The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
By night on my bed I sought him whom my soul loveth: I sought him, but I found him not.Sowing and Reaping
Song of Solomon 2 and Song of Solomon 3
There is something very remarkable in the sweet words, "Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away" (Song of Solomon 2:13). Wherever we find these words we should be gratified with their music, their simplicity, their human tenderness. When we apply them to Jesus Christ they are invested with new and large significance. Jesus Christ is always calling his Church away to some higher altitude, to some greener pasture, or by some quieter stream. The Church is always under inspiration. This is not the time for rest, finality; this is the time for marching, advancing, learning, putting into practice what we learn, and obeying the voice of one unseen but well known, calling us to go forward, though we are apparently going into thick darkness and into troubled seas. When did Jesus Christ ever say, You have made all the progress you can make: sit down and rest evermore; for there is nothing more that can be learned; at least, there is nothing more for you to acquire? That is not the voice of Jesus. We should contradict any one instantly and strongly who made the declaration that Jesus Christ had said, Men have now come to the end of their learning and their beneficence. Blessed is he who hears his Lord always saying, Arise, come away: you have not seen all yet; the real beauty is yet to be shown, the great harvest-field has yet to be reaped; you have hardly begun to live. Arise, come away, halt not, fear not; I have many more things to tell thee, and when thou art able to bear them thou shalt hear them one by one. It is a cheerful voice, and a voice that cheers. It is full of vivacity—not the sharpness or shrillness that merely excites and arouses, but the deep music that expresses joy, and that always promises a larger blessing as yet in store. When we sit down, and say, This is the end; when we dismiss our energy; when we cease to put on our strength,—then know that if we were once temples of God we have been forsaken by the living One. We must prove our Christianity by our progress; our love of Christ by understanding the present day, the immediate times, and responding to contemporaneous demands with cheerful alacrity and encouraging abundance: to-morrow will be an unread book; we must peruse it with the learning we have acquired to-day. Every morning brings with it some message from Christ, and that message is always an inspiring one, calling us to some new duty, some humble task, some great endeavour, some painful sacrifice.
Is it then all sunshine? Do we leave behind us all discipline? or is there a voice of warning to be attended to? Let us read these words: "Take us the foxes, the little foxes, that spoil the vines: tor our vines have tender grapes" (Song of Solomon 2:15). There is nothing fanciful in regarding these "foxes" and "little foxes" as representing spiritual enemies or difficulties peculiar to our situation and capacity. The little foxes spoil the vines, the grapes. What are these little foxes? Which of us is guilty of some great heresy? who can stand up and say he belongs to the party of the great and violent apostasy? who will rank himself with those who openly blaspheme against heaven? Not a man. Who will charge himself with glaring crimes, with obvious and intentional rebellion against God? We do not err in that direction. These would indeed be great foxes, great displays of depravity—a depravity that overleaps itself by its very extravagance and vulgarity. We need have little fear of ourselves along that line; we have lived too long and seen too much to commit ourselves to such gross profanity. But what of the little foxes—the irregularities, the nameless indulgences, the self-consideration, the endless omissions? Who makes some great speech infamous in its conception and its rhetoric? No man at all connected with the sanctuary of God. But what about the little bitter speeches that spoil family communion, the petty criticisms, the malignant, half-concealed allusions, the reminiscences that are all sting, the odd sentences that give the hearer heartache all day? and what of concealed selfishness—that worst kind of all, that gloves its hand, that cloaks its personality, that apes the attitude and speech of generosity; a calculated selfishness that touches and retires, that asks as if not asking, that claims as if not asserting, but persistently pursues its own policy and its own advantage? There, if the question be pressed severely, we shall fall at one stroke, and be taken captive instantly and completely.
Have we got rid of the larger evils? Then attention must be directed to what are known as minor evils—the little foxes, the little blotches upon the character, the small aberrations that require an eye of spiritual criticism to see that they are aberrations at all. We can draw a rough circle with a practised hand, but lay the compass upon it, and then see how defective it is when brought under the judgment of a true geometry. So we may in life do many things tolerably well, wonderfully well, so well as to attract attention and elicit commendation, but when the compasses of the sanctuary are laid upon our circles, the best of them is but a rough polygon; it is no circle at all. Yet to the eye it looks quite right. But what is the eye of the body? What can it see? What can it judge? It is dependent upon atmosphere and distance, and at the very best it is a lame judge of straight lines or circular lines. We must be judged by the spirit of the sanctuary, by the genius of the altar, by the Holy Ghost, and then so judged there is fire enough in the criticism to burn us as with the scorching of hell.
