IT may be that there are saints who are always at their best, and are happy enough never to lose the light of their Father's countenance. I am not sure that there are such persons, for those believers with whom I have been most intimate have had a varied experience; and those whom I have known, who have boasted of their constant perfectness, have not been the most reliable of individuals. I hope there is a spiritual region attainable where there are no clouds to hide the Sun of our soul; but I cannot speak with positiveness, for I have not traversed that happy land. Every year of my life has had a winter as well as a summer, and every day its night. I have hitherto seen clear shinings and heavy rains, and felt warm breezes and fierce winds. Speaking for the many of my brethren, I confess that though the substance be in us, as in the teil-tree and the oak, yet we do lose our leaves, and the sap within us does not flow with equal vigour at all seasons. We have our downs as well as our ups, our valleys as well as our hills. We are not always rejoicing; we are sometimes in heaviness through manifold trials. Alas! we are grieved to confess that our fellowship with the Well-beloved is not always that of rapturous delight; but we have at times to seek Him, and cry, "Oh, that I knew where I might find Him!" This appears to me to have been in a measure the condition of the spouse when she cried, "Until the day break, and the shadows flee away, turn, my Beloved."
I. These words teach us, first, that communion may be broken. The spouse had lost the company of her Bridegroom: conscious communion with Him was gone, though she loved her Lord, and sighed for Him. In her loneliness she was sorrowful; but she had by no means ceased to love Him, for she calls Him her Beloved, and speaks as one who felt no doubt upon that point. Love to the Lord Jesus may be quite as true, and perhaps quite as strong, when we sit in darkness as when we walk in the light. Nay, she had not last her assurance of His love to her, and of their mutual interest in one another; for she says, "My Beloved is mine, and I am His;" and yet she adds, "Turn, my Beloved." The condition of our graces does not always coincide with the state of our joys. We may be rich in faith and love, and yet have so low an esteem of ourselves as to be much depressed.
It is plain, from this Sacred Canticle, that the spouse may love and be loved, may be confident in her Lord, and be fully assured of her possession of Him, and yet there may for the present be mountains between her and Him. Yes, we may even be far advanced in the divine life, and yet be exiled for a while from conscious fellowship. There are nights for men as well as babes, and the strong know that the sun is hidden quite as well as do the sick and the feeble. Do not, therefore, condemn yourself, my brother, because a cloud is over you; cast not away your confidence; but the rather let faith burn up in the gloom, and let your love resolve to come at your Lord again whatever be the barriers which divide you from Him.
When Jesus is absent from a true heir of heaven, sorrow will ensue. The healthier our condition, the sooner will that absence be perceived, and the more deeply will it be lamented. This sorrow is described in the text as darkness; this is implied in the expression, "Until the day break." Till Christ appears, no day has dawned for us. We dwell in midnight darkness; the stars of the promises and the moon of experience yield no light of comfort till our Lord, like the sun, arises and ends the night. We must have Christ with us, or we are benighted: we grope like blind men for the wall, and wander in dismay.
The spouse also speaks of shadows. "Until the day break, and the shadows flee away." Shadows are multiplied by the departure of the sun, and these are apt to distress the timid. We are not afraid of real enemies when Jesus is with us; but when we miss Him, we tremble at a shade. How sweet is that song, "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me!" But we change our note when midnight is now come, and Jesus is not with us: then we people the night with terrors: spectres, demons, hobgoblins, and things that never existed save in fancy, are apt to swarm about us; and we are in fear where no fear is.
The spouse's worst trouble was that the back of her Beloved was turned to her, and so she cried, "Turn, my Beloved." When His face is towards her, she suns herself in His love; but if the light of His countenance is withdrawn, she is sorely troubled. Our Lord turns His face from His people though He never turns His heart from His people. He may even close His eyes in sleep when the vessel is tossed by the tempest, but His heart is awake all the while. Still, it is pain enough to have grieved Him in any degree: it cuts us to the quick to think that we have wounded His tender heart. He is jealous, but never without cause. If He turns His back upon us for a while, He has doubtless a more than sufficient reason. He would not walk contrary to us if we had not walked contrary to Him. Ah, it is sad work this! The presence of the Lord makes this life the preface to the life celestial; but His absence leaves us pining and fainting, neither doth any comfort remain in the land of our banishment. The Scriptures and the ordinances, private devotion and public worship, are all as sun-dials, -- most excellent when the sun shines, but of small avail in the dark. O Lord Jesus, nothing can compensate us for Thy loss! Draw near to Thy beloved yet again, for without Thee our night will never end.
