The Voice of My Beloved
“The voice of my beloved! Behold, he cometh leaping upon the mountains, skipping upon the hills. My beloved is like a roe, or a young hart; behold;, he standeth behind our wall, he looketh forth at the windows, showing himself through the lattice. My beloved spake, and said unto me, Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away. For, lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone; the flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land; the fig-tree putteth forth her green figs, and the vines with the tender grape give a good smell. Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away. O my dove, that art in the clefts of the rock, in the secret places of the stairs, let me see thy countenance, let me hear thy voice; for sweet is thy voice, and thy countenance is comely. Take us the foxes, the little foxes that spoil the vines; for our vines have tender grapes. My beloved is mine, and I am his; he feedeth among the lilies. 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.” Song of Solomon 2:8-17
There is no book of the Bible which affords a better test of the depth of a man’s Christianity than the Song of Solomon. (1.) If a man’s religion be all in his head – a well-set form of doctrines, built like mason-work, stone above stone – but exercising no influence upon his heart, this book cannot but offend him; for there are no stiff statements of doctrine here upon which his heartless religioin may be built. (2.) Or, if a man’s religion be all in his fancy – if, like Pliable in the Pilgrim’s Progress, he be taken with the outward beauty of Christianity – if, like the seed sown upon the rocky ground, his religion is fixed only in the surface faculties of the mind, while the heart remain rocky and unmoved; though he will relish this book much more than the first man, still there is a mysterious breathing of intimate affextion in it, which cannot but stumble and offend him. (3.) But if a man’s religion be heart religion – if he hath not only doctrines in his head, but love to Jesus in his heart – if he hath not only heard and read of the Lord Jesus, but hath felt his need of Him, and been brought to cleave unto Him, as the chiefest among ten thousand, and the altogether lovely, then this book will be inestimably precious to his soul; for it contains the tenderest breathings of the believer’s heart towards the Saviour, and the tenderest breathings of the Saviour’s heart again towards the believer.
“The matter of it is totally sublime, spiritual, and mystical; and the manner of its handling universally allegorical.”
It is agreed among the best interpreters of this book – (1.) That is consists not of one song, but of many songs; (2.) That these songs are in a dramatic form; and (3.) That, like the parables of Christ, they contain a spiritual meaning, under the dress and ornaments of some poetical incident.
The passage which I have read forms one of these dramatically songs, and the subject of it is, a sudden visit which an Eastern bride receives from her absent lord. The bride is represented to us as sitting lonely and desolate in a kiosk, or Eastern Arbour – a place of safety and of retirement in the gardens of the East – described by modern travellers as “an arbour surrounded by a green wall, covered with vines and jess amines, with windows of lattice-work.”
The mountains of Bether (or, as it is on the margin, the mounts of division), the mountains that separate her from her beloved, appear almost impassable. They look so steep and craggy, that she fears he will never be able to come over them to visit her any more. Her garden possesses no loveliness to entice her to walk forth. All nature seems to partake in her sadness; winter reigns without and within; no flowers appear on the earth; all the singing birds appear to be sad and silent upon the trees; and the turtle’s voice of love is not heard in the land.