"Our vines have tender grapes." In our life there are budding thoughts. Do we know what we do when we destroy a blossom? Who can measure the disaster? Who can compute the loss? It is in blossoming and budding time that we have to take great care: then the frost tells heavily, then the cold wind is very cruel, and the toiling insect seems to carry everything before it. So many of us have been cruelly used at budding time. We have had beautiful blossoms of character. Who cannot remember these? Once we nearly prayed; at one time men took notice of us that there was a new element in our character, and they expected us to become religious; but some little fox destroyed the tender grape, or some great enmity was discovered, and it fell upon us like a cold wind; some senior professor snubbed us, was unkind to us, did not understand us, so the blossom was taken away, and where the blossom is destroyed what fruit can there be? Take care of first impressions, little budding thoughts, tender blossoms of moral aspiration, for in these are the beginnings of good character. Take care of the little things, the apparent trifles; the great main lines of character may be left to other influences and to broader culture. So then if we are called away to sunny places, to paradises, to fruitful gardens, there is difficulty, there is danger, and there is a need of discipline.
Again in chapter Song of Solomon 3:8 we have the same idea—"Every man hath his sword upon his thigh because of fear in the night." Who expected to find these words in a love-song? We thought we had passed all the hard books of Scripture, and had now come into a garden of delights, a very paradise of love; yet here are military words. Who can escape the military and disciplinary part of life? To have a sword may be ornamental, to have a sword in the daytime may look well; but what of the sword never taken off, ready at night-time, ready for all the messengers of darkness? What about this aspect of life? Yet who does not know it? Who is not aware of the fact that he must never take his sword off night or day? Why not? Because of the unexpected visitations which distress our life, because of temptations which give no notice of their coming, because we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world. That is why! Do we part with our sword? Do we say, Surely at night-time there can be no need for the sword, so we will lay it aside, and commit ourselves to rest, and to dream, and sweet converse? The enemy overhears us; the enemy knows who has the sword on and who has laid the sword away. He is a wise enemy—skilful, penetrating, sagacious, unslumbering; we cannot fight him in our own wit and skill and strength; we need all heaven's help to strike that foe fatally on the head. So whilst we have been enjoying the beauty of the song, its rare music, and have simply given ourselves up to the swinging rhythm of the singer, we must now obey the same inspiration, and if it was worth while to follow him when he spoke highly and sweetly concerning love and treasure and peace and joy, we must also obey him when he speaks of care and watchfulness and discipline. And as for this night-time, has God no care of it? Are there any Christian references to night-time in the New Testament? "At midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom cometh": "The Son of man will come as a thief in the night." Has not God made use of the night-time? When did the song which we associate with the gospel make itself heard by the sons of men? At midnight there was an angel, and with the angel a great host, and the song sung in that star-time was, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men." Do not think, therefore, that God has no sanctuary in the darkness; do not suppose that God retires from the providence of life at sundown, and takes no heed of it until the sun rises again. If the enemy is abroad at night so is God; he neither slumbers nor sleeps; he gives no rest to his eyelids. The darkness and the light are both alike unto thee, thou living, all-seeing God. So we must keep the two sides of the case clearly before us. The enemy seems to rule the night, but he does not in reality. It would sometimes appear as if the field of darkness were left wholly to the great foe: not one single cloud of it but is under the dominion and hand and care and love of God. "Clouds and darkness are round about him: righteousness and judgment are the habitation of his throne." He comes down upon the clouds; the clouds are the dust of his feet. Let no man, therefore, imagine that night indicates God's having forsaken the earth; it indicates rather the curtaining-in of the earth when it lies down to sleep in his infinite arms.
Notice another beautiful expression—"Behold king Solomon with the crown wherewith his mother crowned him" (Song of Solomon 3:11). Does that always mean something beautiful? Not always, as history has abundantly and painfully testified. Mothers have given crowns they had no right to give. Bad women have promised kingdoms to their husbands, and have succeeded in conferring those kingdoms upon them without title that could be justified, without one tittle of righteousness marking the whole process. Yet who has such right to give a crown to a son as a mother? What other crown is worth having? Behold, King Solomon, with the crown that his mother crowned him with. The image is beautiful, instructive, encouraging. What chances the mother has! she is always near; she sees when the gate of the mind is ajar, and she can enter in, as it were, stealthily, with all the quietness and tenderness of patient love. How soon she can begin! No other workman can be upon the ground so early as the mother. What questions are put to her! What answers she may return! Yet how soon is she forgotten! Who remembers Bath-sheba except in connection with shame? Surely it required some one to speak of her in connection with the coronation of her son. Life is a mixed quantity: we are bad, yet sometimes we pray; we sin much, yet to-morrow we may touch the divine arm, and see the King in his beauty; now scorched with hell, now blessed and calmed with all heaven's peace. True, we could go back and find out painful things in every history; but who cares to do this mean work? Who would live in such criticism? Has the man, the woman, ever done any beautiful thing, spoken any sweet word, gone out in sacrifice? has he, has she, been patient; thoughtful, unselfish, forgiving? In the name of reason, conscience, righteousness, let us magnify these instances, and allow all other matters to fall away into forgetfulness.
