Chapter 1 – The Love Life

From many standpoints, the Bible looks at our spiritual life. Sometimes it is as a life of faith, again as a life of holiness, evermore as a life of service, deepest of all as a life of patience and victorious suffering; but the highest and divinest view of it is a life of love. Nor is it love in any ordinary sense, but the tenderest and most intimate forms, and the most exquisite figures of human affection and friendship are used to describe the unspeakable bond which links the heart of God with the souls He calls to be His own. It is not the love of compassion, nor even the stronger love expressed by the relationship of fatherhood, brotherhood and even motherhood, but it is the tie, above all others, which links two hearts in the exclusive affection which no other can share — the love of the bridegroom and the bride, the love which touches all human love with its inexpressible charm, and transfigures and glorifies the humblest lot and the hardest circumstances into a heavenly paradise.

This is the meaning of the Song of Solomon. This is the Old Testament climax of the series of figures that runs all the way from Eden to the Millennial throne. The opening picture of the Bible is a love song — two hearts, the one born out of the other, and then given back to it in perfect unison, the central figures of earth’s first Paradise. Next we have the story of Rebekah’s wooing and Isaac’s marriage, the great type of the heavenly Bridegroom sending to this far-off land for His chosen and exclusive bride. The beautiful idyll of Ruth and Boaz has the same figurative significance. The forty-fifth Psalm is David’s song of heavenly love and the divine Lover, and its tender call has reached many a Christian heart and called it to a heavenly betrothal, “Hearken O daughter, and consider! Forget also thy kindred and thy father’s house; so shall the King greatly desire thy beauty, for He is thy Lord and worship thou Him.”

This beautiful book is Solomon’s love song. Later prophets reecho its heavenly strains. Isaiah tells of our Maker who is our Husband. Jeremiah repeats the plaintive appeal, “I remember thee, the kindness of thy youth, the love of thine espousals, when thou wentest after me in the wilderness, in a land that was not sown.” Hosea tells of the higher experience, when the soul restored from its backslidings shall call Him Ishi, ‘my husband,’ no longer Baali, ‘my Lord,’ and He shall betroth us unto Him in righteousness, and we shall know the Lord.” Ezekiel vividly portrays the picture of the calling of the bride, “I passed by thee and thy time was the time of love, and I spread my skirt over thee and covered thy nakedness; yea, I sware unto thee and entered into a covenant with thee, saith the Lord God, and thou becamest mine.” John the Baptist introduces Christ as the Bridegroom, while he himself is only the friend of the bridegroom. Jesus takes up the figure Himself, and speaks of His days as the time when the bridegroom is with them, and of the days when He says that the bridegroom shall be taken away, and the waiting bride shall fast until His return; and, true to the figure, He commences His miracles at a marriage feast, turning the water into wine, as the type of the great purpose of His kingdom, to transform the earthly into the heavenly, and give to us not only the water of life but the wine of love.

His parables are as suggestive as His miracles. He tells of the Marriage Feast for the King’s son, and the Ten Virgins who went forth to meet the Bridegroom. Above all other New Testament writers, the apostle Paul catches the spirit of this exquisite figure and interprets the meaning of earthly affection by the heavenly reality. Speaking of the love of the husband and the wife he lifts our thoughts above the earthly type to our deeper union with the Lord, and with a depth and vividness of meaning that can scarcely be expressed in words and can only be understood by the heart that lies on the bosom of its Lord he says, “This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, and he is the Savior of the body. For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones. As is the love of the husband to the wife, even so Christ loved the church and gave Himself for it, that He might sanctify and cleanse it by the washing of water through the word; that He might present it unto Himself, a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle.”

So again speaking of our personal purity, the very ground on which he urges it is our physical union with the Lord. “Now the Lord is for the body and the body for the Lord… Know ye not that your bodies are the members of Christ?”

The climax of all this heavenly imagery is reached in the book of Revelation where the universe is summoned to gaze on the crowning spectacle of God’s love and power, the paragon of creation, redemption and grace, the wonder of angels, the delight of God. “Come hither” they exclaim as all eyes are turned to yonder vision of ineffable glory descending from the skies, resplendent with the light of unearthly jewels and shining with the glory of God, “Come hither and I will show you the Bride, the Lamb’s wife. And I heard as it were the voice of a great multitude, and as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of mighty thunderings saying, “Alleluia: for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth. Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honor to Him for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and His wife hath made herself ready. And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints. And he saith unto me, ‘Write. Blessed are they which are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb.’ And he saith unto me, ‘These are the true sayings of God.'”