It is while she is sitting thus lonely and desolate that the voice of her beloved strikes upon her ear. Love is quick in hearing the voice that is loved; and therefore she hears sooner than all her maidens, and the song opens with her bursting exclamation, “The voice of my beloved!” When she sat in her solitude, the mountains between her and her lord seemed nearly impassable, they were so lofty and so steep; but now she sees with what swiftness and ease he can come over these mountains, so that she can compare him to nothing else but the gazelle, or the young hart, the loveliest and swiftest creatures of the mountains. “My beloved is like a roe, or a young hart.” Yea, while she is speaking, already he has arrived at the garden wall; and now, behold, “he looketh in at the window, showing himself through the lattice.” The bride next relates to us the gentle invitation, which seems to have been the song of her beloved as he came so swiftly over the mountains. While she sat alone, all nature seemed dead – winter reigned; but now he tells her that he has brought the spring-time along with him. “Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away. For, lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone; the flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land. The fig-tree putteth forth her green figs, and the vines with the tender grape give a good smell. Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.” Moved by this pressing invitation, she comes forth from her place of retirement into the presence of her lord, and clings to him like (a) timorous dove to the clefts of the rock; and then he addresses her in these words of tenderest and most delicate affection: “O my dove, that art in the clefts of the rock, in the secret places of the precipice, let me see thy countenance, let me hear thy voice; for sweet is thy voice, and thy countenance is comely.” Joyfully agreeing to go forth with her lord, she yet remembers that this is the season of greatest danger to her vines, from the foxes which gnaw the bark of the vines; and therefore she will not go forth without leaving this command of caution to her maidens: “Take us the foxes, the little foxes that spoil the vines, for our vines have tender grapes.” She then renews the covenant of her espousals with her beloved, in these words of appropriating affection: “My beloved is mine, and I am his; let him feed among the lilies.” And last of all, because she knows that this season of intimate communion will not last, since her beloved must hurry away again over the mountains, she will not suffer him to depart without beseeching him that he will often renew these visits of love, till that happy day dawn when they shall not need to be separated any more: “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.”
We might well challenge the whole world of genius to produce in any language a poem such as this – so short, so comprehensive, so delicately beautiful. But what is far more to our present purpose, there is no part of the Bible which opens up more beautifully some of the innermost experience of the believer’s heart.
Let us now, then, look at the parable as a description of one of those visits which the Saviour often pays to believing souls, when He manifests himself unto them in that other way than He doeth unto the world.
I. WHEN THE BELIEVER IS ALONE
When Christ is away from the soul of the believer, he sits alone
We saw in the parable, that, when her lord was away, the bride sat lonely and desolate. She did not call for the young and gay to cheer her solitary hours. She did not call for the harp of the minstrel to soothe her in her solitude. There was no pipe, nor tabret, nor wine at her feasts. No, she sat alone. The mountains seemed all but impassable. All nature partook of her sadness. If she could not be glad in the light of her lord’s countenance, she was resolved to be glad in nothing else. She sat lonely and desolate. Just so it is with the true believer in Jesus. Whatever be the mountains of Bether that have come between his soul and Christ, – whether he hath been seduced into his old sins, so that “his iniquities have separated again between him and his God, and his sins have hid his face from Him, that He will not hear,” – or whether the Saviour hath withdrawn for a season the comfortable light of his presence for the mere trial of his servant’s faith, to see, if, when he “walketh in darkness and hath no light, he will still trust in the name of the Lord, and stay himself upon his God,” – whatever the mountains of separation be, it is the sure mark of the believer that he sits desolate and alone. He cannot laugh away his heavy care, as worldly men can do. He cannot drown it in the bowl of intemperance, as poor blinded men can do. Even the innocent intercourse of human friendship brings no balm to his wound – nay, even fellowship with the children of God is now distasteful to his soul. He cannot enjoy what he enjoyed before, when they that feared the Lord spoke often one to another. The mountains between him and the Saviour seem so vast and impassable, that he fears He will never visit him more. All nature partakes of his sadness – winter reigns without and within. He sits alone, and is desolate. Being afflicted, he prays; and the burden of his prayer is the same with that of an ancient believer: “Lord, if I may not be made glad with the light of thy countenance, grant that I may be made glad with nothing else; for joy without thee is death.”
Ah! my friends, do you know anything of this sorrow? Do you know what it is thus to sit alone and be desolate, because Jesus is out of view? If you do, then rejoice, if it be possible, even in the midst of your sadness! for this very sadness is one of the marks that you are a believer – that you find all your peace and all your joy in union with the Saviour.
But ah, how contrary is the way with most of you! You know nothing of this sadness. Yes, perhaps you make a mock at it. You can be happy and contented with the world, though you have never got a sight of Jesus. You can be merry with your companions, though the blood of Jesus has never whispered peace to your soul. Ah, how plain that you are hastening on to the place where “there is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked!”
