We have now reached the closing section of this book, which, as we have seen is a poem describing the life of a believer on earth. Beginning in Section I. (Cant. i.2-ii.7) with the unsatisfied longings of an espoused one -- longings which could only be met by her unreserved surrender to the Bridegroom of her soul -- we find that when the surrender was made, instead of the cross she had so much feared she found a King, the KING of LOVE, who both satisfied her deepest longings, and found His own satisfaction in her.
The second section (Cant. ii.8-iii.5) showed failure on her part; she was lured back again into the world, and soon found that her Beloved could not follow her there; then with full purpose of heart going forth to seek Him, and confessing His name, her search was successful, and her communion was restored.
The third section (Cant. iii.6-v.1) told of unbroken communion. Abiding in Christ, she was the sharer of His security and His glory. She draws the attention, however, of the daughters of Jerusalem from these outward things to her KING Himself. And, while she is thus occupied with Him, and would have others so occupied, she finds that her royal Bridegroom is delighting in her, and inviting her to fellowship of service, fearless of dens of lions and mountains of leopards.
The fourth section (Cant. v.2-vi.10), however, shows again failure; not as before through worldliness, but rather through spiritual pride and sloth. Restoration now was much more difficult; but again when she went forth diligently to seek her LORD, and so confessed Him as to lead others to long to find Him with her, He revealed Himself and the communion was restored, to be interrupted no more.
The fifth section (Cant. vi.11-viii.4), as we have seen, describes not only the mutual satisfaction and delight of the bride and Bridegroom in each other, but the recognition of her position and her beauty by the daughters of Jerusalem.
And now in the sixth section (Cant. viii.5-14) we come to the closing scene of the book. In it the bride is seen leaning upon her Beloved, asking Him to bind her yet more firmly to Himself, and occupying herself in His vineyard, until He calls her away from earthly service. To this last section we shall now give our attention more particularly.
It opens, as did the third, by an inquiry or exclamation of the daughters of Jerusalem. There they asked, "Who is this that cometh out of the wilderness like pillars of smoke, etc.?" but then their attention was claimed by the pomp and state of the KING, not by His person, nor by that of His bride. Here they are attracted by the happy position of the bride in relation to her Beloved, and not by their surroundings.
Who is this that cometh up from the wilderness,
Leaning upon her Beloved?
It is through the bride that attention is drawn to the Bridegroom; their union and communion are now open and manifest. For the last time the wilderness is mentioned; but sweetly solaced by the presence of the Bridegroom, it is no wilderness to this bride. In all the trustfulness of confiding love she is seen leaning upon her Beloved. He is her strength, her joy, her pride, and her prize; while she is His peculiar treasure, the object of His tenderest care. All His resources of wisdom and might are hers; though journeying she is at rest, though in the wilderness she is satisfied, while leaning upon her Beloved.
Wonderful, however, as are the revelations of grace and love to the heart taught by the HOLY SPIRIT through the relationship of bride and Bridegroom, the CHRIST of GOD is more than Bridegroom to His people. He who when on earth was able to say, "Before Abraham was, I am," here claims His bride from her very birth, and not alone from her espousals. Before she knew Him, He knew her; and of this He reminds her in the words: --
I raised thee up under the citron-tree;
There thy mother brought thee forth.
He takes delight in her beauty, but that is not so much the cause as the effect of His love; for He took her up when she had no comeliness. The love that has made her what she is, and now takes delight in her, is not a fickle love, nor need she fear its change.
Gladly does the bride recognize this truth, that she is indeed His own, and she exclaims:
Set me as a seal upon Thine heart, as a seal upon Thine arm:
For love is strong as death;
Jealousy (ardent love) is cruel (retentive) as the grave;
The flashes thereof are flashes of fire,
A very flame of the Lord.
The High Priest bore the names of the twelve tribes upon his heart, each name being engraved as a seal in the costly and imperishable stone chosen by God, each seal or stone being set in the purest gold; he likewise bore the same names upon his shoulders, indicating that both the love and the strength of the High Priest were pledged on behalf of the tribes of Israel. The bride would be thus upborne by Him who is alike her Prophet, Priest, and King, for love is strong as death; and jealousy, or ardent love, retentive as the grave. Not that she doubts the constancy of her Beloved, but that she has learned, alas! the inconstancy of her own heart; and she would be bound to the heart and arm of her Beloved with chains and settings of gold, ever the emblem of divinity. Thus the Psalmist prayed, "Bind the sacrifice with cords, even unto the horns of the altar."
It is comparatively easy to lay the sacrifice on the altar that sanctifies the gift, but it requires divine compulsion -- the cords of love -- to retain it there. So here the bride would be set and fixed on the heart and on the arm of Him who is henceforth to be her all in all, that she may evermore trust only in that love, be sustained only by that power.
Do we not all need to learn a lesson from this? and to pray to be kept from turning to Egypt for help, from trusting in horses and chariots, from putting confidence in princes, or in the son of man, rather than in the living GOD? How the Kings of Israel, who had won great triumphs by faith, sometimes turned aside to heathen nations in their later years! The LORD keep His people from this snare.
The bride continues: "The flashes of love are flashes of fire, a very flame of the LORD." It is worthy of note that this is the only occurrence of this word "LORD" in this book. But how could it be omitted here? For love of GOD, and GOD is love.
To her request the Bridegroom replies with reassuring words:
Many waters cannot quench love,
Neither can the floods drown it:
If a man would give all the substance of his house for love,
It would utterly be condemned.
