Love’s Vigilance Rewarded
“It was but a little that I passed from them, but I found him whom my soul loveth: I hold him, and would not let him go, until I had brought him into my mother’s house, and into the chamber of her that conceived me.” — Song of Solomon iii. 4.
WHEN I look upon this great assembly of people, I think to myself, — there will be many here to whom these chapters that we have read out of Solomon’s Song will seem very strange. Of course they will; for they are meant for the inner circle of believers in the Lord. Jesus Christ. This sacred Canticle is almost the central Book of the Bible; it seems to stand like the tree of life in the midst of the garden of Eden, in the very centre of the Paradise of God. You must know Christ, and love Christ, or else many of the expressions in this Book will seem to you but as an idle tale.
The subject on which I am about to speak will be very much of the same character. Outsiders will not be able to follow me; but then we are coming to the communion table, so I must for a while forget the unsaved among my hearers, and think only of those who do know the secret of the Lord which is with them that fear him. To my mind, it is a very melancholy thought that there should be any who do not know the sweetest thing in all the world, the best and happiest thing beneath the stars, the joy of having Christ in their heart as the hope of glory. While I may seem to forget you, dear friends, for a while, I cannot really help remembering you all the time; and it is the earnest desire of my heart that while I am speaking of some of those delights which are enjoyed only by the people of God, you may begin to long for them; and I remind you that, when you truly long for them, you may rest assured that you may have them. Around the garden of the Lord there is no wall so high as to keep out one real seeking and trusting soul; and in the wall itself there is a gate that ever stands ajar, nay, that is ever wide open to the earnest seeker.
I am not going to try so much to preach a sermon as to talk out freely from my heart some of those delightful experiences which belong to the children of God. I want this service to be a time, not of carving meat, but of eating it; not of spreading tables, but of sitting at them, and feasting to the full on the bounteous provisions that our Lord has prepared for us.
I. First, before we actually come to our text, we may notice THREE PRELIMINARY STEPS IN THE SPOUSE’S PROGRESS.
The first one is implied in the words, “I love him.” She refers to her Beloved under the title of “Him whom my soul loveth.” Can you, dear friend, give the Lord Jesus that title? If he were to come here just now as he came to the Lake of Galilee, and pass along these crowded ranks, and say to each one of us, “Lovest thou me?” what would be your answer? I am glad that I speak to many whose answer would be, “Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee.” I can at this moment think of many reasons why I should love the Christ of Calvary, but I cannot think of one reason why I should not love him. If I turn to what I read about him in this blessed Book, it all makes me love him. If I recall what I have experienced of his grace in my heart, it all makes me love him. When I think of what he is, and what he did, and what he is doing, and what he will yet do, it all makes me love him. I am inclined to say to my heart, “Never beat again if thou dost not beat true to him.” It were better for me that I had never been born, than that I should not love one who is in himself so inconceivably lovely, who is, indeed, perfection’s self.
Yet there is one reason that rises above all others why you and I should love the Lord Jesus Christ; it is this, “He loved me, and gave himself for me.” It used to be said by the old metaphysicians that it was impossible for love not to be returned, in some measure or other. I do not think that statement is universally true; but I hope it is true concerning our Lord’s love to us and our heart’s love to him. If he has loved us with an everlasting love, if he loved us even when we were his enemies, and loved us so as to take upon himself our nature, — if this dear Son of God loved us so that he became man for our sakes, and, being found in fashion as a man, humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross, — oh! then, we must love him in return. We should be worse than the beasts that perish if, conscious of such love as this, we did not feel that it melted us, and that, being melted, our soul did not flow out in love to him alone! Can you stand at the cross-foot, and not kiss the feet of him who was wounded for your transgressions? Can you see him dead, and taken down from the cross, and not wish to wrap him in your fine linen, and bring your sweet spices to embalm his precious body? Can you see him risen from the grave, and not call him “Rabboni,” and long, as Mary did, to hold him by the feet? Can you, by faith, see him in our assemblies, saying, “Peace be unto you,” and not feel that you delight in him in your inmost soul? It cannot be; surely, it cannot be. We must and will say, and we feel that we may appeal to the Searcher of all hearts while we say it, “I love him, I do love him because he first loved me.”
