THE soul that is familiar with the Lord worships Him in the outer court of nature, wherein it admires His works, and is charmed by every thought of what He must be who made them all. When that soul enters the nearer circle of inspiration, and reads the wonderful words of God, it is still more enraptured, and its admiration is heightened. In revelation, we see the same all-glorious Lord as in creation, but the vision is more clear, and the consequent love is more intense.
The Word is an inner court to the Creation; but there is yet an innermost sanctuary, and blessed are they who enter it, and have fellowship with the Lord Himself. We come to Christ, and in coming to Him we come to God; for Jesus says, "He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father." When we know the Lord Jesus, we stand before the mercy-seat, where the glory of Jehovah shineth forth. I like to think of the text as belonging to those who are as priests unto God, and stand in the Holy of holies, while they say, "Yea, He is altogether lovely." His works are marvellous, His words are full of majesty, but He Himself is altogether lovely.
Can we come into this inner circle? All do not enter here. Alas! many are far off from Him, and are blind to His beauties. "He was despised and rejected of men," and He is so still. They do not see God in His works, but dream that these wonders were evolved, and not created by the Great Primal Cause. As for His words, they seem to them as idle tales, or, at best, as inspired only in the same sense as the language of Shakespeare or Spenser. They see not the Lord in the stately aisles of Holy Scripture; and have no vision of Himself. May He, who openeth the eyes of the blind, have pity on them!
Certain others are in a somewhat happier position, for they are enquirers after Christ. They are like the persons who, in the ninth verse of the chapter, asked, "What is thy Beloved more than another beloved, O thou fairest among women? What is thy Beloved more than another beloved, that thou dost so charge us?" They want to know who this Jesus is. But they have not seen Him yet, and cannot join with the spouse in saying, "He is altogether lovely."
If we enter this sacred inner circle, we must become witnesses, as she does who speaks of Christ, "Yea, He is altogether lovely." She knows what He is, for she has seen Him. The verses which precede the text are a description of every feature of the heavenly Bridegroom; all His members are there set forth with richness of Oriental imagery. The spouse speaks what she knows. Have we, also, seen the Lord? Are we His familiar acquaintances? If so, may the Lord help us to understand our text!
If we are to know the full joy of the text, we must come to our Lord as His intimates. He permits us this high honour, since, in this ordinance, He makes us His table-companions. He says, "Henceforth I call you not servants; but I have called you friends." He calls upon us to eat bread with Him; yea, to partake of Himself, by eating His flesh and drinking His blood. Oh, that we may pass beyond the outward signs into the closest intimacy with Himself! Perhaps, when you are at home, you will examine the spouse's description of her Lord. It is a wonderful piece of tapestry. She has wrought into its warp and woof all things charming, sweet, and precious. In Him she sees all lovely colours, -- "My Beloved is white and ruddy." In comparison with Him all others fail, for He is "chief among ten thousand" chieftains. She cannot think of Him as comparable to anything less valuable than "fine gold." She sees, soaring in the air, birds of divers wing; and these must aid her, whether it be the raven or the dove. The rivers of waters, and the beds of spices and myrrh-dropping lilies, must come into the picture, with sweet flowers and goodly cedars. All kinds of treasured things are in Him; for He is like to gold rings set with the beryl, and bright ivory overlaid with sapphires, and pillars of marble set upon sockets of fine gold. She labours to describe His beauty and His excellency, and strains all comparisons to their utmost use, and somewhat more; and yet she is conscious of failure, and therefore sums up all with the pithy sentence, "Yea, He is altogether lovely."
If the Holy Spirit will help me, I should like to lift the veil, that we may, in sacred contemplation, look on our Beloved.
I. We would do so, first, with reverent emotions. In the words before us, "Yea, He is altogether lovely," two emotions are displayed, namely, admiration and affection.
It is admiration which speaks of Him as "altogether lovely" or beautiful. This admiration rises to the highest degree. The spouse would fain show that her Beloved is more than any other beloved; therefore she cries, "He is altogether lovely." Surely no one else has reached that point. Many are lovely, but no one save Jesus is "altogether lovely." We see something that is lovely in one, and another point is lovely in another; but all loveliness meets in Him. Our soul knows nothing which can rival Him: He is the gathering up of all sorts of loveliness to make up one perfect loveliness. He is the climax of beauty; the crown of glory; the uttermost of excellence.