"See! I repent, and vex my soul,
That I should leave Thee so!
Where will those vile affections roll
That let my Saviour go?"
When communion with Christ is broken, in all true hearts there is a strong desire to win it back again. The man who has known the joy of communion with Christ, if he loses it, will never be content until it is restored. Hast thou ever entertained the Prince Emmanuel? Is He gone elsewhere? Thy chamber will be dreary till He comes back again. "Give me Christ or else I die," is the cry of every spirit that has lost, the dear companionship of Jesus. We do not part with such heavenly delights without many a pang. It is not with us a matter of "maybe He will return, and we hope He will;" but it must be, or we faint and die. We cannot live without Him; and this is a cheering sign; for the soul that cannot live without Him shall not live without Him: He comes speedily where life and death hang on His coming. If you must have Christ you shall have Him. This is just how the matter stands: we must drink of this well or die of thirst; we must feed upon Jesus or our spirit will famish.
II. We will now advance a step, and say that when communion with Christ is broken, there are great difficulties in the way of its renewal. It is much easier to go down hill than to climb to the same height again. It is far easier to lose joy in God than to find the lost jewel. The spouse speaks of "mountains" dividing her from her Beloved: she means that the difficulties were great. They were not little hills, but mountains, that closed up her way. Mountains of remembered sin, Alps of backsliding, dread ranges of forgetfulness, ingratitude, worldliness, coldness in prayer, frivolity, pride, unbelief. Ah me, I cannot teach you all the dark geography of this sad experience! Giant walls rose before her like the towering steeps of Lebanon. How could she come at her Beloved?
The dividing difficulties were many as well as great. She does not speak of "a mountain", but of "mountains": Alps rose on Alps, wall after wall. She was distressed to think that in so short a time so much could come between her and Him of whom she sang just now, "His left hand is under my head, and His right hand doth embrace me." Alas, we multiply these mountains of Bether with a sad rapidity! Our Lord is jealous, and we give Him far too much reason, for hiding His face. A fault, which seemed so small at the time we committed it, is seen in the light of its own consequences, and then it grows and swells till it towers aloft, and hides the face of the Beloved. Then has our sun gone down, and fear whispers, "Will His light ever return? Will it ever be daybreak? Will the shadows ever flee away?" It is easy to grieve away the heavenly sunlight, but ah, how hard to clear the skies, and regain the unclouded brightness!
Perhaps the worst thought of all to the spouse was the dread that the dividing barrier might be permanent. It was high, but it might dissolve; the walls were many, but they might fall; but, alas, they were mountains, and these stand fast for ages! She felt like the Psalmist, when he cried, "My sin is ever before me." The pain of our Lord's absence becomes: intolerable when we fear that we are hopelessly shut out from Him. A night one can bear, hoping for the morning; but what if the day should never break? And you and I, if we have wandered away from Christ, and feel that there are ranges of immovable mountains between Him and us, will feel sick at heart. We try to pray, but devotion dies on our lips. We attempt to approach the Lord at the communion table, but we feel more like Judas than John. At such times we have felt that we would give our eyes once more to behold the Bridegroom's face, and to know that He delights in us as in happier days. Still there stand the awful mountains, black, threatening, impassable; and in the far-off land the Life of our life is away, and grieved.
So the spouse seems to have come to the conclusion that the difficulties in her way were insurmountable by her own power. She does not even think of herself going over the mountains to her Beloved, but she cries, "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." She will not try to climb the mountains, she knows she cannot: if they had been less high, she might have attempted it; but their summits reach to heaven. If they had been less craggy or difficult, she might have tried to scale them; but these mountains are terrible, and no foot may stand upon their lone crags. Oh, the mercy of utter self-despair! I love to see a soul driven into that close corner, and forced therefore to look to God alone. The end of the creature is the beginning of the Creator. Where the sinner ends the Saviour begins. If the mountains can be climbed, we shall have to climb them; but if they are quite impassable, then the soul cries out with the prophet, "Oh, that Thou wouldest rend the heavens, that Thou wouldest come down, that the mountains might flow down at Thy presence. As when the melting fire burneth, the fire causeth the waters to boil, to make Thy name known to Thine adversaries, that the nations may tremble at Thy presence. When Thou didst terrible things which we looked not for, Thou camest down, the mountains flowed down at Thy presence." Our souls are lame, they cannot move to Christ, and we turn our strong desires to Him, and fix our hopes alone upon Him; will He not remember us in love, and fly to us as He did to His servant of old when He rode upon a cherub, and did fly, yea, He did fly upon the wings of the wind?