Then, in the spouse’s progress, there came another step, “I sought him.” Notice how the chapter begins: “By night on my bed I sought him whom my soul loveth,” for love cannot bear to be at a distance from the loved one, love longs for communion, love will do anything to get at the object of its affection. Where there is true love to Jesus Christ, we cannot bear to be away from him; and since wo must be so in personal presence for a while, till the day break, and the shadows flee away, we long to be with him in heart, and to feel that ho also is with us in spirit according to his promise, “Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.”
“I sought him.” Can you put your finger on that sentence, and say, “That is true, too”? Have you been seeking him this Sabbath day? Are you coming to his table to-night seeking him? Were you at the Saturday night prayer-meeting, or at this morning’s early gathering, seeking him with his people? Or, in your private devotions, did you make a point of crying, “Lord, let me meet with thee, let me find thee”? If not, begin now; seek him with your whole heart, let your soul breathe out its burning desires after him.
“I sought him.” He is not far from any one of us. You sought him once, when you wore burdened with your sin, and then you found him. He cast that sin of yours into the depths of the sea; come and seek him again, and your fears, your doubts, your distresses of mind, shall be buried in the same deep grave.
So the spouse sings of her Beloved, “I sought him.”
Then comes in a little minor or mournful music, for the next clause is, “I sought him, but I found him not” The spouse is so sad about it that she tells out her woe twice, “I sought him, but I found him not.” Do you know that experience? I hope you are not realizing it at this time; but many of us have known what it is. If we have been indulging in any sin, of course we could not find him then. If we have been cold-hearted, like the spouse who sought him on her bed, like her we have not found him. We have had to rise, we have had to stir up ourselves to lay hold of him, or else we have not found him. You have known what it is to go to the public service of the sanctuary, where others have been fed, yet you have had to come away, and say, “There has not been a morsel for me.” Have you not even turned to the Bible, and to private prayer, and still you have had to say, “I sought him, but I found him not”? This is a very sad experience; but if it makes you sad, it will be good for you. Our Lord Jesus Christ would not have us think little of his company; and, sometimes, it is only as we miss it that we begin to appreciate the sweetness of it. If we always had high days and holidays, we might not be so thankful when our gala days come round.
I have even known some of Christ’s people get so pleased with the joy of his company that they have almost forgotten himself in the joy. If a husband gave his wife gold rings and ornaments, and she was so gratified with the presents that she took but little note of him, but only prized the jewels that he gave her, I can well understand what would be the jealousy of his heart. It may be that this is why your Lord hides his face, for you never know his value so much as when the darkness deepens, and the Star of Bethlehem shines not. When real soul-hunger comes on, and the Bread of heaven is not there, when you feel the pangs of the thirst of the spirit, and you are like Hagar in the wilderness, and cannot find the well of water, then will your Lord teach you his true value; and when you really know him, and know him better than you formerly knew him, then you shall no longer have to sigh, “I sought him, but I found him not,” but you shall change your dolorous ditty for the cheerful language of the text, “It was but a little that I passed from them, but I found him whom my soul loveth.”
So I have brought you back to the text; these are the three steps by which we have ascended to the holy gate, — first, “I love him;” next, “I sought him;” and then, “I found him not.”
II. Secondly, inside the text, there are THREE FURTHER STEPS: “I found him,” “I held him,” “I brought him into my mother’s house, and into the chamber of her that conceived me.”
This is the first of the second series of steps, “I found him” I do not wish to stand here, and speak for myself alone; but I want, beloved, that you should each one of you also say, “I love him,” “I sought him,” and now, “I have found him.” Notice what the spouse said, “I found him” She was not satisfied with finding anything else: “I found him.” If she had found her nearest and dearest friend, if the mother of whom she speaks had met her, it would not have sufficed. She had said, “I love him, I sought him,” and she must be able to add, “I found him.” Nothing but Christ consciously enjoyed can satisfy the craving of a loving heart which once sets out to seek the King in his beauty.
