The Walk in the Fields and Among the Vineyards - Part 1
Preached at North Street Chapel, Stamford, on January 5, 1862
I DO not often preach from the Song of Solomon, and this chiefly for two reasons. First, though this holy book is full of rich and choice experience, it is couched for the most part in language so figurative and allegorical that it needs more grace and wisdom than I possess to be sure I should always give the correct interpretation of the figures employed for that purpose by the blessed Spirit. And, secondly, the church of God, generally speaking, is not in a state fit to understand, receive and experimentally realise the lessons of holiness and truth contained in this portion of the Word of God. The Song of Solomon, as you well know, is a sacred nuptial song, and may be generally described as conveying the mutual expression of the love of Christ and of the church under the figure of a bridegroom and a bride delighting in each other s company, and giving vent to their affection in tender, yet chaste and holy language. But the church of God at present is rather a lone widow than a joyous bride; rather spends her time in fasting than in feasting; is rather complaining than courting; and rather sits by the rivers of Babylon with her harp hung upon the willows than pours forth in sweet melody the songs of Zion.
But the difficulties which I have named are neither of them insuperable. As regards the first objection, though much of the Song of Solomon is so allegorical and figurative as often to elude our endeavours to understand its spiritual meaning, yet there are figures in it which we seem in some sense able clearly and experimentally to comprehend as seen through the thin mist of the allegory; and, as regards the second difficulty, there are passages also which meet the present experience of the children of God, because, though expressions of love, yet are they couched rather in the language of tender desire than of actual enjoyment. Take, for instance, such a passage as: "Because of the savour of Thy good ointments Thy name is as ointment poured forth, therefore do the virgins love Thee." So 1:3 Any true believer who has ever felt Christ s name to be sweet and precious can understand the experience contained in those words, even though in many points his faith may fall short of full assurance or present enjoyment. So again, "Draw me, we will run after Thee." So 1:4 There we have the experience of a soul longing to be drawn by "cords of love and bands of a Man," and to run after Jesus that it may overtake Him, gain possession of Him, and follow in His footsteps, all which may fall very short of full assurance. Again, "By night on my bed I sought Him whom my soul loveth: I sought Him, but I found Him not." So 3:1 There we have the experience of a soul, mourning under desertion and the hidings of God s face, seeking the Lord, and yet unable to realise His presence or His power. "Who is this that cometh up from the wilderness, leaning upon her Beloved?" So 8:5 There we have the expression of a true-hearted child of God coming up out of this wilderness world, cleaving to Jesus with purpose of heart and leaning upon Him with all his strength, as the only object of his warm affection. Almost all these passages are couched in figurative language, yet easily intelligible, and certainly not beyond the experience of the greater part of the family of God.
We shall perhaps find, if God help me this morning to bring forth the choice experience of our text, the words before us to possess both of these characters. First, though the language is highly metaphorical, yet is it sufficiently intelligible through the light vail of allegory to present us with a visible portrait, and that no less than of a face beaming with the light and beauty of a very gracious experience; and yet, secondly, the experience thus portrayed in it is not of a character so high in spiritual enjoyment as to be beyond the reach of those who know something of the breathing forth of the sincerity of love into the bosom of the Redeemer.
Let us then approach the words as they present themselves to us in the express language of the blessed Spirit, and see whether we cannot gather up from them some spiritual instruction, or gracious encouragement, or divine consolation, or profitable admonition.
I.-Observe, first, the invitation which Christ for He is the speaker here addresses to His beloved to accompany Him in His evening walk of love: "Come, My beloved let us go forth."
II.- Secondly, the place where He invites her to go in company with Him. "Let us go forth into the field; let us lodge in the villages."
III.- Thirdly, the object of their journeying together thus hand in hand: "Let us get up early to the vineyards; let us see if the vine flourish, whether the tender grape appear, and the pomegranates bud forth."