Surely, beloved, no man can say that a subject that occupies so prominent and sublime a place in God’s holy Word and in the hopes of the future, is unworthy of our profoundest interest and our most reverent and earnest consideration!

In oriental countries the marriage pageant is the chief event and the story that lies back of it is of less importance, for often indeed the bridegroom and the bride never meet until for the first time he approaches her on her wedding day in all the splendor of her bridal robes, and, lifting the veil from her face, looks into her eyes. In our Christian civilization the marriage scene is the least important part of the entire proceedings. The love story of the heart and the tender and personal interest associated with the first acquaintance and ripening affection of wedded hearts after all the tests and triumphs of true love are over, this is of paramount importance. It is even so in the love story of the soul. Glorious, indeed, will be the hour when our love shall be crowned and the bride of the Lamb shall sit down by His side on His Millennial Throne. But far more important is the simple story of the call of the bride and the betrothal of the soul now to its everlasting Lord and lover.

It is of this we are chiefly to speak in the consideration of our fascinating theme, and may it indeed prove, through the power of the Holy Spirit, in the case of many who shall read these lines, the beginning of an everlasting love story that shall invest all time and all eternity with the infinite and heavenly charm.

First, let us endeavor to grasp the structure of this book and the form of this beautiful drama in its simple beauty. It is a love song of the gifted and glorious king of Israel in the days of his purity, when his heart was true to God and true to his single bride. The heroine of Canticles is known as Shulamith, or the daughter of Shulem which we know in Hebrew is the same as Shunem. I have never been able to resist the strong impression that she was the same maiden as we read of in connection with the closing days of David’s life, the fairest daughter of Israel that could be found in all the land, who was especially brought to the aged king to be the companion of his closing days, to cheer and cherish by her sweetness and brightness the last moments of his feeble and sinking life. We know that she was a daughter of Shunem. We know that she was so beautiful that she was selected for her surpassing loveliness. We know also that she was beloved of Adonijah, Solomon’s faithless brother, and because he asked that she might be his bride, Solomon became strangely indignant and ordered his execution, saying that he might as well have asked the kingdom. One can hardly understand this indignation, unless, back of it, lay a secret in Solomon’s heart of love to the fair Shulamite. However this may be, it matters comparatively little. We are enabled, however, from the book itself, to weave a very complete thread of romantic and most suggestive incidents into one of the most charming of oriental poems. The plan of the story is very simple and will be best understood by dividing the book into six sections, which we may call respectively:

First, THE WAITING DAYS, from chapter 1 to 2:7, which represent the bride as waiting in the palace in Jerusalem with her maidens while preparing for her marriage. This is occupied with a number of little incidents comprising a song from her maidens, a chorus in which she joins, and then her interview and conversation with her lover as he suddenly appears and closes the song with mutual words of love, in one of the gardens of the palace.

Second, THE WOOING DAYS, from chapter 1:8 to 2:5, containing the story of her wooing, told by her own lips in a little song to her maidens, in which she describes most beautifully, the first visit of her lover to her rustic home under the shadows of Lebanon, and then closes with a sad dream which followed his visit, in which it seemed to her as if she had lost his love, but at length she found him, welcomed him and brought him to her mother’s home with a love which determined never again to let him go. Each of these beautiful scenes close with the same simple refrain, “I charge you, O ye daughters of Jerusalem, by the roes, and by the hinds of the field, that ye stir not up, nor awake love till it please,” which is a strong poetic expression denoting the intensity of her love and calling upon all to be careful how they thoughtlessly awaken the fires that burn with so intense a fervor.

Third, WEDDING DAYS, from chapter 3:6 to 5:1, the scene of the marriage procession, the words of love from the bridegroom to the bride and the wedding feast with the welcome to the guests.

