes of Christians have great power in overcoming Christ when they long for His appearing. Have you never seen the saints lie dying with such language as this on their lips, "Why are His chariots so long in coming Why tarrieth He?" I have heard them say, with evident regret, "I thought to have been in heaven long ere now. Why not let me go?" And they have been like a poor thrush which I have sometimes seen a boy try to keep upon a little bit of turf; it longed for the broad fields, and beat itself against the wires of its cage. So is it with Our dear suffering friends, at times; yet they have learned patiently to wait till their change came; but often, their eyes have been so fixed upon their Lord that they have said to Him, "Wilt Thou never come?" And, at last, Christ has looked out of heaven so sweetly on those sick ones, and He has said, "Your eyes have overcome Me, come up higher;" and they have leaped out of their body into His bosom, and the pierced hands have received their blood-washed spirits, and they have been "for ever with the Lord."( C. H. Spurgeon.)
There are threescore queens.
I. WOMAN HAS THE SPECIAL AND SUPERLATIVE RIGHT OF BLESSING AND COMFORTING THE SICK. The Lord God who sent Miss Dix into the Virginia hospitals, and Florence Nightingale into the Crimea, and the Maid of Saragossa to appease the wounds of the battlefield, has equipped wife, mother, and daughter, for this delicate but tremendous mission.
II. WOMAN HAS A SUPERLATIVE RIGHT TO TAKE CARE OF THE POOR.
III. IT IS WOMAN'S SPECIFIC RIGHT TO COMFORT UNDER THE STRESS OF DIRE DISASTER.
IV. IT IS WOMAN'S RIGHT TO BRING TO US THE KINGDOM OF HEARTEN.
V. ONE OF THE SPECIFIC RIGHTS OF WOMEN IS, THROUGH THE GRACE OF CHRIST, FINALLY TO REACH HEAVEN. O, what a multitude of women in heaven I Mary, Christ's mother, in heaven; Elizabeth Fry in heaven; Charlotte Elizabeth in heaven; the mother of Augustine in heaven; the Countess of Huntingdon — who sold her splendid jewels to build chapels — in heaven; while a great many others who have never been heard of on earth, or known but little, have gone into the rest and peace of heaven. What a rest!
(T. De Witt Talmage.)
My dove, My undefiled is but one.I. COMPARING THE CHURCH TO A DOVE.
1. The dove is a beautiful bird, especially in Eastern countries, where their plumage is so dazzling, and in this particular typifies the Church (Ezekiel 16:14).
2. The believer's righteous beauty is from Christ alone (Psalm 90:17).
3. The dove is remarkable for her cleanliness; so the Church is both clean and cleanly (Hebrews 10:22).
5. The dove delights to be fed by her own mate; so does the Church by Christ (Song of Solomon 1:7).
6. The dove is remarkable for its love to its mate; so is the Church to Christ (Psalm 73:23-28).
7. The dove is remarkable for its deep grief when separated from its mate (Ezekiel 7:16).
8. Doves are sociable creatures, and delight in each other's company (1 John 4:7).
9. Doves are fearful and timid birds (Matthew 8:96).
10. Doves are swift on the wing; so David wished for the wings of a dove (Psalm 55:6).
II. THE ONENESS OF THE CHURCH.
1. The Church is but one in respect of the world (John 15:19).
3. She has but one faith (Ephesians 4:4, 5).
4. One in her conduct and practice (Hebrews 12:14).
5. One in the spirit and object of love (1 Corinthians 6:17).
6. And one in Christ their living Head, by whom they are saved (1 Corinthians 12:12).
7. And because Christ has no other spouse than the Church (Leviticus 20:24).
III. WHY SHE IS CALLED HIS. She belongs unto Him by right of creation, donation, redemption, predestination, regeneration, or baptism, sanctification, and salvation. And as such —
1. She will never be lost while residing in the wilderness, for the Spirit is her guide.
2. No creatures of prey shall ever rob her of life, because Christ is her Protector.
3. Nothing shall keep her from glory, for Christ is in heaven to secure her entrance there.
(T. B. Baker.)