Our admiration of Him, also, is unrestrained. The spouse dared to say, even in the presence of the daughters of Jerusalem, who were somewhat envious, "Yea, He is altogether lovely." They knew not, as yet, His perfections; they even asked, "What is thy Beloved more than another beloved?" But she was not to be blinded by their want of sympathy, neither did she withhold her testimony from fear of their criticism. To her, He was "altogether lovely", and she could say no less. Our admiration of Christ is such that we would tell the kings of the earth that they have no majesty in His presence; and tell the wise men that He alone is wisdom; and tell the great and mighty that He is the blessed and only Potentate, King of kings, and Lord of lords.
Our admiration of our Lord is inexpressible. We can never tell all we know of our Lord; yet all our knowledge is little. All that we know is, that His love passeth knowledge, that His excellence baffles understanding, that His glory is unutterable. We can embrace Him by our love, but we can scarcely touch Him with our intellect, He is so high, so glorious. As to describing Him, we cry, with Mr. Berridge, --
"Then my tongue would fain express
All His love and loveliness;
But I lisp, and falter forth
Broken words, not half His worth.
"Vex'd, I try and try again,
Still my efforts all are vain:
Living tongues are dumb at best,
We must die to speak of Christ."
"He is altogether lovely." Do we not feel an inexpressible admiration for Him? There is none like unto Thee, O Son of God!
Still, our paramount emotion is not admiration, but affection. "He is altogether" -- not beautiful, nor admirable, -- but "lovely." All His beauties are loving beauties towards us, and beauties which draw our hearts towards Him in humble love. He charms us, not by a cold comeliness, but by a living loveliness, which wins our hearts. His is an approachable beauty, which not only overpowers us with its glory, but holds us captive by its charms. We love Him: we cannot do otherwise, for "He is altogether lovely." He has within Himself and unquenchable flame of love, which sets our soul on fire. He is all love, and all the love in the world is less than His. Put together all the loves of husband wives, parents, children, brothers, sisters, and they only make a drop compared with His great deeps of love, unexplored and unexplorable. This love of His has a wonderful power to beget love in unlovely hearts, and to nourish it into a mighty force. " It is a torrent which sweeps all before it when its founts break forth within the soul. It is a Gulf Stream in which all icebergs melt. When our heart is full of love to Jesus, His loveliness becomes the passion of the soul, and sin and self are swept away. May we feel it now!
There He stands: we know Him by the thorn-crown, and the wounds, and the visage more marred than that of any man! He suffered all this for us. O Son of man! O Son of God! With the spouse, we feel, in the inmost depths of our soul, that Thou art "altogether lovely."
II. Now would I lift the veil a second time, with deep solemnity, not so much to suggest emotions as to secure your intelligent assurance of the fact that "He is altogether lovely." We say this with absolute certainty. The spouse places a "Yea" before her enthusiastic declaration, because she is sure of it. She sees her Beloved, and sees Him to be altogether lovely. This is no fiction, no dream, no freak of imagination, no outburst of partiality. The highest love to Christ does not make us speak more than the truth; we are as reasonable when we are filled with love to Him as ever we were in our lives; nay, never are we more reasonable than when we are carried clean away by a clear perception of His superlative excellence.
Let us meditate upon the proof of our assertion. "He is altogether lovely" in His person. He is God. The glory of Godhead I must leave in lowly silence. Yet is our Jesus also man, more emphatically man than any one here present this afternoon, for we are English, American, French, German, Dutch, Russian; but Christ is man, the second Adam, the Head of the race: as truly as He is very God of very God, so is He man, of the substance of His mother. What a marvellous union! The miracle of miracles! In his incomparible personality He is altogether lovely; for in Him we see how God comes down to man in condescension, and how man goes up to God in close relationship. There is no other such as He, in all respects, even in heaven itself: in His personality He must ever stand alone, in the eyes of both God and man, "altogether lovely."
As for His character, time would fail us to enter upon that vast subject; but the more we know of the character of our Lord, and the more we grow like Him, the more lovely will it appear to us. In all aspects, it is lovely; in all its minutiae and details, it is perfect; and as a whole, it is perfection's model. Take any one action of His, look into its mode, its spirit, its motive, and all else that can be revealed by a microscopic examination, and it is "altogether lovely." Consider his life, as a whole, in reference to God, to man, to His friends, to His foes, to those around Him, and to the ages yet to be, and you shall find it absolutely perfect. More than that: there is such a thing as a cold perfection, with which one can find no fault, and yet it commands no love; but in Christ, our Well-beloved, every part of His character attracts. To a true heart, the life of Christ is as much an object of love as of reverence: "He is altogether lovely." We must love that which we see in Him: admiration is not the word. When cold critics commend Him, their praise is half an insult: what know these frozen hearts of our Beloved? As for a word against Him, it wounds us to the soul. Even an omission of His praise is a torture to us. If we hear a sermon which has no Christ in it, we weary of it. If we read a book that contains a slighting syllable of Him, we abhor it. He, Himself, has become everything to us now, and only in the atmosphere of fervent love to Him can we feel at home.