IV.- Fourthly, the entertainment which He promises her when they have gone through their survey: "There will I give thee My loves."
I.-I have just hinted my opinion that it is our Lord who speaks here. The commentators, I believe, and amongst them I may name Dr. Gill, ascribe the words to the church; but, according to my view of the subject, they are much more appropriate in the lips of the Redeemer. Let me give you my reason. The invitation, "Come, My beloved," seems to fall with more propriety from the lips of the bridegroom than from those of the bride. He leads, she follows. He draws, she runs. He invites her to come: she listens to His invitation, and gladly takes hold of His proffered hand. Is not this more suitable, more becoming their mutual relationship? Would it not be so between lovers naturally? Is it not more becoming maidenly modesty to be asked than to ask, to be courted than to court, to be invited to take an evening walk than to give the invitation? But when we look at the exalted dignity of the heavenly Bridegroom, full though He be of most gracious condescension, it must strike us at once upon higher grounds that it is more becoming for the Lord to give the invitation to the church to walk with Him than for the church to invite Him to walk with her.
I. But now look at the tender expression by which he addresses her: "My beloved." This is His language throughout the whole Song to His spouse and bride. Whatever the church be in herself, and no language can describe the depths of her debasement through the Fall, she is dear and near to the heart of Christ. Two things must always strike us with wonder, and I may say holy admiration, when we can realise them experimentally in our own bosom.
First, that Christ, viewed by faith as the eternal Son of God in all the glory of His uncreated Deity, should ever have loved any of the human race at all. Did you ever attempt to realise the feeling that He, who is eternally God, should ever have condescended to love a creature like man? When I say "love," I do not mean that general approbation which God has as a Creator in the works of His hands, but that warmth of peculiar and tender affection, which we mean by the term. Is it not sufficient to fill our mind with wonder that the great and glorious, self-existent I AM should love a finite creature such as man? We can understand how equals can love equals, or even superiors inferiors when the disparity is not very great; but that He who fills heaven with His glory should love, with all the warmth of infinite affection, man, the creature of His hand-this indeed is a mystery. David felt this when he said, after a contemplation of the glories of the starry heavens, "What is man that Thou art mindful of him? and the son of man that Thou visitest him? For Thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour." Ps 8:4,5 Such also was Solomon s feeling when he had built the temple. "But will God indeed dwell on the earth? behold the heaven and heaven of heavens cannot contain Thee: how much less this house that I have builded?" 1Ki 8:27 But when we consider what man is, not only as a finite, but as a fallen creature; when we contrast the purity and holiness of God with the impurity and defilement of man; and when we bear in mind how hateful sin is in the eyes of Him who cannot look upon iniquity, well may we stand astonished that a God so holy should love sinners so vile.
But the second thing is calculated also to strike us with wonder and admiration. The mystery, which never can be fathomed in this life and most probably will be equally unfathomable in the life to come, is that God should have loved some and not have loved others. Why He should have loved Jacob and hated Esau, chosen David and rejected Saul, are mysteries inscrutable to creature intellect. But though unfathomable by the line of human reason, they are still truths as clearly revealed in the Word of God as those doctrines which lie more within the compass of our understanding; and therefore should be received in faith, not cavilled at through unbelief. It will be our mercy, instead of puzzling our minds over this mystery, still less cavilling at it, to have such a testimony in our own conscience as Paul had of old, when he could say, in the full assurance of faith, "He loved me and gave Himself for me."