Who is she that looketh forth as the morning, fair as the moon, clear as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners?
I. TO THE HISTORY OF CHRIST. Christ looked "forth as the morning" in the first promise made to our first parents in Eden. The Mosaic dispensation may be considered as daybreak, dim and hazy, the prophetic age may be regarded as "fair as the moon," it was brighter than the former, and it shone, as the moon shines with light borrowed from the unseen Sun. When the fulness of time came, and Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, then the Sun of Righteousness arose with healing in His wings, and throughout the whole of our Lord's public ministry He marched forth "clear as the sun." Christ went forth "terrible as an army with banners." He vanquished Satan in the Temptation of the wilderness. He was a terror to evil-doers, and planted His standard in the centre of the kingdom of darkness. Especially was He "terrible as an army with banners" when He entered upon His Passion. And He shall be "terrible as an army with banners" when He shall come in His glory, and all His holy angels with Him, to gather all nations together, and separate the righteous from the wicked.
II. TO THE HISTORY OF THE CHURCH. The Jewish Church was only the dawn of Gospel times, it looked "forth as the morning" — it was "fair as the moon," but not clear as the sun. The day broke when the day of Pentecost came, and the Spirit rested upon the Apostles heads as tongues of flame. In that sunlight the Evangelists wrote their Gospels, and the Apostles their Epistles; and in the warmth and blessed life-giving influence of the rays of the Sun of Righteousness, the early preachers of the Cross went forth preaching Jesus and the Resurrection; they went forth "terrible as an army with banners," and the world was won by them, for by the end of the third century the Gospel had been preached, and converts had been won in every part of the then known world. The Church is still going on from victory unto victory.
III. TO THE HISTORY OF EVERY CHRISTIAN BELIEVER. The rise and progress of the soul in religion are gradual and progressive. Religious impression and conviction may be regarded as the looking "forth as the morning." In the dawn of religious life there is much cloud, and the shadows of the night move but slowly away. We cannot tell just when the night ends and the morning breaks — and daybreak differs in different climes, so is it in the history of the regenerate: many rejoicing in the light of the Sun of Righteousness can only say, "One thing I know, whereas I was in the dark, now I am in the light — the day has dawned, and the shadows have fled away." Light shines upon the soul "fair as the moon," and, at first, often as cold. But soon the light shines brighter and warmer, the soul is filled with life and joy and glory, for, "clear as the sun, Jesus sheds His love abroad there."
(F. W. Brown.)
T. De Witt Talmage.)
I went down into the garden of nuts to see the fruits of the valley.I. THE CHURCH IS A GARDEN. There are four gardens which may furnish us with ample materials for meditation.
1. The garden of Eden, where man was formed, and where man fell.
2. The garden of Gethsemane, where the Saviour often resorted with His disciples.
3. The garden of Calvary, belonging to Joseph of Arimathca.
4. The Church. Now the three former gardens were real gardens; the latter is a garden metaphorically considered only; a spiritual garden, a garden for the soul, and for eternity. A garden requires much careful attention. A garden is a place of pleasure and delight. In a word, it is also a place of profit too. It yields not only flowers, but fruits. The Church is always "filled with all the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God." Some gardens yield the owner his chief income. -God derives His principal revenue of honour from His Church.
II. IN THIS GARDEN THERE IS A VARIETY OF TREES. There are three kinds of trees spoken of here. Now I am not going to make a comparison between Christians, comparing some of them to nut trees, and some to vines, and some to pomegranates. But as you find all these, however they differ, in the same garden, so it is with the subjects of Divine grace. They are all, however they differ from each other, "trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified. And however distinguished from each other, they stand in the very same state, and are in the same relation to Him and to each other. What do we learn from hence? Why, that you should never oppose Christians to each other, crying up one, and crying down another, because they are not the same, but valuing them all, loving them all, praying, for them all Grace be with all them that love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity. What do we learn from hence? Why, that you should not look for everything from the same individual. Do not go to the nut-bush for the grapes, and do not go to the vine for the pomegranate. You cannot expect all these fruits upon the same tree.