Passing from His character to His sacrifice; there especially "He is altogether lovely." You may have read "Rutherford's Letters"; I hope you have. How wondrously he writes, when he describes his Lord in garments red from His sweat of blood, and with hands bejewelled with His wounds! When we view His body taken down from the cross, all pale and deathly, and wrapped in the cerements of the grave, we see a strange beauty in Him. He is to us never more lovely than when we read in our Beloved's white and red that His Sacrifice is accomplished, and He has been obedient unto death for us. In Him, as the sacrifice once offered, we see our pardon, our life, our heaven, our all. So lovely is Christ in His sacrifice, that He is for ever most pleasing to the great Judge of all, ay, so lovely to His Father, that He makes us also lovely to God the Father, and we are "accepted in the Beloved." His sacrifice has such merit and beauty in the sight of heaven, that in Him God is well pleased, and guilty men become in Him pleasant unto the Lord. Is not His sacrifice most sweet to us? Here our guilty conscience finds peace; here we see ourselves made comely in His comeliness. We cannot stand at Calvary, and see the Saviour die, and hear Him cry, "It is finished," without feeling that "He is altogether lovely." Forgive me that I speak so coolly! I dare not enter fully into a theme which would pull up the sluices of my heart.
Remember what He was when He rose from the grave on the third day. Oh, to have seen Him in the freshness of His resurrection beauty! And what will He be in His glory, when He comes again the second time, and all His holy angels with Him, when He shall sit upon the throne of His glory, and heaven and earth shall flee away before His face? To His people He will then be "altogether lovely." Angels will adore Him, saints made perfect will fall on their faces before Him; and we ourselves shall feel that, at last, our heaven is complete. We shall see Him, and being like Him, we shall be satisfied.
Every feature of our Lord is lovely. You cannot think of anything that has to do with Him which is unworthy of our praise. All over glorious is our Lord. The spouse speaks of His head, His locks, His eyes, His cheeks, His lips, His hands, His legs, His countenance, His mouth; and when she has mentioned them all, she sums up with reference to all by saying, "Yea, He is altogether lovely."
There is nothing unlovely about Him. Certain persons would be beautiful were it not for a wound or a bruise, but our Beloved is all the more lovely for His wounds; the marring of His countenance has enhanced its charms. His scars are, for glory and for beauty, the jewels of our King. To us He is lovely even from that side which others dread: His very frown has comfort in it to His saints, since He only frowns on evil. Even His feet, which are "like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace," are lovely to us for His sake; these are His poor saints, who are sorely tried, but are able to endure the fire. Everything of Christ, everything that partakes of Christ, everything that hath a flavour or savour of Christ, is lovely to us.
There is nothing lacking about His loveliness. Some would be very lovely were there a brightness in their eyes, or a colour in their countenances: but something is away. The absence of a tooth or of an eyebrow may spoil a countenance, but in Christ Jesus there is no omission of excellence. Everything that should be in Him is in Him; everything that is conceivable in perfection is present to perfection in Him.
In Him is nothing excessive. Many a face has one feature in it which is overdone; but in our Lord's character everything is balanced and proportionate. You never find His kindness lessening His holiness, nor His holiness eclipsing His wisdom, nor His wisdom abating His courage, nor His courage injuring His meekness. Everything is in our Lord that should be there, and everything in due measure. Like rare spices, mixed after the manner of the apothecary, our Lord's whole person, and character, and sacrifice, are as incense sweet unto the Lord.
Neither is there anything in our Lord which is incongruous with the rest. In each one of us there is, at least, a little that is out of place. We could not be fully described without the use of a "but." If we could all look within, and see ourselves as God sees us, we should note a thousand matters, which we now permit, which we should never allow again. But in the Well-beloved all is of a piece, all is lovely; and when the sum of the whole is added up, it comes to an absolute perfection of loveliness: "Yea, He is altogether lovely."