The love which grace has begotten in the heart of the bride is itself divine and persistent; many waters cannot quench it, nor the floods drown it. Suffering and pain, bereavement and loss may test its constancy, but they will not quench it. Its source is not human or natural; like the fire, it is hidden with CHRIST in GOD. What "shall separate us from the love of CHRIST? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?. . .Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors, through Him that loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creation (R.V. margin), shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in CHRIST JESUS our LORD." Our love to GOD is secured by GOD'S love to us. To the soul really rescued by grace, no bribe to forsake GOD'S love will be finally successful. "If a man would give all the substance of his house for love, it would utterly be condemned."
Freed from anxiety on her own account, the happy bride next asks guidance, and fellowship in service with her LORD, on behalf of those who have not yet reached her favoured position.
We have a little sister,
And she hath no breasts:
What shall we do for our sister
In the day when she shall be spoken for?
How beautifully her conscious union with the Bridegroom appears in her expressions. "We have a little sister," not I have, etc.; "what shall we do for our sister," etc.? She has now no private relationships nor interests; in all things she is one with Him. And we see a further development of grace in the very question. Towards the close of the last section she recognized the Bridegroom as her Instructor. She will not now make her own plans about her little sister, and ask His acquiescence in them; she will rather learn what his thoughts are, and have fellowship with Him in His plans.
How much anxiety and care the children of God would be spared if they learned to act in this way! Is it not too common to make the best plans that we can, and to carry them out as best we may, feeling all the while a great burden of responsibility, and earnestly asking the LORD to help us? Whereas if we always let Him be our Instructor in service, and left the responsibility with Him, our strength would not be exhausted with worry and anxiety, but would all be at His disposal, and accomplish His ends.
In the little sister, as yet immature, may we not see the elect of GOD, given to CHRIST in God's purpose, but not yet brought into saving relation to Him? And perhaps also those babes in CHRIST who as yet need feeding with milk and not with meat, but who, with such care, will in due time become experienced believers, fitted for the service of the LORD? Then they will be spoken for, and called into that department of service for which He has prepared them.
The Bridegroom replies: --
If she be a wall,
We will build upon her battlements of silver;
And if she be a door,
We will enclose her with boards of cedar.
In this reply the Bridegroom sweetly recognizes His oneness with His bride, in the same way as she has shown her conscious oneness with Him. As she says, "What shall we do for our sister?" so He replies, "We will build . . . we will enclose," etc. He will not carry out His purposes of grace irrespective of His bride, but will work with and through her. What can be done for this sister, however, will depend upon what she becomes. If she be a wall, built upon the true foundation, strong and stable, she shall be adorned and beautiful with battlements of silver; but if unstable and easily moved to and fro like a door, such treatment will be as impossible as unsuitable; she will need to be enclosed with boards of cedar, hedged in with restraints, for her own protection.
The bride rejoicingly responds, "I am a wall"; she knows the foundation on which she is built, there is no "if" in her case; she is conscious of having found favour in the eyes of her Beloved. Naphtali's blessing is hers: she is "satisfied with favour, and full with the blessing of the LORD."
But what is taught by the connection of this happy consciousness with the lines which follow?
Solomon had a vineyard at Baal-hamon;
He let out the vineyard unto keepers;
Every one for the fruit thereof was to bring a thousand pieces of silver.
My vineyard, which is mine, is before me;
Thou, O Solomon, shalt have the thousand,
And those that keep the fruit thereof two hundred.
The connection is, we believe, one of great importance, teaching us that what she was (by grace) was more important than what she did; and that she did not work in order to earn favour, but being assured of favour, gave her love free scope to show itself in service. The bride knew her relationship to her LORD, and His love to her; and in her determination that He should have the thousand pieces of silver, her concern was that her vineyard should not produce less for her Solomon than His vineyard at Baal-hamon; her vineyard was herself, and she desired for her LORD much fruit. She would see, too, that the keepers of the vineyard, those who were her companions in its culture, and who ministered in word and doctrine, were well rewarded; she would not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn; a full tithe, nay a double tithe, was to be the portion of those who kept the fruit and laboured with her in the vineyard.
How long this happy service continues, and how soon it is to be terminated, we cannot tell; He who calls His servants to dwell in the gardens, and cultivate them for Him -- as Adam of old was placed in the paradise of GOD -- alone knows the limit of this service. Sooner or later the rest will come, the burden and heat of the last day will have been borne, the last conflict will be over, and the voice of the Bridegroom will be heard addressing His loved one: --
Thou that dwellest in the gardens,
The companions hearken to thy voice:
Cause Me to hear it.
Thy service among the companions is finished; thou hast fought the good fight, thou hast kept the faith, thou hast finished thy course; henceforth there is laid up for thee the crown of righteousness, and the Bridegroom Himself shall be thine exceeding great reward!
Well may the bride let Him hear her voice, and, springing forth in heart to meet Him, cry: --
Make haste, my Beloved,
And be Thou like to a roe or to a young hart
Upon the mountains of spices!
She no longer asks Him, as in the second section: --
Turn, my Beloved, and be Thou like a roe or a young hart
Upon the mountains of Bether (separation).
She has never again wished Him to turn away from her, for there are no mountains of Bether to those who are abiding in CHRIST; now there are mountains of spices. He who inhabits the praises of Israel, which rise, like the incense of spices, from His people's hearts, is invited by His bride to make haste, to come quickly, and be like a roe or young hart upon the mountains of spices.
Very sweet is the presence of our LORD, as by His SPIRIT He dwells among His people, while they serve Him below; but here there are many thorns in every path which call for watchful care; and it is meet that now we should suffer with our LORD, in order that we may hereafter be glorified together. The day, however, is soon coming in which He will bring us up out of the earthly gardens and associations to the palace of the great KING. There His people "shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat. For the LAMB, which is in the midst of the throne, shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters; and GOD shall wipe away all tears from their eyes."
The SPIRIT and the bride say, Come!. . .
Surely I come quickly.
Amen; even so, come, LORD JESUS! <pb/>