III. HE ENTERS THIS GARDEN FOR THE PURPOSE OF INSPECTING IT. He enters His garden indeed for other purposes, too. He enters it to walk there; He enters it to enjoy His pleasant fruits them, and He loves to hold intercourse and communion with His saints. But here He speaks of entering it, you see, for another purpose; for as the garden is His own, it is so valuable that He will not treat it with neglect or overlook it. No; "I went down," says He, "to see the fruits of the valley: for the garden is low, and the Church is lowly." "I went down to see the fruits of the valley." He is continually inspecting His Church; and how qualified is He for this! "His eyes are as a flame of fire:" distance is nothing to Him; darkness is nothing to Him. And what is His aim when He comes to examine? Not to ascertain whether you are learned, but whether you are "wise unto salvation"; not whether you are rich, but whether you are "rich towards God"; not whether your bodies are inhealth, but whether "your souls prosper"; and so of the rest.
IV. WHEN HE COMES TO EXAMINE HIS GARDEN, HE LOOKS AFTER EVEN THE FIRST BEGINNINGS OF GRACE. "I went down to see whether the vines flourished, and the pomegranates budded." Observe, not only to look after the flourishing of the vine, but the budding of the pomegranates. Oh I that is a fine bud when a man no longer restrains prayer before God, but cries, "God be merciful to me a sinner!" When his tear drops upon his Bible, and he says, "Lord, save, or I perish." One of the earliest buddings of religion, I am persuaded, is love to the Lord's people, and tenderness towards them, and delight in them. But why does the Saviour look after the very buddings of grace, and value these? We answer, because they are His own producing, the work of His own Spirit in the heart. And because they are necessary: for though there may be buds without fruit, there can be no fruit without buds; though there may be a beginning without advancing or finishing, there can be no advancing or finishing without a beginning. These things, therefore, are essentially necessary. And because also they are sure pledges of something more. He sees in them the peace of God — sees in them pardon — sees in them the comforts of the Holy Ghost. Oh! there is heaven in that bud! Oh! there is an immensity, an eternity of glory and blessed Hess in that bud! It will bring forth fruit unto life eternal.
1. The former is often experienced, and is requisite for us all.(1) I speak to some who are young. You, in reference to age, are in the valley, not yet ascended to the higher levels of mature life, of paternity and seniority. There are fruits to be borne in this valley, fruits in their season, and in this condition — obedience, diligence, docility, consecration to Christ.(2) I speak to some who are poor; you are in the valley in reference to social position. There are fruits in this condition; and beautiful it is to see how by many patience, submission, contentment, thankful ness, practical generosity, are borne here.(3) I speak to some who are in affliction. This is a valley through which all pass, young, old, rich and poor alike. Need I say it has fruit? "Tribulation worketh patience, patience experience, experience hope."(4) There is yet a valley before us all, and through which all must pass — "the valley of the shadow of death" There will be fruit to be borne there. Grace will not cease its exercise with the activities of life.