The city watchmen found the spouse, and she spoke to them; she enquired of them, “Saw ye him whom my soul loveth?” She did not sit down, and say to any one of them, “O watchman of the night, thy company cheers me! The streets are lonely and dangerous; but if thou art near, I feel perfectly safe, and I will be content to stay awhile with thee.” Nay, but she leaves the watchmen, and still goes along the streets until she finds him whom her soul loveth. I have known some, who love the Lord, to be very happy while the preacher is proclaiming the truth to them; but they have stopped with the preacher, and have gone no further. This will never do, dear friends; do not he content to abide with us, who are only watchmen, but go beyond us, and seek till you find our Master. I should groan in heart, indeed, if any of you believed simply because of my word, as if it were my word alone that led you to believe, or if you should look merely to me for anything you need for your soul. In myself, I am nothing, and I have nothing; I only watch that, if I can, I may lead you to my Lord, whose shoe-latchets I am not worthy to unloose. O you who love Christ, go beyond the means of grace! Go beyond ordinances, go beyond preachers, go beyond even the Bible itself, into an actual possession of the living Christ; labour after a conscious enjoyment of Jesus himself, till you can say with the spouse, “I found him whom my soul loveth.” It is good to find sound doctrine, for it is very scarce nowadays. It is good to learn the practical precepts of the gospel, it is good to be in the society of the saints; but if you put any of these in the place of communion with your Lord himself, you do ill. Never be content till you can say, “I found him.” Dear souls, did you ever find him? Have you yet found him? If you have not, keep on seeking, keep on praying, till at last you can say, “Eureka! I have found him whom my soul loveth. Jesus is indeed mine.”
What is meant by the words, “I found him”? Well, I think a soul may say, “I found him,” in the sense employed in the text, when first of all it has a clear view of his person. My Beloved is divine and human, the Son of God and yet the Son of man. My Beloved died, yet ho is alive again. My Beloved was on earth, but he is now in heaven, and ho will shortly come again. I want thus to find him myself, and I want each one of you to do the same. Picture him on Calvary, see him risen from the dead. Try, if you can, not so much by imagination as by faith, to behold him as he now sits at the right hand of the Majesty on high, where harps unnumbered tune his praise. Yet even there he bears the wounds he received for us here below. How resplendent shine the nail-prints! The marks of his death on earth are the glory of his person above.
“This is the Man, th’ exalted Man,
Whom we unseen adore;
But when our eyes behold his face,
Our hearts shall love him more.”
Let your soul picture him so plainly that you can seem to see him, for this will be a part of your finding him.
But that will not be enough; you must then get to know that he is present with you. We cannot see him, but yet he that walketh amidst the golden candlesticks is, in spirit, in this house of prayer at this moment. My Master, thou art here. There is no empty seat at the table left to be filled by thee, nor do we expect to see thee walking among us, in thy calm majesty, clothed with thy seamless garment down to thy feet; and we do not want to see thee. Our faith realizes thee quite as well as sight could do, and we bless thee that thou hearest us as we speak to thee. Thou art invisible, yet assuredly present; thou art looking into our faces, thou art delighting in us as objects of thy redeeming love. Thou dost especially remember that thou didst die for us; and, as a mother gazes upon the babe for whom she has endured so much, or as a shepherd looks upon the sheep that he has brought back from its long wanderings, so art thou now looking upon each one of thy loved ones. If, dear friends, you can get that thought fully into your minds, that Christ is really here in our midst, you can then each one begin to say, “I have found him.”
But you want more than that, namely, to feel that he loves you, loves you as if there were nobody else for him to love, loves you even as the Father loves him. That is a daring thing to say, and I should never have said it if he had not first uttered it; but he says, “As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you.” Can you comprehend how each one of the blessed Trinity loves each of the others, and especially how the Father loves the Son? Even so does Jesus Christ love you, my believing brother, my believing sister. Note that he loves you; it is not only that he did love you, and died for you, but he still loves you. He says to you, individually, “I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands.” Look at the nail-print, that is his memorial, his forget-me-not, and by it he says to thee, —
“Forget thee I will not, I cannot, thy name
Engraved on my heart doth for ever remain:
The palms of my hands whilst I look on I see
The wounds I received when suffering for thee.”
Now have you not found him? If you have pictured him to your mind’s eye, if you are certain of his presence with you, and then, above all, if you are fully assured of his love, you can say, “I have found him.”