We are sure that the Lord Jesus must be Himself exceedingly lovely, since He gives loveliness to His people. Many saints are lovely in their lives; one reads biographies of good men and women which make us wish to grow like them; yet all the loveliness of all the most holy among men has come from Jesus their Lord, and is a copy of His perfect beauty. Those who write well do so because He sets the copy.
What is stranger and more wonderful still, our Lord Jesus makes sinners lovely. In their natural state, men are deformed and hideous to the eye of God; and as they have no love to God, so He has no delight in them. He is weary of them, and is grieved that He made men upon the earth. The Lord is angry with the wicked every day. Yet, when our Lord Jesus comes in, and covers these sinful ones with His righteousness, and, at the same time, infuses into them His life, the Lord is well pleased with them for His Son's sake. Even in heaven, the infinite Jehovah sees nothing which pleases Him like His Son. The Father from eternity loved His Only-begotten, and again and again He hath said of Him, "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." What higher encomium can be passed upon Him?
If we had time to think over this subject, we should say of our Lord that He is lovely in every office. He is the most admirable Priest, and King, and Prophet that ever yet exercised the office. He is a lovely Shepherd of a chosen flock, a lovely Friend, lovely Husband, a lovely Brother: He is admirable in every position that He occupies for our sakes.
Our Lord's loveliness appears in every condition: in the manger, or in the temple; by the well, or on the sea; in the garden, or on the cross; in the tomb, or in the resurrection; in His first, or in His second coming. He is not as the herb, which flowers only at one season; or as the tree, which loses its leaves in winter; or as the moon, which waxes and wanes; or as the sea, which ebbs and flows. In every condition, and at every time, "He is altogether lovely."
He is lovely, whichever way we look at Him. If we view Him as in the past, entering into a covenant of peace on our behalf; or, in the present, yielding Himself to us as Intercessor, Representative, and Forerunner; or, in the future, coming, reigning, and glorifying His people; "He is altogether lovely." Behold Him from heaven, view Him from the gates of hell, regard Him as he goes before, look up to Him as He sits above; He is as beautiful from one point of view as from another; "Yea, He is altogether lovely." Wherever we may be, He is the same in His perfection. How lovely He was to my eyes when I was sinking in despair! To see Him suffering for my sin upon the tree, was as the opening of the gates of the morning to my darkened soul. How lovely He is to us when we are sick, and the hours of night seem lengthened into days! "He giveth songs in the night." How lovely has He been to us when the world has frowned, and friends have forsaken, and worldly goods have been scant! To see "the King in His beauty" is a sight sufficient, even if we never saw another ray of comfort. How blessed, when we lie dying, to hear Him say, "I am the resurrection and the life"! Mark that word; He says not, "I will give you resurrection and life," but, "I am the resurrection and the life." Blessed are the eyes which can see that in Jesus which is really in Him. When we think of seeing Him as He is, and being like Him, how heaven approaches us! We shall soon behold the beatific vision, of which He will be the centre and the sun. At the thought thereof our soul takes wing, and our imagination soars aloft, while our faith, with eagle eye, beholds the glory. As we think of that glad period, when we shall be with our Beloved for ever, we are ready to swoon away with delight. It is near, far nearer than we think.
III. The little time which we can give to this meditation has run out, and therefore I hasten to a close. I have bidden you look at our Lord as "altogether lovely" with reverent emotions, and with absolute certainty. Now, to conclude, think of Him with practical results. "He is altogether lovely." What shall we do for this chief among ten thousand?
First, we will tell others of Him. For that cause was our text spoken. The daughters of Jerusalem asked the spouse, "What is thy Beloved more than another beloved?" Her answer is here: "He is altogether lovely." It is a great joy to praise our Lord to enquiring minds. We, who are preachers, have a glorious time of it when we extol our Lord. If we had nothing to do but to preach Christ, and had no discipline to administer, no sin to battle with, no doubts to drive away, we should have a heavenly service. For my part, I wish I could be bound over to play only upon this one string. Paul did well when he turned ignoramus, and determined to know nothing among the Corinthians save Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. As the harp of Anacreon would resound love alone, so would I have but one sole subject for my ministry, -- the love and loveliness of my Lord. Then to speak would be its own reward; and to study and prepare discourses would be only a phase of rest. Fain would I make my whole ministry to speak of Christ and His surpassing loveliness.