"The crown wherewith his mother crowned him" (Song of Solomon 3:11)—the crown of love of truth, love of honour, love of service; other crowns are trivial, other crowns are tinsel. The great Napoleon once said, "Who rocks the cradle rules the world." When that is believed in all the scope of its significance we shall see reformation without injustice, revolution without violence, the quiet dawn which always typifies the greatest of renewals and the greatest of beginnings. When Plato saw a child do wrong he went instantly and rebuked the parent. Truly he was a wise philosopher! Plato did not speak to the child; he did not imagine the child had invented some new depravity; he did not say, Thou art a genius in evil, thou hast found out quite a novel wickedness, and therefore I must address thee in thy personality. Without heeding the child he went and rebuked the parent. What a grasp of true wisdom he had! what a conception of the mystery of heredity! He was right. How can the parent draw himself up with pharisaic pride and rebuke the child? The child is but the man reduplicated; the child owes its birth to the man who rebukes him. Is your child a drunkard? So were you, or, if not you, the one behind you. This child of yours never invented the game of intemperance: he is not a discoverer in the art of wickedness. But you say you never were a drunkard? Wait. Be not quite so sure of that. Not perhaps in the open, obvious, vulgar sense of the term; but recall what you have done in that way, how you accustomed yourself to almost miracles in the way of drinking and self-indulgence. You did it little by little; the process did not seem to tell upon you; or there were circumstances in your case which mitigated the effect of the poison as to the public eye and as to your own consciousness, but all the while the mischief went on, and it comes up in that son who gives you heartache day by day. Are your children incapable, nervous, irritable, difficult to manage and govern? Blame yourselves. You wasted your constitution in your youth. The child inherits what you laid up. Every nervous fit is something you ought to be sorry for, and something for which you ought to apologise to the child. There are many murders committed without any blood being shed. When will people know that every thought they think tells upon the next generation: that every bad thought that passes through the brain repeats itself in the coming time? When will men remember that they cannot stay out late at night doing evil things without the black seed coming up in a black harvest? You look at the child and say you are surprised, for you began this practice and that practice when you were in your teens; if it is a poison, it is a very slow poison, for it has had no effect upon you. Supposing that you have been rough enough, hard enough, to bear the process yourself, yet see the full effect of the thing in those who have come after you: the process does not end with you; it only began mayhap in your instance: you must follow it out to your children, and if you see them incapable, nervous, irritable, worldly, drunken, beastly, do not pull yourself up in some haughty pharisaic attitude and begin to lecture them—fall down in the dust, and say, God be merciful to me a sinner: I have murdered children! Blessed be God, the law tells also upon the other side. Every noble thought you think has an effect upon the little child. Every generous deed you did comes up in beauty on that child's sweet face; the child never would have had such a visage but for your beneficence, pureness, religiousness; if you had prayed less the child's countenance would have been less suggestive of the highest significance. "The way of the Lord is equal." If we have done evil, evil we shall reap; if we have done good, our harvest shall be an abundance of good in return: "Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap." You have it not in your power, it may be, to leave your child gold. Thank God for the child that has little gold left. It is almost certain temptation; it is almost probable ruin. Bless God that the little child has to count its fingers, and see how many it has which it can employ as instruments of honest labour. But you can leave your child a beautiful example; you can so live that the child will be able to say, I never knew him do a mean thing; I never knew her carried away with vanity and folly; I have always known both the old folks sweet, kind, patient, longsuffering: God bless them. Epitaph they may have none in the churchyard, but they have an epitaph written upon the tablets of my heart. To work for such a speech is task enough for any angel.
One greater than Solomon is crowned. We read that on his head are many crowns. He deserves them all. He is Lord of all—
As for us, this is the rule: No cross, no crown; no sword, no sceptre; no storm, no calm. Thus a new view of the song comes before us. Hitherto we have been enjoying it as a piece of music; now we must listen to it as a law, a call to duty, a warning, and yet a promise. If we suffer with Christ we shall also reign with him. "To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne." That is enough. We will think of the music, and think of the discipline; we will remember the beauty, and not forget all the service; we will think of the promise, and know that the promise lies on the farther side of the cross, and that they who bear the cross well shall wear the crown evermore.