III. Here arises that prayer of the text which fully meets the case. "Turn, my Beloved, and be Thou like a roe or a young hart upon the mountains of division." Jesus can come to us when we cannot go to Him. The roe and the young hart, or, as you may read it, the gazelle and the ibex, live among the crags of the mountains, and leap across the abyss with amazing agility. For swiftness and sure-footedness they are unrivalled. The sacred poet said, "He maketh my feet like hinds' feet, and setteth me upon my high places," alluding to the feet of those creatures which are so fitted to stand securely on the mountain's side. Our blessed Lord is called, in the title of the twenty-second Psalm, "the Hind of the morning "; and the spouse in this golden Canticle sings, "My Beloved is like a roe or a young hart; behold He cometh, leaping upon the mountains, skipping upon the hills."
Here I would remind you that this prayer is one that we may fairly offer, because it is the way of Christ to come to us when our coming to Him is out of the question. "How?" say you. I answer that of old He did this; for we remember "His great love wherewith He loved us even when we were dead in trespasses and in sins." His first coming into the world in human form, was it not because man could never come to God until God had come to him? I hear of no tears, or prayers, or entreaties after God on the part of our first parents; but the offended Lord spontaneously gave the promise that the Seed of the woman should bruise the serpent's head. Our Lord's coming into the world was unbought, unsought, unthought of; he came altogether of His own free will, delighting to redeem.
"With pitying eyes, the Prince of grace
Beheld our helpless grief;
He saw, and (oh, amazing love!)
He ran to our relief."
His incarnation was a type of the way in which He comes to us by His Spirit. He saw us cast out, polluted, shameful, perishing; and as He passed by, His tender lips said, "Live!" In us is fulfilled that word, "I am found of them that sought Me not." We were too averse to holiness, too much in bondage to sin, ever to have returned to Him if He had not turned to us. What think you? Did He come to us when we were enemies, and will He not visit us now that we are friends? Did He come to us when we were dead sinners, and will He not hear us now that we are weeping saints? If Christ's coming to the earth was after this manner, and if His coming to each one of us was after this style, we may well hope that now He will come to us in like fashion, like the dew which refreshes the grass, and waiteth not for man, neither tarrieth for the sons of men. Besides, He is coming again in person, in the latter-day, and mountains of sin, and error, and idolatry, and superstition, and oppression stand in the way of His kingdom; but He will surely come and overturn, and overturn, till He shall reign over all. He will come in the latter-days, I say, though He shall leap the hills to do it, and because of that I am sure we may comfortably conclude that He will draw near to us who mourn His absence so bitterly. Then let us bow our heads a moment, and silently present to His most excellent Majesty the petition of our text: "Turn, my Beloved, and be Thou like a roe or a young hart upon the mountains of division."
Our text gives us sweet assurance that our Lord is at home with those difficulties which are quite insurmountable by us. Just as the roe or the young hart knows the passes of the mountains, and the stepping-places among the rugged rocks, and is void of all fear among the ravines and the precipices, so does our Lord know the heights and depths, the torrents and the caverns of our sin and sorrow. He carried the whole of our transgression, and so became aware of the tremendous load of our guilt. He is quite at home with the infirmities of our nature; He knew temptation in the wilderness, heart-break in the garden, desertion on the cross. He is quite at home with pain and weakness, for "Himself took our infirmities, and bare our sicknesses." He is at home with despondency, for He was "a Man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief." He is at home even with death, for He gave up the ghost, and passed through the sepulchre to resurrection. O yawning gulfs and frowning steeps of woe, our Beloved, like hind or hart, has traversed your glooms! O my Lord, Thou knowest all that divides me from Thee; and Thou knowest also that I am far too feeble to climb these dividing mountains, so that I may come at Thee; therefore, I pray Thee, come Thou over the mountains to meet my longing spirit! Thou knowest each yawning gulf and slippery steep, but none of these can stay Thee; haste Thou to me, Thy servant, Thy beloved, and let me again live by Thy presence.