Fourth, TESTING DAYS, chapter 5:2 to 8:10. This is the story of the trials which followed this happy union; trials which began with her first failure, in her languor, self-indulgence and slowness to respond to the bridegroom’s call; followed by sorrow and bitter repentance, and many an indignity from the watchmen of the street as she sought in vain for her lost bridegroom. But all through the separation her heart is true to him and her testimony unfaltering. She tells the daughters of Jerusalem of his beauty and loveliness, and still testifies without the shadow of a doubt, “I am my beloved’s and he is mine.” At length her faithfulness is rewarded, her trials are ended, her beloved returns and meets her with words of unbounded affection, admiration and comfort, and her maidens look upon her with wondering delight as she appears before them with new beauty, “bright as the morning, fair as the moon, clear as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners,” and the scene closes with a still closer union and a more complete expression of her utter surrender to his will in the simple words, deeper than any she had yet expressed, “I am my beloved’s, and his desire is toward me” (7:10). It is not now, “My beloved is mine.” The selfishness even of her love is gone, and her one thought is to be his and to meet his every wish for her.

Fifth, The thought of this section is best expressed by the words “HOME LONGINGS.” It is the cry of her heart for her old home (8:2-4). This is not a selfish desire, nor merely a lonesome, homesick wish to be back in her mother’s house once more, nor to be absent from her beloved, but rather a wish to have him more wholly to herself out of the excitement and confusion of the city, and the causes that so often separate him from her, in the simple unbroken communion of her own home, and the days when he used to be ever by her side among the Galilean hills. It is the cry of a loving heart for constant, unbroken fellowship and separation from others unto him alone.

Sixth, Chapter 8:5-14. This is the HOME COMING, the beautiful picture of the fulfillment of her longing, the return to Galilee, the renewal of their plighted vows under the old trees and amid the old trysting scenes. Then comes her artless yet half artful intercession for her sisters and her brother, and that all dear to her may share in the blessing which she enjoys. The beautiful scene closes with the request of her bridegroom for a favor from her, and that is, that she will sing for him one of the songs which doubtless she had often sung in the days of old; and the poem closes with her last song, a sweet out-breathing of the love that longs for his presence, and that asks only for him in inseparable union, pointing forward in its deep spiritual application to the everlasting song and the undivided fellowship of the home above.

Such is the structure of this love story, and it is easy to see how much may lie back of it in the higher world of spiritual realities. Of course there is boundless room for extravagant and visionary application, but there is also abundant cause for sober, scriptural interpretation, and for lessons that touch the whole field of personal experience and Dispensational truth.

Jewish writers have been very fond of seeing in it the story of their race, and much that they have seen is doubtless true, perhaps all. Most truthfully and vividly does it recall the beginning of their history; waiting like her in the king’s palace in the time of Solomon’s magnificence and splendor, unequaled and apparently unlikely to be ever changed. The story of her wooing is the story of God’s loving call to ancient Israel, as He summoned them to come with Him to another land and accept Him as their heavenly Husband. The first sad dream of chapter 2 is applied to the dark days of the Babylonish captivity; the second and more terrible dream, and the longer separation of chapter 5, with all the wrongs received at the watchmen’s hands, has been more than fulfilled in the sad story of the Middle Ages and the sufferings of the Jewish nation for nearly eighteen hundred years. The reason of this is not hard to find in the confession of the bride. It was because he had knocked at Israel’s door and been rejected when He came to them as their Bridegroom in the days of His flesh. But He will appear to them once more, as he did to her, and, as in her case, so for them also, there will be the restoration to the old home once more, and amid the hills of Galilee and the scenes of Hebrew history will He renew with them His everlasting covenant and betroth them unto Himself forever, and Israel’s last song will be “the song of Moses and the Lamb.”

The application of this delightful allegory to the church of Christ is still more marked. She, too, had her waiting and her call to come out from the world and follow her Lord according to the beautiful imagery of chapter 2 verses 8-13, and with His call came a new springtime and an everlasting summer. She, too, had her first dark dream, perhaps during the sad days of His crucifixion and burial. She, too, had her spiritual betrothal and marriage to her Lord and went forth in Pentecostal power and apostolic purity in His name, and with all the fullness of His gifts and graces, and the fellowship of His love. But she, too, like Israel, has had her second and her longer sad dream of sorrow and separation, in the dark ages of error and corruption, which almost blotted out the church for a thousand years from existence. And she, too, has had her restoration and once more has begun to appear in the glory of His spiritual revealing, “fair as the moon, clear as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners”; and above all, like the fair bride, when restored to His spiritual fellowship her great longing and blessed hope is His personal coming and the restitution of all things which that coming is to bring, corresponding to the bride’s return to her Galilean home. And her sweetest song and the song the Bridegroom loves the best is that which every true heart is singing today, and which is the closing echo of the Bible itself, “Make haste, my beloved,” or, as the New Testament translates it, “Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly.”