2. But I would more especially urge the thought that there is a valley in inward experience, and that this is especially fruitful. Humility. I need not attempt to define this grace, nor yet to extol it. Both will best be done, perhaps, in exhibiting some of its fruits.(1) There are many that relate to God. True humility is a grace of God's Spirit. It thus comes from God, and it has many bearings towards God. It best qualifies us for knowing God. Nothing, however, so hides God from us as pride, which is like a vapour concealing the sun. The humble spirit, low in its own estimation, looking up to God, sees excellences, beauties in Him, which to others are concealed. As knowledge of God, so repentance towards God springs from humility. Nor less is it the source of faith. To trust wholly in the merits of another, to forego all claim to personal merit or righteousness, is a plan of salvation which staggers and offends many. The same spirit is equally valuable in producing submission, contentment under affliction. And so in many ways bearing on the nature and government of God, humility is most fruitful Thus we humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God. And thus it secures God's favour. As the springs flow down from the mountain, leaving it bare, but into the valleys, making them fertile, so do God's choicest influences avoid the proud spirit, but descend on the humble and the meek. "Unto that man will I look, and with him will I dwell," says the High and Lofty One, "who is humble, and of a contrite spirit."(2) Nor are the fruits borne by this lowly grace less important in relation to man. We are bound together in life by indissoluble ties, domestic, social and civil. Christianity claims to regulate all these, and it does so by regulating and rectifying the spirit which underlies them all. And it will be found that of all the dispositions most likely to remedy whatever is wrong in social life, and to confirm all that is good, is this spirit of humility. The more you look into yourself and observe others, the more I think you will find that the cause of nearly all that affects our social life, injuriously taints it, casts a shadow over it, makes it a jarring, distasteful, unattractive thing, when it ought to be only transparent, noble and pure, is the spirit of pride. It is this, unconsciously often, but really, which gives censoriousness to judgment, asperity to feeling, bitterness to expression, unkindness to act. We think so much of ourselves, that we despise and offend others. The Lord help us all, for the sake of each other, to walk more in this valley.(3) While this spirit, this valley-like grace, bears such blessed fruit towards God and towards man, it does so equally to its possessor. We cannot have a "conscience void of offence" in these two ways Without having the comfort of it ourselves. It often secures material advantages. Seest thou a proud man, a boaster, or "one wise in his own conceit, there is more hope of a fool than of him." Seest thou a truly humble man, one willing to stoop to do anything, go anywhere, serve any one, that man is on the road to preferment. Far more important than any material benefit is the spiritual blessing it secures. What peace it brings! While the proud spirit, like the lofty mountain-top, is exposed to constant storms, the humble spirit, like the valley, escapes them, and its peace flows like the river, of which it is the bed. What leisure it gives, too! While pride is ever busy on the watch for the appropriate tokens of respect, and like the swelling Haman, has all else embittered if these are withheld, humility cares little for these things, and, like Mordecai, has leisure to think about others, to care for a loved Esther, and to save a nation besides. What influence, too! When Moses descended from the mountain, subdued, overwhelmed by a sense of God's greatness and his own littleness, he "wist not that the skin of his face shone," but it did so, and his power over the people was never greater than then. These, however, are only moral results, though as such they indicate God's approval of the spirit He thus causes to be honoured. There are more directly spiritual ones. "God giveth grace to the humble," and that in a most signal manner. He does not give it except to the humble. Only the empty vessel is receptive, and only in proportion as it is so. Faith is the glance of humility, prayer its sigh; this sweet grace underlies all graces, and is the soil in which all grow; and it secures more, "grace for grace." As by the law of nature, water, with all the virtue it holds in solution, seeks the lowest level, fertilizing the valley and making it "bring forth and bud"; so grace from Christ in all its various forms descends to the humblest spirit, causing it to bear "much fruit." If we would learn of Christ, receive from Christ, be filled with the fulness of Christ, be qualified for the service of Christ, receive commission from Christ, be imbued with the spirit of Christ, we must be humble; like Mary, must sit at the Master's feet; like the beloved disciple, must fall down before Him; like Isaiah, must be awed by a sense of His glory, and say, "Woe is me"; like Paul, must in a sense, suffer the loss of all things, be weak in order to be strong. There are laws in the spiritual universe as in the natural, a Christian philosophy as We]l as a secular; and one of the principles of the former, as of the latter, is that the lowest level is the most receptive, and that which seeks and obtains most of all that is fertilizing and good. "Though the Lord be high, He hath respect unto the lowly."
(J. Viney, D. D.)
Or ever I was aware, my soul made me like the chariots of Ammi-nadib.
