Son_5:2-8. I sleep, but my heart waketh: it is the voice of my beloved that knocketh, saying, Open to me my sitter, my love, my dove, my undefiled: for my head is filled with dew, and my locks with the drops of the night. I have put off my coat; how shall I put it on! I have washed my feet; how shall I defile them? My beloved put in his hand by the hole of the door, and my bowels were moved for him. I rose up to open to my beloved; and my hands dropped with myrrh, and my fingers with sweet-smelling myrrh, upon the handles of the lock. I opened to my beloved; but my beloved had withdrawn himself, and was gone: my soul failed when he spake; I sought him, but I could not find him; I called him, but he gave me no answer. The watchmen that went about the city found me, they smote me, they wounded me; the keepers of the walls took away my veil from me. I charge you, O daughters of Jerusalem, if ye find my beloved, that ye tell him, that I am sick of love.
TWO things we should guard against in reading the Song of Solomon: namely, the laying an undue stress on particular words, and the dwelling too minutely on particular circumstances. There is a latitude due to the very species of composition, that may well exempt it from severe criticism, and from an over-strained application of its several parts. No one can have ever read the Holy Scriptures without seeing many expressions, which modern delicacy and refinement constrain us to pass over, as offensive to our ears. These expressions occur both in the Law and in the Prophets; and therefore we cannot wonder if they occur in a composition intended to exhibit the mutual love subsisting between Christ and his Church, and shadowing it forth under the most delicate of all images, the mutual regards of a bridegroom and his bride. Allowance must be made for the customs of different nations: a thing may not be at all improper in one age or country, which in another age and country would be highly indecorous, as not being sanctioned by common usage. Besides, there are many customs which obtained in the days of Solomon, which, if they were known to us, would reflect light on many parts of this poem, which are involved in obscurity because we want the key to the explanation of them. Even what we do know must be touched upon with the greatest delicacy, lest what was written only for the inflaming of our spiritual affections, should become rather an occasion of evil. The true way to profit by this book is to take the general scope of it, rather than its particular images, as the subjects for our reflection. And, if we attend to this rule, we shall find the passage which we have now read, replete with instruction. It informs us of the reproof which the Bride received, for the indifference with which on one occasion she treated her beloved.
Let us distinctly notice,
The indolence she indulged—
She was in a state, not of absolute sleep, like the ungodly world, but of slumber, half asleep, and half awake; “I sleep, but my heart waketh.”
Moreover, when her beloved came to hold communion with her, she was inattentive to his voice: yea, notwithstanding he addressed her in terms of most endeared affection, and complained of the inconvenience he had sustained through her unwatchfulness, she still gave but little heed to his voice. In hot countries, “the night dews” are not only strong, but often very injurious to those who are exposed to them: yet even this consideration did not operate to produce in her that activity which the occasion required.
Instead of rising at his call, she urged vain and foolish excuses to justify her neglect: and in fact told him, that his visit at that time was unacceptable. These excuses were only a cloak for her own sloth and self-indulgence: had her graces been in lively exercise, the obstacles she complained of would have vanished in an instant. This conduct gives a striking picture of what too generally obtains amongst ourselves: it shews,
Our slothful habits—
[There is in the very best of men “the flesh yet lusting against the Spirit, as well as the Spirit striving against the flesh, so that they cannot do the things they would [Note: Gal_5:17.].” Even St. Paul complained, that, whilst with his mind he served the law of God, with his flesh he was still in some measure subjected to the law of sin, not indeed as a willing servant, but as a captive, who in vain sought a perfect deliverance from that detested enemy [Note: Rom_7:14; Rom_7:18; Rom_7:22-23.]. True indeed, where due vigilance is kept up, “the old man” cannot gain any permanent advantage: but even when “the spirit is willing, the flesh is too often weak;” and all in some degree find, that “when they would do good, evil is present with them.” It is indeed greatly to be lamented, that “the Wise Virgins” should ever so resemble the Foolish Virgins, as to “slumber and sleep” like them: but so, alas! it is: and when, by reason of our failures, we are ready to complain, “Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of the Lord!” we need the rebuke which was given to that petition, “Awake, awake, stand up, O Jerusalem, and put on thy strength, O Zion [Note: Isa_51:9; Isa_51:17; Isa_52:1.]!”]
Our insensibility to the kindness of our beloved—
[How inexpressibly tender are his addresses to us! See the invitations, the entreaties, the expostulations that pervade every part of the sacred volume; and say whether they be not sufficient to melt the most obdurate heart! “Behold, I stand at the door and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and sup with him, and he with me [Note: Rev_3:20.].” Yet how long does he stand and knock in vain! His pleadings too, how kind, how gracious, how forcible they are! “Have I been a wilderness to Israel? Wherefore say my people, we will come no more unto thee [Note: Jer_2:31.]?” “Turn ye unto me; for I have redeemed you: I am even married unto you [Note: Jer_3:12; Jer_3:14.]:” “Turn ye, turn ye; why will ye die, O House of Israel?” But all his expostulations have been to no purpose with respect to the generality; and even on the best they are far from operating to the extent they ought. St. Paul could say, “The love of Christ constraineth us,” or carries us away like a mighty torrent: but how many are the seasons when his attractions are not so felt by us, and when, instead of regarding him as “the chiefest among ten thousand,” we see scarcely any “beauty or comeliness in him for which he is to be desired!”]