II. CHRIST’S COMING TO THE BELIEVER
Christ’s coming to the desolate believer is often sudden and wonderful
We saw in the parable, that it was when the bride was sitting lonely and desolate that she heard suddenly the voice of her lord. Love is quick in hearing; and she cries out, “The voice of my beloved!” Before, she thought the mountains all but impassable; but now she can compare his swiftness to nothing but that of the gazelle or the young hart. Yea, whilst she speaks, he is at the wall – at the window – showing himself through the lattice. Just so is it often with the believer. While he sits alone and desolate, the mountains of separation appear a vast and impassable barrier to the Saviour, and he fears He may never come again. The mountains of a believer’s provocations are often very great. “That I should have sinned again, who have been washed in the blood of Jesus. It is little that other men should sin against Him; they never knew him – never loved Him as I have done. Surely I am the chief of sinners, and have sinned away my Saviour. The mountains of my provocations hath grown up to heaven, and He never can come over it any more.” Thus it is that the believer writes bitter things against himself; and then it is that oftentimes he hears the voice of his beloved. Some text of the word, or some word from a Christian friend, or some part of a sermon, again reveals Jesus in all his fulness – the Saviour of sinners, even the chief. Or it may be that He makes himself known to the disconsolate soul in the breaking of bread, and when He speaks the gentle words, “This is my body, broken for you; this cup is the New Testament in my blood, shed for the remission of the sins of many; drink ye all of it,” – then he cannot but cry out, “The voice of my beloved! Behold, He cometh leaping upon the mountains, skipping upon the hills.”
Ah! my friends, do you know anything of this joyful surprise? If you do, why should you ever sit down despairing, as if the Lord’s hand were shortened at all that He cannot save, or as if his ears were grown heavy that He cannot hear? In the darkest hour say, “Why art thou cast down, O my soul? And why art thou disquieted within me? Still trust in God, for I shall yet praise Him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God.” Come expectingly to the word. Do not come with that listless indifference, as if nothing that a fellow-worm can say were worth your hearing. It is not the word of man, but the word of the living God. Come with large expectations, and then you will find the promise true, that He filleth the hungry with good things, though He sends the rich empty away.
III. CHRIST’S COMING CHANGES ALL THINGS
Christ’s coming changes all things to the believer, and his love is more tender than ever
We saw in the parable that when the bride was desolate and alone, all nature was steeped in sadness. Her garden possessed no charms to draw her forth, for winter reigned without and within. But when her lord came so swiftly over the mountains, he brought the spring along with him. All nature is changed as he advances, and his invitation is, “For the winter is past, the rain is over and gone; arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.” Just so it is with the believer when Christ is away; all is winter to the soul. But when He comes again over the mountains of provocation, He brings a gladsome spring-time along with Him. When that Sun of Righteousness arises afresh upon the soul, not only do his gladdening rays fall upon the believer’s soul, but all nature rejoices in his joy. The mountains and hills burst forth before Him into singing, and all the trees of the field clap their hands. It is like a change of season to the soul. It is like that sudden change from the pouring rains of a dreary winter to the full blushing spring, which is so peculiar to the climes of the sun.
The world of nature is all changed. Instead of the thorn comes up the fir-tree, and instead of the brier comes up the mirtle-tree. Every tree and field possesses a new beauty to the happy soul. The world of grace is all changed. The Bible was all dry and meaningless before; now, what a flood of light is poured over its pages! how full, how fresh, how rich in meaning, how its simplest phrases touch the heart! The house of prayer was all sad and dreary before – its services were dry and unsatisfactory; but now, when the believer sees the Saviour, as he hath seen Him heretofore within his holy place, his cry is: “How amiable are thy tabernacles, O Lord of Hosts! a day in thy courts is better than a thousand.” The garden of the Lord was all sad and cheerless before; now tenderness towards the unconverted springs up afresh, and love to the people of God burns in the bosom – then they that fear the Lord speak often one to another. The time of the singing the praises of Jesus is come, and the turtle voice of love to Jesus is once more heard in the land: the Lord’s vine flourishes, and the pomegranate buds, and Christ’s voice to the soul is, “Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.”