I. SPIRITUAL SPONTANEITY. Spontaneity signifies that which is voluntary and unconstrained, free and instantaneous action. Without spontaneity our lives would sink to the dull, dead level of things, we should be mere links in the great chain of cause and effect. Without spontaneity we should be things, not men. This power, this pure activity is necessary to our personality. We are about to speak of the spontaneity of life — that is, spiritual life. By the spontaneity of this life, we mean that its impulses, sensibilities, and affections are not the result of a painful and protracted effort, but spring from life as its natural manifestation and development. There is naturalness in all the forms of life. We are often struck with the unnatural character of some men's religion. It seems like something that belongs to the man, a mere accident or appendage; he can put it on as a garment, but he can divest himself of it at any moment. What naturalness there is in life, in the modest, quiet beauty of the flower, that opens itself to drink in the dew and the sunlight, and gives its perfume to every breath that passes by, and does this spontaneously, for it is the law of its life. Some few illustrations of the spontaneity of life may make our meaning more apparent. When the physical organization is perfect, when there is health as well as life, the body performs many of its functions without effort and unconsciously. The man runs without weariness, and walks without fainting. Life is like a stream sparkling in the sunshine, making its own music as it flows on, sustained and nourished by the fountain that gave it birth. It is the sick man who frequently places his finger on the pulse. It is the man out of health who has the study of his own nature forced upon him, and who is constantly seeking to reproduce and restore harmony. A man who lives near to God and has constant communion with Him, will have Divine beauty put upon him. He may, like Moses, put a veil over his face, but at any moment he can put off the veil, and go in and speak with God. There is no necessity for the soul to see that the strings of the instrument are tuned concert pitch, at any instant she can awaken music and call on all spiritual faculties like so many choristers to blend their voices in one song. A man need not, like Saul, the first king of Israel, "force himself to offer sacrifice." There are spiritual instincts: "My heart and my flesh cry out for God." There is no fixedness of heart: "Oh God, my heart is fixed." there is spontaneity: "Or ever I was aware, my soul made me like the chariots of Ammi-nadib." The highest acts of the spiritual life are for the most part acts of pure spontaneity. Life is in its incipient and undeveloped forms, when we must learn to see, to speak, to walk; and so in the beginning of the spiritual life, there must be effort, and painful consciousness, till we grow up into Him who is the Head, even Christ. How may we attain this high spiritual state? We must seek the constant actings of the Spirit, and yield ourselves to the felt influence of the Holy Ghost. The Spirit is to help our infirmities, — that is, the Spirit is to lift us up, to raise, to elevate us; the Spirit gives wings to the soul, so that we maybe borne up into a spiritual region, and commune with spiritual things. We must get the unity of our whole nature. You must live in constant communion with God. Let me say, there is real happiness and great peace resulting from this spontaneity of life. There is the Sabbath of the soul; the work of the new creation being over, God still comes to man, and walks in the garden in the cool of the day. Love manifests itself to love; a living God to a living soul. In this state you will be prepared to use all things; you will be ready to receive Divine communications; you will be fitted for all seasons of fellowship. Worldly men instinctively go after the world. They come to the sanctuary, but they go where their heart goes: "Or ever I was aware, my soul made me like the chariots of Amminadib." There is spontaneity in sin. It becomes natural — it awakens no astonishment — man seeks his gratification in it.