Our vain excuses with which we cloke our sins—
[Something arising out of our present circumstances we are ready to plead in extenuation at least, if not in excuse, for our sloth. But, if we would deal faithfully with ourselves, we should see that all our pleas are a mere cloak for self-indulgence: we are called to “crucify the flesh with the affections and lusts,” but we do not like self-denial: to “mortify our earthly members” is a work in which we cannot bear to engage: the “cutting off a right hand, and plucking out a right eye” is so painful to us, that we cannot be prevailed upon to put forth the resolution it requires. We promise ourselves a “more convenient season,” which in too many instances never comes at all. Like those in the parable, we find some reason for declining the invitations sent us, and return for answer, “I pray thee have me excused” — — —]
A due consideration of her fault will prepare our minds for,
The reproof she met with—
At last, beginning to see her error, she rose to open to her beloved: and with such ardour of affection did she open to him, that “myrrh dropped, as it were, from her hands upon the handle of the lock.” But behold, he was gone; and though she sought him, she could not find him; and though she called after him, he gave her no answer. The watchmen too reproved her with great severity, as questioning even the sincerity of one who could so treat the beloved of her soul. And such reproof must we all expect, if we give way to sloth instead of watching unto prayer. We must expect,
That he will depart from us—
[Verily he is “a God who hideth himself,” a holy and a jealous God, that will make us to “eat of the fruit of our own ways, and to be filled with our own devices.” He has warned us not to “grieve his Holy Spirit,” lest he depart from us. I “will go and return to my place,” says he, “till they acknowledge their offence [Note: Hos_5:15.].” And oh! how painful are the seasons when he withdraws from us, and leaves our souls in darkness! Even he himself, when for our sins he was deserted of his God, how bitterly did he cry; “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” O that we may never provoke him to put that cup into our hands! How distressing will it be to be reduced to any measure of that experience which Christ endured for us; “O my God, why art thou so far from helping me, and from the voice of my roaring? I cry in the day time, but thou hearest not; and in the night season, and am not silent [Note: Mat_22:1-2.]!” See David in this predicament [Note: Psa_42:3; Psa_77:6-9.] — — —, and “let us be instructed, lest we provoke him to depart from us also.”]
That the word and ordinances shall he unproductive of any solid comfort to us—
[The “Watchmen” are the ministers, whose office is not only to instruct and comfort, but also to warn and “rebuke with all authority.” True it is, they may be too hasty and severe in their reproofs; and may by such indiscreet zeal make the heart of the righteous sad, when they should rather bind up the broken heart, and heal the wounded spirit. But it is possible also, that they may be too lenient, and “speak peace to persons when there is no peace.” But where there is no fault in their ministrations, God may make their word as a sword, to enter into the very bones of those who hear it, and to cut them to the heart. Even the promises, when held forth in all their fulness and all their freeness, may afford no comfort to the soul of one who is under the hidings of God’s face; but may add tenfold poignancy to all his griefs. How unhappy was the state of David, when even the thought of God himself was a source of sorrow and despondency, rather than of joy and peace! “He remembered God, and was troubled; and his soul refused comfort.” In like manner, all the wonders of redeeming love may be made a source of the deepest anguish to our souls, by the apprehension that we have no part or lot in them. If then we would not bring these heavy judgments on our souls, let us “seek the Lord while he may be found, and call upon him while he is near.”]
Those who yet enjoy the light of God’s countenance—
[Happy, happy are ye, in the possession of this rich mercy: Surely such a state is a foretaste of heaven itself. But do not presume upon it. Do not say, “My mountain stands strong; I shall never be moved;” lest ye cause God to “hide his face from you, and ye be troubled.” “Be not high-minded; but fear.” Keep upon your watch-tower: “let your loins be girt, and your lamps trimmed;” and watch every moment for the coming of your Lord. “Blessed is that servant, whom his Lord, when he cometh, shall find so doing.”]
Those who are under the hidings of their Redeemer’s face—
[If others are not to presume, so neither are you to despond. “If your sorrow endure for a night, there is joy awaiting you in the morning.” This do: imitate the Bride in the passage before us. She desired the prayers and intercessions of the saints, and entreated them, in their seasons of communion with their Lord, to plead her cause: “I charge you, when you shall see him, tell him that I am sick of love.” She felt no grief like the absence of her beloved; and could find comfort in nothing but the restoration of his love. Thus let your hearts be fixed on him; even on him only: and suffer nothing to weaken your regards to him. Never entertain hard thoughts of him. Take shame to yourselves, till ye even lothe yourselves in dust and ashes: but relax neither your love to him, nor your confidence in him. Say with yourselves, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him.” Then will he in due season return to your souls, so that “your light shall rise in obscurity, and your darkness be as the noon-day.” Only be content to “go on your way weeping, bearing the precious seed of penitence and faith; and you shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing your sheaves with you.”]