But the song of Solomon has a very special application to the individual Christian.

We see in it the story of our call, conversion and justification. “Draw me and we will run after thee; the king has brought me into his chambers.” This is where we all began. “I am black but comely, O ye daughters of Jerusalem, black as the tents of Kedar, comely as the curtains of Solomon.” This is the striking picture of the soul’s justification. Sinful and unworthy, in ourselves, we yet are clothed in our Savior’s spotless righteousness, and “beautiful through His comeliness.” Our righteousness is not our own; but clothed in His merits and united to His person we are “even as He.”

We see the soul’s desire for a deeper intimacy with Jesus. “Tell me, O thou whom my soul loveth, where thou feedest, where thou makest thy flock to rest at noon, for why should I be as one that wandereth by the flocks of thy companions.” It is the cry of the hungry heart for the living bread, and of the tired spirit for the secret place of His presence and His rest. And He answers it by the revelation of His love, so that the happy heart can say, “I sat down under His shadow with great delight, and His fruit was sweet to my taste, He brought me into His banqueting house and His banner over me was love.”

The call to leave all and follow Him. This is more. The relation of Jesus to the disciples on the banks of Jordan brought them to His house to abide with Him that whole day. But there came another call, a little later, to leave all and follow Him forever. This is the call of the second scene in the Song of Solomon. “Rise up my love, my fair one and come away.” Happy they who promptly answered, “I will go.”

We see the soul a little reluctant to respond to so abrupt a call, and putting Him off a little while “until the day breathe” that is until the evening. But also it is followed by a bitter disappointment, and a sad and gloomy night, when she seeks her Lord long in vain, and at last is only too glad to find Him even on the streets, and bring Him to her home to be parted no more.

Next we see the soul’s marriage to the Lord, in the imagery of the third and fourth chapters.

This is the great spiritual mystery of grace, the union of the heart with Christ in the happy hour, when all has been yielded and the Holy Spirit comes to say “Thou shall call thy name Hephzibah and thy land Beulah, for the Lord delighteth in thee and thy land shall be married.”

Then come the testing days of the heart when faith and love are tried and even failures come to teach us deeper lessons and establish us in a place of strength that we never knew before. First He leaves His bride for a little, but it is only till the evening, and soon He returns with tenderest love. Next He comes at night to her door, but she is asleep and waits so long to open the door that He goes away again. Then comes the darkest of her trials. She seeks Him but she finds Him not. The watchmen of the street insult and mock her. But she is steadfastly faithful to her Lord. She declares to all His glory and His grace. She declares her own love to Him. At last he appears to her, and with words of tenderest affection rewards her constancy and love. And then she appears in a loveliness and glory she had never known before. Her trials have only deepened her life, and now she “looketh forth as the morning, fair as the moon, clear as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners.” And so wholly His has she become that her one testimony is, “I am by beloved’s, and His desire is toward me.” Such is the soul’s experience often even after it has come into full union with its Lord. A very slight unfaithfulness will often bring a long, sad separation and many a sorrow. It is a much more serious thing to disobey Christ after we have come into full union with Him than before. But even this sad failure is not irremediable. Out of these testings we come with an experience worth all it cost, and a consecration that can say without reserve, “I am my beloved’s, and want to meet His desire and satisfy His love to me.”

The later experiences of Shulamith have their counterpart in every true spiritual life. The longing to dwell apart with Him, the cry for His closer presence, the longing for home, especially for His blessed coming again, all these things are the ripening of the love-life of the heart and the preparation for His coming. The more we know Him spiritually, the more will we long to see Him face to face, and to be with Him where distance divides not, and temptation, sin and sorrow come no more.