When, then, we look at the church in her present fallen condition, we may stand astonished that our gracious Lord should feel any love towards her. But so it is. Love is self-moving. Even in natural love, none can tell the source from which it springs. All we know of it is that it flows freely, of its own self-movement, towards its object. So it is with divine love: it flows forth spontaneously without seeking any other cause but its own self-movement, or any other object but that to which it softly yet strongly tends. "God," we read, "is love." 1Jo 4:8 That is His name; that is His nature. But if any ask why God loved any of the sons of men, all we can answer is, "Herein is love, not that we loved God but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins." 1Jo 4:10 And if any ask how we may know this love, all we can reply is, "And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love, and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him." 1Jo 4:16
1. But love cannot exist without requital. Is not this true in human love? How many a poor girl has died of a broken heart from unrequited love! How many a man has been almost driven to desperation by the object of his affections breaking her plighted troth and wedding another! It is in divine as in human love. Divine love needs requital. But there is this peculiar feature in divine love, and one in which it far exceeds all earthly affection, that it never knows the want of requital; it never feels the want of faithfullness. You may love an earthly object, and may have no requital. You may fix your affections upon one of the opposite sex and have them blighted, the object being unfaithful. But not so in heavenly love. It always meets with requital; it never meets with unfaithfullness.
But how can this be? Am I walking on sure and safe ground here, or advancing anything not in strict harmony with the Word of truth and the experience of the saints? Do you, then, think it possible that divine love can be thrown away? What is the cause of human love not being always requited? Is it not because the lover is not able to kindle a mutual flame in the bosom of the beloved? But can this be the case with divine love? To think so would be to cast a doubt on the power of the Almighty, as well as be expressly contrary to the Scriptures of truth. What do we read there? "We love Him because He first loved us." 1Jo 4:19 And again, "The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto US."
It is impossible, therefore, that divine love should be disappointed by meeting with no requital. It is true that you may sometimes doubt and fear whether Jesus loves you. But these very doubts and fears imply that you have some love toward Him; and if you love Him, you may be certain He loves you. Love to the Lord is a sure sign of a new and heavenly birth, "for every one that loveth is born of God and knoweth God." 1Jo 4:7 And you may be certain also of His faithfulness to you, even though you are often unfaithful to Him; for those whom He loves, He loves to the end; and "if we believe not, yet He abideth faithful: He cannot deny Himself." Joh 13:1 2Ti 2:13 If, therefore, He has once loved you, He will never leave you. Those two bitter drops which often turn the whole cup of human love into a draught of almost unmixed wormwood and gall, want of requital and unfaithfullness, are never found in love divine. These two things, then, you may depend upon, if indeed you love Jesus with a pure heart fervently-that your love is requited by His; and that He will be faithful to every promise ever spoken by Him to your heart.
2. But love cannot exist without communion -the mutual enjoyment of each other s society. It is so in earthly, it is so in heavenly love. Our blessed Lord, therefore, speaking in the words before us, invites His beloved "to come," implying that she was to take His proffered hand, that they might "go forth" in the enjoyment of each other s tender and affectionate society. She willingly accepts the offer. She is too pleased with His company not to listen when He invites. He leads, she follows; and hand in hand they go forth together.
II. But now look at the invitation couched in the expression, "Let us go forth." There is something very experimental in this kind and loving invitation; something that must not be passed over if we would bend our ear to listen to the voice of the Lord. He had already said, "Come." That was, so to speak, the calling note, the first sound of the love trumpet to rouse up the attention of the bride. She hears; she rises; she obeys the call; she takes the proffered hand, and now the Lord says, "Let us go forth." The idea contained in the expression seems to be that Christ and the church are to go forth out of everything which can interrupt their mutual enjoyment of each other s society. The world is looked upon as a distracting place, like an over-crowded metropolis, full of noise, smoke, din and bustle, where their communion would be interrupted by every passer-by. In order, therefore, to enjoy sweet communion without interruption, He takes her by the hand and invites her to go forth with Him.
But what is implied in the expression "going forth?"