It is easy, too, for Christ to come over the mountains for our relief. It is easy for the gazelle to cross the mountains, it is made for that end; so is it easy for Jesus, for to this purpose was He ordained from of old that He might come to man in his worst estate, and bring with Him the Father's love. What is it that separates us from Christ? Is it a sense of sin? You have been pardoned once, and Jesus can renew most vividly a sense of full forgiveness. But you say, "Alas! I have sinned again: fresh guilt alarms me." He can remove it in an instant, for the fountain appointed for that purpose is opened, and is still full. It is easy for the dear lips of redeeming love to put away the child's offences, since He has already obtained pardon for the criminal's iniquities. If with His heart's blood He won our pardon from our Judge, he can easily enough bring us the forgiveness of our Father. Oh, yes, it is easy enough for Christ to say again, "Thy sins be forgiven"! "But I feel so unfit, so unable to enjoy communion." He that healed all manner of bodily diseases can heal with a word your spiritual infirmities. Remember the man whose ankle-bones received strength, so that he ran and leaped; and her who was sick of a fever, and was healed at once, and arose, and ministered unto her Lord. "My grace is sufficient for thee; for My strength is made perfect in weakness." "But I have such afflictions, such troubles, such sorrows, that I am weighted down, and cannot rise into joyful fellowship." Yes, but Jesus can make every burden light, and cause each yoke to be easy. Your trials can be made to aid your heavenward course instead of hindering it. I know all about those heavy weights, and I perceive that you cannot lift them; but skilful engineers can adapt ropes and pulleys in such a way that heavy weights lift other weights. The Lord Jesus is great at gracious machinery, and He has the art of causing a weight of tribulation to lift from us a load of spiritual deadness, so that we ascend by that which, like a millstone, threatened to sink us down.
What else doth hinder? I am sure that, if it were a sheer impossibility, the Lord Jesus could remove it, for things impossible with men are possible with God. But someone objects, "I am so unworthy of Christ. I can understand eminent saints and beloved disciples being greatly indulged, but I am a worm, and no man; utterly below such condescension." Say you so? Know you not that the worthiness of Christ covers your unworthiness, and He is made of God unto you wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption? In Christ, the Father thinks not so meanly of you as you think of yourself; you are not worthy to be called His child, but He does call you so, and reckons you to be among His jewels. Listen, and you shall hear Him say," Since thou wast precious in My sight, thou hast been honourable, and I have loved thee. I gave Egypt for thy ransom; Ethiopia and Seba for thee." Thus, then, there remains nothing which Jesus cannot overleap if He resolves to come to you, and re-establish your broken fellowship.
To conclude, our Lord can do all this directly. As in the twinkling of an eye the dead shall be raised incorruptible, so in a moment can our dead affections rise to fulness of delight. He can say to this mountain, "Be thou removed hence, and be thou cast into the midst of the sea," and it shall be done. In the sacred emblems now upon this supper table, Jesus is already among us. Faith cries, "He has come!" Like John the Baptist, she gazes intently on Him, and cries, "Behold the Lamb of God!" At this table Jesus feeds us with His body and His blood. His corporeal presence we have not, but His real spiritual presence we perceive. We are like the disciples when none of them durst ask Him, "Who art Thou?" knowing that it was the Lord. He is come. He looketh forth at these windows, -- I mean this bread and wine; showing Himself through the lattices of this instructive and endearing ordinance. He speaks. He saith, "The winter is past, the rain is over and gone." And so it is; we feel it to be so: a heavenly springtide warms our frozen hearts. Like the spouse, we wonderingly cry, "Or ever I was aware, my soul made me like the chariots of Amminadib." Now in happy fellowship we see the Beloved, and hear His voice; our heart burns; our affections glow; we are happy, restful, brimming over with delight. The King has brought us into his banqueting-house, and His banner over us is love. It is good to be here!
Friends, we must now go our ways. A voice saith, "Arise, let us go hence." O Thou Lord of our hearts, go with us! Home will not be home without Thee. Life will not be life without Thee. Heaven itself would not be heaven if Thou wert absent. Abide with us. The world grows dark, the gloaming of time draws on. Abide with us, for it is toward evening. Our years increase, and we near the night when dews fall cold and chill. A great future is all about us, the splendours of the last age are coming down; and while we wait in solemn, awe-struck expectation, our heart continually cries within herself, "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 division."
"Hasten, Lord! the promised hour;
Come in glory and in power;
Still Thy foes are unsubdued;
Nature sighs to be renew'd.
Time has nearly reach'd its sum,
All things with Thy bride say Come;'
Jesus, whom all worlds adore,
Come and reign for evermore!"