If you can in truth say that, I hope there will come with it this one other thing, namely, an exceeding great joy. I cannot speak to you as I would wish; my words cannot express the joy of heart which I feel in knowing that I have found him, that he is with me, and that he has loved me with an everlasting love. I shall never understand, even in heaven, why the Lord Jesus should ever have loved me. I can say to Jesus what David said in his lamentation over Jonathan, “Thy love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women.” There is no love like it, and why was it fixed upon me? Have you never felt that you could go in, like David, and sit before the Lord, and say, “Who am I, O Lord God? and what is my house, that thou hast brought me hitherto?” Yet wonderful as it is, it is true; Jesus loves you, loves you now at this very moment. Do you not rejoice in it? I assure you that, in the least drop of the love of Christ when it is consciously realized, there is more sweetness than there would be in all heaven without it. Talk of bursting barns, overflowing wine-vats, and riches treasured up; these give but a poor solace to the heart. But the love of Jesus, this is another word for heaven; and it is a marvel that even while we are here below we should be permitted to enjoy a bliss beyond what the angels know, for —
“Never did angels taste above
Redeeming grace and dying love,”
but that joy is ours if we can truly say, “I have found him.”
If you have come as far as that, — and if you have not, may God help you to this point right speedily, — come to the table of your Lord. You are indeed his children, so you have a right to come. Hear the King’s invitation, “Eat, O friends; drink, yea, drink abundantly, O beloved.” These joys are not merely for some of the Lord’s people, but for all his saints; then, stand not back, but come and feast on the rich provision of love divine.
Now we come to the second step. The spouse says, “I held him.” This is a deeper experience than the former one; “I held him,” means more than “I found him.” Sometimes, Jesus comes to his children, and manifests himself very sweetly to them; but they behave to him in an unseemly manner, and soon he is gone. I have known him reveal himself to his people most delightfully, but they have grown cold, and wayward, and foolish, and he has been obliged to go away from them. When you get to the top of the mountain, it needs great grace to keep there. I do not find it difficult to get into communion with Christ, but I confess that I do not find it so easy to maintain that communion. So that, if you have found him, do as the spouse says that she did, “I held him.”
How are we to hold Christ? Well, first, let us hold him by our heart’s resolve. If now we have him near us, let us lovingly look him in the face, and say, “My Lord, my sweet, blessed Lord, how can I let thee go? My all in all, my heart’s Lord and King, how can I let thee go? Abide with me, go not from me.” Hold him by your love’s resolve, and it shall be as chains of gold to fasten him to you. Say to him, “My Lord, wilt thou go away from me? See how happy thou hast made me; a glimpse of thy love has made me so blest that I do not envy the angels before thy throne; wilt thou take that joy away from me by taking thyself away? Why didst thou give me a taste of thy love if thou dost not mean to give me more? This little has but made me out of liking for all things else; thou hast spoilt me now for all my former joy. O tarry with me, my Master, else am I unhappy indeed!” Further say to him, “Lord, if thou go, thy chosen one will be unsafe. There is a wolf prowling about; what will thy poor lamb do without thee, O mighty Shepherd? There are cruel adversaries all around seeking my hurt; how can I live without thee? Wilt thou deliver thy turtle-dove over to the cruel fowler who seeks to slay her? Be that far from thee, O Lord! Therefore, abide with me.” Tell him how you will sorrow if he goes away.
“’Tis paradise if thou art here,
If thou depart, ’tis hell.”
“Nothing can revive my spirit if thou be gone from me. Oh, stay with me, stay with me, I beseech thee, most blessed Lord!” As long as you can find arguments for his staying, Christ does not want to go from you. His delights are with the sons of men, and ho is happy in the society of those whom he has purchased with his precious blood. Keep on giving your reasons why he should remain with you, and so hold him; be bold enough even to say to him, “I will not let thee go,” Get you to Jacob’s boldness when he said to the Angel of the covenant, “I will not let thee go except thou bless me;” but go even beyond that, do not put in any “except” at all, but say, “I will not let thee go, for I cannot be blest if thou art gone from me.”
