Who is this that comes up from the wilderness, leaning on her beloved? I raised you up under the apple tree…
Life with every man is a journey; a march from the cradle to the grave. To the pious man this journey is religious; it has a moral character. It is not simply the inevitable moving on from year to year; beside this, it is a progress in knowledge, faith, holiness, and usefulness. The grave is not the Christian's goal. His goal is perfection - perfect excellence and perfect joy. Every day's experience is related to the great eternity. Each duty well discharged, each sin conquered, each trouble patiently endured, is a distinct step heavenward. It is not merely a movement onward; it is also a movement upward. The journey of the Hebrews through the wilderness to the earthly Canaan furnishes many instructive analogies with the Christian's passage to the skies. We, who possess the new life within, "seek a country, that is, a heavenly."
I. OBSERVE THE CHRISTIAN'S FORMER STATE. It is described as a "wilderness."
1. It is a wilderness on account of its barrenness. So in our unregenerate condition there was in us no fertility and no beauty. There may have been a few barren stalks of common morality; but they yielded no fragrance, they bore no fruit. In this wilderness there was nothing to satisfy the desires and aspirations of the soul. This world has its possessions, its pleasures, its honours, its shows, but none of these please or elevate the soul. We aspire after righteousness, after moral excellence, after the friendship of God; and with respect to these things this world is barren and empty. No man can lie down fully contented in it. It is not suitable for us as a possession; so that most men, burdened with care and infirmity, sigh out, "I would not live alway." "He that loveth silver shall not be satisfied with silver." The vapid joys of this world soon pall upon the appetite. They do not increase the capacity for joy; they diminish it. And many a man who has taken his fill of this world's pleasure concludes life with this dismal verdict on his lips, "Vanity of vanities; all is vanity!"
2. Moreover, this wilderness is infested with foes. If in the Arabian desert the Hebrews were exposed to human foes, to wild beasts and fierce serpents, so in this world many foes infest the way. Many and subtle are the snares which the enemy sets for our feet. We are liable to ten thousand annoyances. Evil men tempt us with a view to ruin us. "Satan goeth about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour." We have need for perpetual watchfulness. We have to fight with many adversaries. Clearly "this is not our rest."
II. MARK THE CHRISTIAN'S PRESENT ASCENT. "He cometh up." 'Tis an ascent.
1. Progress is the only way to perfection. It is true that God might have brought about perfection by some other way; but, as a fact, he has ordained this way, and this only. All the similitudes employed in Scripture to set forth the Christian life describe it as a thing of progress. The progress may be slow or more rapid; nevertheless, if there is life there is growth. In some believers the processes of enlightenment, conversion, and edification may be more rapid than in others (just as in some climates the processes of budding, blossoming, and ripening in fruit trees are more rapid than in our own land); still, in every instance perfection is attained by distinct stages. The life of every Christian is a progress along the heavenly way.
2. Discomfort is incident to a pilgrimage. No one expects to find the same comforts on a journey which he finds at home. On a journey one is content with the bare necessaries of existence. Would it not be madness to encumber one's self with soft couches and luxurious indulgences while on a journey? Would not such things seriously impede our progress? And is it not the one desire of a pilgrim to advance as rapidly as possible? To reach the end of his pilgrimage at the earliest hour is the uppermost desire of every true pilgrim. Therefore needless burdens are left behind. This is how ordinary pilgrims conduct themselves. And should not every Christian be more eager to advance along the way than to cumber himself with lands, or houses, or worldly honours? He who is bent on heavenly progress is bent also on self-denial. To grow like Christ, that is the Christian's daily business. Every day another step.
3. The pilgrim often pursues a solitary path. He is much alone. In the vision of the text only one is seen "coming up from the wilderness." She had left the broad path where many were found. She had left her old friends and companions. More and more the Christian has to walk alone. When first he resolved to follow Jesus he had to abandon former acquaintances; and, as often as he essays to reach a loftier level, he has to part with some comrades. He has learnt the art of personal decision. If others will not ascend with him to the higher planes of holy living, he must go alone. He would rather miss the company of a hundred than lose the company of his Well-beloved. Hence the frequent solitariness of the pilgrim. So far as outward connection with Christ's disciples is concerned, he will not separate himself. He cultivates all possible bonds of unity. He fosters Church life. But with regard to the inner life of his soul, i.e. his personal fellowship with Jesus, he is much alone. Yet, when most alone, he has the best society.
III. NOTE THE CHRISTIAN'S HELPFUL COMPANION. "Leaning on her Beloved."
1. This leaning implies a sense of Christ's nearness. We cannot lean upon anything that is not close at hand, yea, in actual touch with us. Though we cannot perceive Jesus with the organ of the body, we have a stronger proof still of his nearness. The experience of the soul is far more real and far more reliable than any sensation of the body. No organ is more easily deceived than the eye. Certainly our Immanuel gains immediate entrance to the heart. This fact is contained in his name, "God with us." So, without the intervention of words or other vehicle, he imparts good cheer and strength straight to the soul. He comes nearer than any human friend can come. He knows all the secret doors by which to pass in. He touches all the secret springs of life and reanimates them. He comes "to give life, to give it more abundantly."
2. Leaning means the transference of all our weakness to Jesus. To lean is to find support in another. If I am too weak to walk a distance of fifty miles, and I take a seat in a railway train, I transfer my weakness to that steam engine, and I take the benefit of its strength. At the outset of our Christian life we laid the whole weight of our sin upon our Substitute. We said, "God be merciful, for the sake of Jesus!" This was the foundation of our hope. As we grow in grace we learn more and more to leave our burdens in the hand of Jesus. We overcome the tempter, not by our own native strength, but through Christ, "who strengtheneth us." "I live," said St. Paul: "yet not I, but Christ liveth in me." This righteousness I have is Christ's righteousness. This love for sinful men is Christ's love "shed abroad in my heart." This wisdom to instruct and guide others is Christ's wisdom. I am "leaning on my Beloved." He takes on him all my weaknesses. He imparts to me his all-sufficient strength. It is a sacred and a vital partnership. Faith is perpetual dependence.
3. This leaning implies that Jesus is a consenting party. He loves to be used, loves to be trusted. Our weakness can never be a strain upon him, for his strength is omnipotence. He cannot fail, for such faithfulness was never seen among men - no, nor among angels. I could not trust to him for my eternal well being if I did not know that he shared in the Godhead. Clearly he is fully competent to take the whole weight of my salvation. And equally certain is it that he is willing. His love is as great as his power. His patience has often been severely tried, but it has proved abundantly adequate. The sun may cease to shine, the mountains may bow their snowy crests, the sea may vacate its bed; yet his loving kindness and his faithfulness eternally abide - these cannot fail. It is to him a real delight to help the weak and needy. After fifty or sixty years' experience of his tender grace, he says to us, "You have never half used me yet; you have never trusted me half enough. Hitherto you have asked nothing, comparatively nothing. Ask, and ye shall receive." So that our response ought to be spontaneous, "My soul, wait thou only upon God; for my expectation is from him" As the ivy clings for support to the oak, or as the limpet clings to the solid rock, so may we in our native weakness cling to the eternal Strength. As our faith grown, so will grow our love; and love, again, will encourage faith. There is a beautiful interaction. We lean upon Jesus because he is our Well-beloved. - D.
Parallel VersesKJV: Who is this that cometh up from the wilderness, leaning upon her beloved? I raised thee up under the apple tree: there thy mother brought thee forth: there she brought thee forth that bare thee.