II. THE INTUITIONS OF THE HEART. The circumstances in the chapter are these: The bridegroom is without the bride, but he goes into scenes where she has been, which seem to him filled with her presence; everything reminds him of her — his heart goes after her, he instinctively feels that she is near, though he does not see her. We are influenced by the unseen. The true centre of our life — of all its thoughts, feelings, and energies — is the unseen. There is an attractive force, of even higher power than the force which draws bodies to the earth. Our life is in God; our holiness is the shadow of His light; our love the birth of His love. The regenerated soul goes to God to find satisfaction in Him; it goes instinctively, by the law of its new life, to have communion with God. The spiritual man finds, "or ever he is aware," his heart has lifted him up to heaven. The unseen influences us. There are influences which do not act on the senses, but on the spirit, which do not proceed from anything that may be seen or that is handled, but from the spiritual. Men are influenced by fellowship, by example, by mind acting on mind, by the literature of the day, by the daily papers. We are influenced by the past, by the writings of men who have entered the unseen world. And are not our minds open to the direct influences of the Spirit of God? Cannot the Father of our spirits draw near to us, and illuminate, sanctify, and commune with our hearts? A man must be spiritual to recognize and appropriate spiritual things. What is meant by a man being spiritual? That he is born of the Spirit, that he lives in the Spirit, that his own spiritual nature has the mastery over the outward and the physical — that there is a state of real spiritual unity. With his well-balanced mind he can respond to spiritual impressions, and make use of spiritual opportunities. This ready response is indispensable; the "vision will not tarry." A right state of heart is necessary that we may be able to take advantage of all opportunities, that we may be prepared, not only for the Sabbath, but for all times, so as to respond to all spiritual impressions and impulses. A right state of heart is necessary that we may be fitted for manifestations. We must be prepared, like the disciples in the upper room, waiting for the promise of the Father, for suddenly there may come "a sound from heaven." We must be prepared, like mariners who have long been becalmed, but who see indications of a breeze springing up, and so make all ready to take every possible advantage of the wind which presently will sweep over the waters. We must be prepared to ascend the mount, so that at any moment we hear the Divine voice saying, — Come up, and "I will make all My goodness pass before you," we may go up and see the glory. We must walk in the light, as He is in the light, that we may have fellowship one with another.
(H. J. Bevis.)
I. What is the most wanted in all religious exercises is THE MOTION, THE EXERCISE OF THE SOUL. "Or ever I was aware, my soul made me" — or my soul became — "like the chariots of Ammi-nadib." Soul-worship is the soul of worship, and if you take away the soul from the worship, you have killed the worship; it becomes dead and barren henceforth. There are professors in this world who are perfectly content if they have gone through the mechanical part of public devotion. If they have occupied their seats, joined in the hymns and the prayers, and listened to the preaching, they go away quite content and easy. Only that prayer which comes from our heart can get to God's heart. Oh, that we may be more and more scrupulous and watchful in these things! In the diary of Oliver Heywood, one of the ejected ministers, he often says, "God helped me in prayer in my chamber and in the family." And once he writes thus — "In my chamber this morning I met with more than ordinary incomings of grace and outgoings of heart to God." Be it always recollected that we do not pray at all, unless the soul is drawn out in pleading and beseeching the Lord.
II. SOMETIMES IT HAPPENS THAT THE HEART IS NOT IN THE BEST STATE FOR DEVOTION. If religion be a matter of soul, it cannot always be attended to with equal pleasure and advantage. You can always grind a barrel-organ; it will invariably give you the same discordant noise, which people call music, but the human voice will not admit of being wound up in the same fashion, nor will it for the most part discharge the same monotonous functions. The great singer finds that his voice changes, and that he cannot always use it with the same freedom. If the voice is a delicate organ, how much more delicate is the soul! The soul is continually the subject of changes. Ah, how often it changes because of its contact with the body! If we could be disembodied, oh, how we would praise God and pray to Him! "The spirit truly is willing, but the flesh is weak." And then, alas, our sins are a much more serious hindrance to our devotion. Perhaps we have been angry. How can we come before the Lord calmly when our spirit has been just now tossed with tempest? Probably we have been seeking the world, and going after it with all our might. How can we suddenly pull up, and put all our strength into a vigorous seeking of the kingdom of God and His righteousness in a moment? Now God's grace can help us to overcome all these things, and can even make our souls like the chariots of Ammi-nadib. We do not want grace for such emergencies. The soul, in its different phases and states, has need of help from the sanctuary to which it repairs.