As the timorous dove pursued by the vulture, and well-nigh made a prey, with fluttering anxious wing, hides itself deeper than ever in the clefts of the rock, and in the secret places of the precipice, so the backslidden believer, whom Satan has desired to have, that he might sift him as wheat, when he is restored once more to the all-gracious presence of his Lord, clings to Him with fluttering, anxious faith, and hides himself deeper than ever in the wounds of his Saviour. Thus it was that the fallen Peter, when he had so grievously denied his Lord, yet, when brought again within sight of the Saviour, standing upon the shore, was the only one of the disciples who girt his fisher’s coat unto him, and cast himself into the sea to swim to Jesus; and just as that backslidden apostle, when again he had hidden himself in the clefts of the Rock of Ages, found that the love of Jesus was more tender towards him than ever, when he began that conversation, which, more than all others in the Bible, combines the kindest of reproofs with the kindest of encouragements, “Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these?” just so does every backslidden believer find, that when again he is hidden in the freshly opened wounds of his Lord, the fountain of his love begins to flow afresh, and the stream of kindness and affection is fuller and more overflowing than ever, for his word is, “Oh, my dove, that art in the clefts of the rock, in the secret places of the precipice, let me see thy countenance, let me hear thy voice; for sweet is thy voice, and thy countenance is comely.”
Ah, my friends, do you know anything of this? Have you ever experienced such a coming of Jesus over the mountain of your provocations, as made a change of season to your soul? and have you, backslidden believer, found, when you hid yourself again deeper than ever in the clefts of the rock – like Peter girding his fisher’s coat unto him, and casting himself into the sea – have you found his love tendered than ever to your soul? Then, should not this teach you quick repentance when you have fallen? Why keep one moment away from the Saviour? Are you waiting till you wipe away the stain from your garments? Alas! what will wipe it off, but the blood you are despising? Are you waiting till you make yourself worthier of the Saviour’s favour? Alas! though you wait till all eternity, you can never make yourself worthier. Your sin and misery are your only plea. Come, and you will find with what tenderness He will heal your backslidings, and love you freely: and say, “Oh, my dove” etc.
IV. CHRIST STIRS UP FEAR, LOVE AND HOPE
I observe the threefold disposition of fear, love and hope, which this visit of the Saviour stirs up in the believer’s bosom. These three form, as it were, a cord in the restored believer’s bosom, and a threefold cord is not easily broken.
1. Filial Fear
First of all, there is fear – As the bride in the parable would not go forth to enjoy the society of her lord, without leaving the command behind to her maidens to take the foxes, the little foxes, that spoil the vines, so does every believer know and feel that the time of closest communion is also the time of greatest danger. It was when the Saviour had been baptized, and the Holy Ghost, like a dove, had descended upon Him, and a voice, saying, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased,” – it was then that He was driven into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil; and just so it is when the soul is receiving its highest privileges and comforts, that Satan and his ministers are nearest – the foxes, the little foxes, that spoil the vines.
(1) Spiritual pride is near. When the soul is hiding in the wounds of the Saviour, and receiving great tokens of his love, then the heart begins to say, Surely I am somebody – how far I am above the everyday run of believers! This is one of the little foxes that eats out the life of vital godliness.
(2) There is making a Christ of your comforts – looking to them, and not to Christ – leaning upon them and not your beloved. This is another of the little foxes.
(3) There is the false notion that now you must surely be above sinning, and above the power of temptation, now you can resist all enemies. This is the pride that goes before a fall – another of the foxes, the little foxes, that spoil the vines.