1. Separation from everything which interferes with the love of Christ. He finds her in the world, sometimes allured by, and entangled in its flesh-pleasing snares, and sometimes overborne with its burdensome anxieties. Forth, forth from both of these must the child of God go if he is to walk hand in hand with Jesus. It cannot be a trio-Jesus, the soul and the world. In natural love, a trio is no company. There must be two only to enjoy the wished-for society. So in grace; it must be Christ and the soul, the soul and Christ, or else there is, there can be, no sweet communion. The world must not interpose nor separate the two by turning its face into the midst, for it comes worse than a mere casual visitor, or an unwished-for interferer. It is a rival. And what can be worse company for two lovers than the presence of a rival? The love of the world and the love of Christ cannot dwell in the same bosom: "For if any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him." 1Jo 2:15
The first step, then, toward communion with Christ is to come out of the world: "Come out from among them and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing: and I will receive you." 2Co 6:17 If we are entangled in the love of the world, or fast bound and fettered with wordly anxieties, and the spirit of the world is rife in our bosom, all our profession will be vapid, if not worthless. We may use the language of prayer, but the heart is not in earnest; we may still manage to hold our head high in a profession of the truth, but its power and blessedness are neither known nor felt. To enjoy any measure of communion with the Lord, whether on the cross or on the throne, we must "go forth" from a world, which is at enmity against Him.
2. So also there must be a going forth from all sin. Christ never can have any fellowship with sin; for what fellowship hath Christ with Belial? If we are indulging in any sin, secret or open, there can be no fellowship with the Lord the Lamb. We must go forth out of it and leave all its abominations behind. But how can we do this? How can we crucify the flesh with its affections and lusts? How can we deny ourselves; cut off right hands or pluck out right eyes; tear a beloved idol from the breast; and say to every iniquity, "Get thee behind me, Satan!" This we cannot do for ourselves; but the Lord can do it for us and in us. And this He does when He says, "Come forth." With the word of a king there is power; and by that power He can enable us to go forth out of all evil and out of everything hateful in His holy eyes.
3. But the invitation bids us also go forth out of the professing church. Christ is not there. There lies indeed the body, once animated with life divine; but the animating spirit is fled, and now there is nothing but a lifeless corpse. So it was with the church of old. The Lord once was "with the church in the wilderness" Ac 7:38; but the presence and the power of the Lord left it; and then that which was once the house of the Lord became the den of thieves. This going forth from the professing church was foreshadowed by the bodies of the beasts, whose blood was brought into the sanctuary, being burnt without the camp. The apostle, therefore, says, "Wherefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered without the gate. Let us go forth therefore unto Him without the camp, bearing His reproach." Heb 13:12,13 This I had to do now many years ago; for when I found and felt the power of God s truth upon my heart and conscience, I was as much obliged to "go forth" out of the professing church as I was out of the world and out of sin.
4. But this invitation of Christ implies also that we must go forth which is the hardest thing of all to do out of self. It is easy in some measure to leave the world; easy to leave the professing church; and, though more difficult, yet there are cases in which persons may even leave their sins, as the dog is said to have left his vomit, though he returned to it again. But to go forth out of self -there is the difficulty; for this said "self" embraces such a variety of forms. Still, to deny it, renounce it, and go forth out of it lies at the very foundation of vital godliness. This was strikingly intimated by our blessed Lord when He said "Whosoever will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me" Mr 8:34
But what varied shapes and forms does this monster self assume! How hard to trace his windings! How difficult to track the wily foe to his hidden den, drag him out of the cave, and immolate him at the foot of the cross, as Samuel hewed down Agag in Gilgal. Proud self, righteous self, covetous self, ambitious self, sensual self, deceitful self, religious self, flesh-pleasing self-to detect, unmask, strip out of its parti-coloured clothes and changeable suits of apparel this ugly, mis-shapen creature, and then stamp upon it, as if one would crush with the heel of our boot its viper head; who will do such violence to beloved self, when every nerve quivers and shrinks, and the coward heart cries to the uplifted foot, "Spare, spare?" But does not the apostle say of himself, "I am crucified with Christ" Ga 2:20; "I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus" Ga 6:17; "I fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh, for His body s sake." Col 1:24 All this is "suffering with Christ, that we also may be glorified together; a mortifying, through the Spirit, of the deeds of the body;" a being "always delivered unto death for Jesus sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh." Ro 8:13,17 2Co 4:11 Unless there is a going forth out of self by this self-crucifixion, there is no walking hand in hand with Christ, no manifest union, no heavenly communion with Him; for there can no more be a partnership between Christ, the soul and self, than there can be a partnership between Christ, the soul and sin.