III. THERE ARE SEASONS WHEN OUR HEART IS SWEETLY MOVED TOWARDS GOD. "Or ever I was aware, my soul made me like the chariots of Ammi-nadib." Have ye not proved welcome opportunities when all your thoughts have been quickened, enlivened, and stimulated to activity in the highest degree about your highest interests? All within us was awake; there was not a slumbering faculty. Our memory told us of the goodness of the Lord in days gone by; and our hopes were regaled by the mercy which we had not tasted yet, but which was made sure to us by promise, and brought near to us by faith. Our faith was active and bright of eye. Our love especially shed a clear light over our prospects. Oh, we have had our blessed times, when our soul has been light and rapid as the chariots of Ammi-nadib! And at such times we were conscious of great elevation. The chariots of Ammi-nadib were those of a prince. And oh, we were no more mean, and low, and beggarly, and grovelling, but we saw Christ, and were made kings and princes and priests with Him. Then we could have performed martyr's deeds. Then we were no cowards, we were afraid of no foes. We had princely thoughts then, large, liberal, generous, capacious thoughts concerning Christ and His people, His cause, and His conquests: our souls were like the chariots of Ammi-nadib. At the same time they were full of power; for, when the chariots of Ammi-nadib went forth, who could stop them? Such was our spirit. We laughed at thoughts of death, and poured contempt upon the trials of life. We were strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Oh, what splendid times we have had when God has been with us. Oh, yes! in God's house you have known the days of heaven upon earth. Not unfrequently too have I known that the Lord has appeared to His people and warmed their hearts when they have been working for Him.
IV. SOMETIMES THE SWEET SEASONS COME TO US WHEN WE DO NOT EXPECT THEM. "Or ever I was aware, my soul made me like the chariots of Ammi-nadib." Some poor hearts do not reckon ever to have these joys again. They say, "No, no, they are all gone; the last leaf has blown from the tree; the, last flower has faded in the garden. My summer is past. It is all over with me!" That is the bitter complaint and the hollow murmuring of unbelief. But the Lord for whom ye wait can suddenly appear, and while you are saying hard things of yourself He can refute them with the beams of His countenance. Even at this very moment you may stand like Hannah, a woman of sorrowful spirit, feeling as if you would be sent away empty; yea, and God's servant himself may address you with rough words as Eli did her, and may even tell you that you are drunken, when it is deep grief that enfeebles your steps and chokes your voice; and all the while the Lord may have in store for you such a blessing as you have never dreamed of; and He may say to thee, "Go thy way, My daughter; I have heard thy petition, thy soul shall have its desire. Or ever I was aware, while my unbelief led me to think such a thing impossible, Thou hast made me like the chariots of Ammi-nadib.
( C. H. Spurgeon.)
Return, return, O Shulamite; return, return, that we may look upon thee.