Never forget, I beseech you, that fear is a sure mark of a believer. Even when you feel that it is God that worketh in you, still the word saith, Work out your salvation with fear and trembling; – even when your joy is overflowing, still remember it is written, “Rejoice with trembling;” and again: “Be not high-minded, but fear.” Remember the caution of the bride, and say: “Take us the foxes, the little foxes, that spoil the vines, for our vines have tender grapes.”
2. Appropriating Love
But if cautious fear be a mark of a believer in such a season, still more is appropriating love. When Christ comes anew of mountains of provocation, and reveals himself to the soul free and full as ever, in another way than He doth unto the world, then the soul can say, “My beloved is mine, and I am his.” I do not say that the believer can use these words at all seasons. In times of darkness and in times of sinfulness the reality of a believer’s faith is to be measured rather by his sadness than by his confidence. But I do say, that in seasons when Christ reveals himself afresh to the soul, shining out like the sun from behind a cloud, with the beams of sovereign, unmerited love – then no other words will satisfy the true believer but these: “My beloved is mine, and I am his.” The soul sees Jesus to be so free a Saviour – so anxious that all should come to Him and have life – stretching out his hands all the day – having no pleasure in the death of the wicked – pleading with men: “Turn ye, turn ye, why will ye die?” The soul sees Jesus to be so fitting a Saviour – the very covering which the soul requires. When he first hid himself in Jesus, he found Him suitable to all his need – the shadow of a great rock in a weary land. But now he finds out a new fitness in the Saviour, as Peter did when he girt his fisher’s coat unto him, and cast himself into the sea. He finds that He is a fitting Saviour for a backsliding believer; that his blood can blot out even the stains of him who, having eaten bread with Him, has yet lifted up the heel against Him. The soul sees Jesus to be so full a Saviour – giving to the sinner not only pardons, but overflowing, immeasurable pardons – giving not only righteousness, but a righteousness that is more than mortal, for it is all divine – giving not only the Spirit, but pouring water on him that is thirsty, and floods upon the dry ground. The soul sees all this in Jesus, and cannot but choose Him and delight in Him with a new and appropriating love, saying, “My beloved is mine.” And if any man ask, How darest thou, sinful worm, to call that Divine Saviour thine? the answer is here, For I am his: He chose me from all eternity, else I never would have chosen Him. He shed his blood for me, else I never would have shed a tear for Him. He cried after me, else I never would have breathed after Him. He sought after me, else I never would have sought after Him. He hath loved me, therefore I love Him. He hath chosen me, therefore I evermore choose Him. “My beloved is mine, and I am his.”
3. Prayerful Hope
But, lastly, if love be a mark of the true believer at such a season, so also is prayerful hope. It was the saying of a true believer, in an hour of high and wonderful communion with Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here!” My friend, you are no believer, if Jesus hath never manifested himself to your soul in your secret devotions – in the house of prayer, or in the breaking of bread – in so sweet and overpowering a manner, that you have cried out, “Lord, it is good for me to be here!” But though it be good and very pleasant, like sunlight to the eyes, yet the Lord sees that it is not wisest and best always to be there. Peter must come down again from the mount of glory, and fight the good fight of faith amid the shame and contumely of a cold and scornful world. And so must every child of God. We are not yet in heaven, the place of open vision and unbroken enjoyment. This is earth, the place of faith, and patience, and heavenward-pointing hope. One great reason why close and intimate enjoyment of the Saviour may not be constantly realized in the believer’s breast is, to give room for hope, the third string that forms the threefold cord. Even the most enlightened believers are walking here in a darksome night, or twilight at most; and the visits of Jesus to the soul do but serve to make the surrounding darkness more visible. But the night is far spent, the day is at hand. The day of eternity is breaking in the east. The Sun of Righteousness is hasting to rise upon our world, and the shadows are preparing to flee away. Till then, the heart of every true believer, that knows the preciousness of close communion with the Saviour, breathes the earnest prayer, that Jesus would often come again, thus wetly and suddenly, to lighten him in his darksome pilgrimage. Ah! yes, my friends, let every one who loves the Lord Jesus in sincerity, join now in the blessed prayer of the bride: “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.”