II.-But now let us direct our attention to our next point-the place of appointment, the trysting spot, to which the blessed Lord invites the beloved of His soul to go forth with Him: "Let us go forth into the field."
I. What is the leading idea here? There are several.
1. The first I shall name is that of leaving the noise, smoke and din of a large metropolis, where there is no privacy, no opportunity for retirement, for the quiet calm of a lonely field, where we may indulge in prayer and meditation, or retire into one s own bosom and commune with one s own heart. The sounds and sights, the bustle and confusion of the busy town often prevent that calm repose and sacred communion to which the Lord would invite His believing people. He would take, then, His beloved as if by her hand and lead her out of the noise and din of the crowded town that she might find opportunity for a little quiet meditation. Even naturally how pleasant it is to an inhabitant of the crowded metropolis to get away from its smoke and din into the quiet country; and if a truly godly man, and blessed with a spirit of meditation, there to meditate upon the precious truth of God. Isaac, you will recollect, went out to meditate in the field at the eventide when he lifted up his eyes and saw the camels coming, announcing the arrival of the wife whom the Lord had found for him. I have myself found the field to be a suitable place for meditation, and often walk there on a Saturday evening for that purpose.
Thus the field in our text may represent the secret meditation of the soul. The saints of God in ancient days were much given to meditation. "My meditation of Him shall be sweet," Ps 104:34 "O how I love Thy law! It is my meditation all the day." Ps 119:97 "When I remember Thee upon my bed and meditate on Thee in the night watches." Ps 63:6 "Commune with your own heart upon your bed, and be still." Ps 4:4 Meditation is very profitable, and for ministers who would profit the church of God indispensable. Paul therefore says to his beloved Timothy, "Meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them; that thy profiting may appear to all." 1Ti 4:15 Meditation is to spiritual food what digestion is to natural food: without it there is no nourishment from the Word of truth. But it is an employment that very few are able or willing to exercise themselves with; in fact, to meditate upon the Word of truth requires a spiritual mind, heavenly affections and a soul under peculiar divine impressions, whereby sacred realities become not only suitable food, but the very element in which we live and move.
2. But again, "the field" may spiritually represent a place of secret prayer. How often even literally will the child of God go into the field that he may have an opportunity for pouring out his heart before the Lord! You that have families, some, it may be, surrounded and often sadly worried with crying children, living in small confined houses, with little opportunity for secret retirement, scarcely able perhaps to call your sleeping room your own; how gladly sometimes you go forth into the fields where no eye can see you but the eye of God, and no ear hear you but the ear of God, that you may pour out your heart without interruption! The very calm quiet of the field suits your frame. The soft fresh air blowing upon your face cheers and refreshes your body; the lark twittering in the sky; the face of lovely nature spread before your eyes; the thorough solitude of the scene far away from the dusty roads and all sights and sounds of sin, all favour a spirit of prayer as you lift up your eyes and heart to heaven. If you are in trouble, there you may groan unheard; if dejected, there you may sigh, and neither wife nor child catch the sound; if favoured with access to the throne, there you may have communion with the Lord; and there, if business admit, you may sometimes stay in the grassy field till the shades of evening gather around you, and the stars shine forth in all their beauty and glory. Then you can go to your home refreshed and strengthened with your walk in the field, for the Lord has gone forth thither with you, and His company is the best of all. Thus the field may fitly represent that secret prayer which is the very life of the soul, and without which there can be no communion with the Lord of life and glory.