I. Let us listen, but only with our ears, not with our hearts, to THE LOWER VOICES. Whence come these voices? There are voices from the vasty deep of sin and hell, voices from the tombs which we have quitted, voices from the Egypt from which we have fled. They are crying evermore, like unquiet ghosts, "Return, return." The devil is not altogether a fool, although he is great in that direction; and therefore he does not continue for ever to use nets which have failed to entangle the birds. If he finds that cajolery will not ensnare us, he leaves his old tactics and tries other methods. When "Return, return" will not woo us, he puts on his lion form, and roars till the mountains shake. By old companions he does this. They say, "You have left us all, we do not know why. You have turned a fanatic; you have joined with gloomy Christian people, and you are not half the good fellow you used to be. Arc you not getting a little tired of those dreary ways? Are not the rules of Christ too precise and Puritanic?" Thus do her former comrades cry, "Return, return, O Solyma" The old joys sometimes, in moments of weakness which will come upon us, revive upon the memory, and attempt to mislead us. When do these voices come? Their sound is heard full often. "Return, return, return, return" — four times over the text hath it. They come so often that the word in the Epistle to the Hebrews is more than justified, "And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned." These opportunities come in our way everywhere, and at all times. If you wish to leave off being a Christian, if you wish to follow the world in its pleasures or in its labours, the doors are always open. It is a fight to reach to heaven, and few there be to help us in it; but the path to hell is downward, and multitudes thrust out their hands to urge us to the infernal deeps. These cries are borne to us by every gale, in tones both loud and gentle, "Return, return." And we shall find that they solicit us in our best moments. I cannot fully account for the fact, but so it is, that I am most liable to speak unadvisedly with my lips when I have just enjoyed the raptures of high fellowship with God. Yonder shines the Mountain of Transfiguration in its unrivalled splendour; but lo, at the very foot of it the devil rages in the lunatic child! Our highest graces are not to be trusted, for, as the most venomous serpents lurk among the brightest flowers, so are temptations most abundant hard by our most spiritual and heavenly joys. Notice that our text goes on to say why they wish us to return. "Return, return, that we may look upon thee." And is that all? Am I to be a traitor to my Lord, and quit His holy ways, and forfeit heaven, to be made a show of by thee, O Satan? or by thee, O world? Is this a full reward for treachery — "that we may look upon thee"? Why, their looks are daggers. As the eyes of basilisks are the eyes of the ungodly world; as malignant stars that blast the soul. When the world loves the holy man it is the love of the vulture for the sick lamb. Fear you the worldling, even when lie bears you gifts. Now hear Solyma's wise answer to her tempters. She says, "What will ye see in Solyma?" Dost thou ask me, O world, to come back and show myself to be thy friend? Dost thou promise me approbation? Dost thou vow to look upon me, and admire me, and take me for an example? What is there in me that thou canst approve of? What wilt thou see in Solyma? What can the world see in a believer? The world knoweth us not, because it knew Christ not.
II. Now we turn to listen, not with our ears only, but with our hearts too, to the call of THE HIGHER VOICES which cry, "Return, return." Brethren. to go to heaven, to go to Christ, to go towards Holiness, is a return to God's people: for God's people are originally His children. Though they are prodigals, and have gone into a far country, they always were His children; even when they spent their substance in riotous living they were still His sons, and each of them could speak of "My Father's house." To come to Christ, and holiness, and heaven, is to return. Notice that in the text that word "return" is put four times over. Is it not because it is of the highest importance that every child of God should keep returning, and coming nearer to the Father's house? Is it not because it is our highest joy, our strongest security, our best enrichment, to be always coming to Christ as unto a living stone, and getting into closer fellowship with Him? As He calls four times, is it not a hint that we are slow to come? We ought to come to Jesus not only at His first call, but even at the glances of His eyes, when He looks as though He longed for our love: it ought to be our rapture to think only of Him, and live wholly to Him; but as we fail to answer to first pleas, He cries four times, "Return, return, O Solyma; return, return. Come to thine own Husband, thine own loving Lord." He ceases not to entreat until we do return. Do not the reduplications of this call hint at His strong desire after us, His condescending love for us? I beg you to observe what the spouse has to say to this when she is thus called upon to return to the Lord. The Lord saith to her, "Return, return, that we may look upon thee." Is not that a reason for coming back? The Lord says, "That I may look upon thee." He desires your society, and seems gently to hint that you have kept aloof from Him. He seems to say, "You have not been much with Me alone lately, you have neglected the reading of the Word, and the hearing of it; I have scarcely seen thy face; therefore return, that I may look upon thee." Cover your face and say, "Lord, why shouldst Thou look on me? I am full of sin;" but then draw near to Him, that His look of love may bring thee to repentance, and cause thy sin to pass away. Remember He hath power in His eyes to look thee into purity and beauty. Come and say, "Look upon me, Lord; search me, try me, and know my ways." Return, that with infinite pity thy Beloved may see what aileth thee, and then with His dear pierced hand may perform a Divine surgery upon thee, and make thee well again.
( C. H. Spurgeon.).