You who are not preachers cannot do better than speak much of Jesus, as opportunity offers. Make Him the theme of conversation. People talk about ministers; but we beg you to talk of our Master. Our undecided neighbours are always talking of hypocrites and inconsistent professors; but we would say to them, "Never mind about His followers: talk about the Master Himself." His followers, by themselves considered, never were worth your words; but what a theme is this, -- "He is altogether lovely"! Our Lord's people are far worthier than the world thinks them to be; for my part, I rejoice in the many gracious and beautiful characters with which I meet, but even if all the ill reports we hear were true, this would not detract from the loveliness of our Lord, who is infinitely beyond all praise.
The next practical result of viewing the loveliness of our blessed Lord is, that we appropriate Him to ourselves, grasping Him with our two hands of faith and love, and making the rest of the verse to be our own: "This is my Beloved, and this is my Friend, O daughters of Jerusalem!" Since He is so amiable, He must be "my Beloved"; my heart clings to Him. Since He is admirable, I rejoice that He is "my Friend"; my soul trusts in Him. The heart that most appreciates Jesus is the most eager to appropriate Him. He who beholds Jesus as "altogether lovely" will never rest till he is altogether sure that Jesus is altogether his own. I think I may also add that appreciation is in great measure the seal of appropriation, for the soul that values Christ most is the soul that hath most surely taken possession of Christ. Sometimes a heart prizes the Lord very highly, and tremblingly longs for Him; but it is my conviction that the very fact of prizing Him argues a measure of possession of Him. Jesus never wins a heart to which He refuses His love. If thou lovest Him, He loves thee: be sure of that. No soul ever cries, "Yea, He is altogether lovely," without sooner or later adding, "This is my Beloved, and this is my Friend."
Rest not, any one of you, till you know of a surety that Jesus is yours. Do not be content with a hope, struggle after the full assurance of faith. This is to be had, and you ought not to be content without it. It may be your lifelong song, "My Beloved is mine, and I am His." You need not pine in the shade: the sun is shining, "walk in the light." Away with the idea that we cannot know whether we are condemned or forgiven, in Christ or out of Him! We may know, we must know; and, as we appreciate our Lord, we shall know. Either Jesus is ours, or He is not. If He is, let us rejoice in the priceless possession. If He is not ours, let us at once lay hold upon Him by faith; for, the moment we trust Him, He is ours. The enjoyment of religion lies in assurance: a mere hope is scant diet.
Once more, it is a fair fruit of our delight in our Lord that our valuation of Him becomes a bond of union between us and others. The spouse cries, "This is my Beloved, and this is my Friend, O daughters of Jerusalem!" and they reply, "Whither is thy Beloved gone, O thou fairest among women? Whither is thy Beloved turned aside, that we may seek Him with thee?" Thus, you see, they institute a companionship through the Well-beloved. Few of us, in this room, would ever have known each other, had it not been for our common admiration of the Lord Jesus. We should have gone on walking past each other by the sea to this day, and we should have missed much cheering fellowship. Our Lord has become our centre; we meet in Him, and feel that in Him we are partakers of one life. We seek our Well-beloved together, and around His table we find Him together; and finding Him, we have found one another, and the lost jewel of Christian love glitters on every bosom. We have differing views on certain parts of divine truth; and I do not know that it is wrong for us to differ where the Holy Spirit has left truth without rigidly defining it. We are bound each one devoutly to use his judgment in the interpretation of the Sacred Word; but we all agree in this one clear judgment: "Yea, He is altogether lovely." This is the point of union. Those who enthusiastically love the same person are on the way to loving each other. This is growingly our case; and it is the same with all spiritual people. Professors quarrel, but possessors are at one. We hear much discourse upon "the Unity of the Church" as a thing to be desired, and we may heartily agree with it; but it would be well also to remember that in the true Church of Christ real union already exists. Our Lord prayed for those whom the Father had given Him, that they might be one, and the Father granted the prayer: the Lord's own people are one. In this room we have an example of how closely we are united in Christ. Some of you are more at home in this assembly, taken out of all churches, than you are in the churches to which you nominally belong. Our union in one body as Episcopalians, Baptists, Presbyterians, or Independents, is not the thing which our Lord prayed for; but our union in Himself. That union we do at this moment enjoy; and therefore do we eat of one bread, and drink of one cup, and are baptized into one Spirit, at His feet who is to each one of us, and so to all of us, altogether lovely.
"White and ruddy is my Belov'd,
All His heavenly beauties shine;
Nature can't produce an object,
Nor so glorious, so divine;
He hath wholly
Won my soul to realms above.
"Farewell, all ye meaner creatures,
For in Him is every store;
Wealth, or friends, or darling beauty,
Shall not draw me any more;
In my Saviour
I have found a glorious whole."