Further, brethren, hold him by making him your all in all. He will never go away if you treat him as he should be treated. Yield up everything to him, be obedient to him, be willing to suffer for him, grieve not His Holy Spirit, crown him, extol him, magnify him, keep on singing his praises, for so will you hold him. Renounce all else for him; for he sees that you truly love him when you count all things but dross for his dear sake. He says, “I remember thee, the kindness of thy youth, the love of thine espousals, when thou wentest after me in the wilderness.” Those were the days when some of you could brook a father’s frown for the sake of Christ’s love, when you could have given up your situation and all your prospects in life to follow Jesus, it was then that he delighted in you; and in proportion as you break your idols, put away your sins, and keep your heart chaste and pure for him alone, you shall abide in his love. Yea, and you shall get deeper and deeper into it till what was a stream up to your ankles shall soon be breast-deep, and, by-and-by, shall be waters to swim in. Christ and you cannot fully agree unless you walk as he would have you walk, in careful holiness and earnest service for him. “Can two walk together, except they be agreed?” And is there anything in this vile world that is fit to stand in rivalry with him? Is there any gain, is there any joy, is there any beauty, that can be compared with his gain, his joy, his beauty? Let each of us cry, “Christ for me. Go, harlot-world; come not near even the outside of my door. Go thou, for my heart is with my Lord, and he is my soul’s chief treasure.” If you will talk like that, you will hold him fast till you have your heart’s desire, and bring him to your mother’s house.
Hold him, too, by a simple faith. That is a wonderful hold-fast. Say to him, “My Lord, I have found thee now, and I rejoice in thee; but still, if thou hidest thy face from me, I will still believe in thee. If I never see a smile from thee again till I see thee on thy throne, yet will I not doubt thee, for my heart is fixed, not so much upon the realization of thy presence, as upon thyself, and thy finished work. Though thou slay me, yet will I trust in thee.” Ah! then he will not go away from you; you can hold him in that way; but if you begin to put your trust in enjoyments of his presence instead of in himself alone, it may be that he will take himself away from you in order to bring you back to your old moorings, so that, as a sinner, you may trust the sinner’s Saviour, and trust in him alone.
One word more before we leave this point. The only way to hold Christ is to hold him by his own power. I smiled to myself as I read my text, and tried to make it all my own: “I held him, and would not let him go.” I thought to myself, the spouse said of her Bridegroom that she would not let him go; and shall I ever say to my Lord that I will not let him go? He is the King of kings, the omnipotent Jehovah; can I hold him? He is the mighty God, and yet a poor puny worm like myself says, “I would not let him go.” Can it be really so? Well, the Holy Ghost says that it is, for he guided the pen of the writer of this Song when he wrote, “I held him, and would not let him go.” Think of poor Jacob, who, when the angel did but touch him, felt his sinews shrink directly, yet ho said, “I will not let thee go.” And I, a poor trembling creature, may hold the Omnipotent himself, and say to him, “I will not let thee go.” How is that wonder to be accomplished? I will tell you. If Omnipotence helps you to hold Omnipotence, why, then, the deed is done! If Christ, and not you alone, holds Christ, then Christ is held indeed, for shall he vanquish his own self? No, Master, thou couldst slay death, and break the old serpent’s head, but thou canst not conquer thine own self; and if thou art in me, I can hold thee, for it is not I, but Christ in me, that holdeth Christ, and will not let him go. This is the power which enables us, with the apostle, to say, “I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
The next step is described in the words “I brought him.” With this we finish: “I brought him into my mother s house, and into the chamber of her that conceived me.” And where, I pray you, beloved, is our mother’s house? I do not believe in any reverence for mere material buildings; but I have great reverence for the true Church of the Living God. The Church is the house of God, and the mother of our souls. It was under the ministry of the Word that most of us were born to God, it was in the assembly of the saints that we heard the message which first of all quickened us into newness of life, and we may well be content to call the Church of Christ our mother, since our elder Brother — you know his name, — when one said to him, “Behold, thy mother and thy brethren stand without, desiring to speak with thee,” pointing to his disciples answered, “Behold, my mother, and my brethren. For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother.” Surely, where Jesus chooses to call the assembly of the faithful by the sacred name of mother, we may rightly do the same.
And we love the Church, which is our mother. I do hope that all the members of this church love the whole Church of God, and also have a special affection for that particular part of it in which they were born for God. It would be unnatural — and grace is never unnatural, though it is supernatural, — it would be unnatural not to love the place where we were born into the heavenly family. I do not know, and never shall know on earth the man who was the means of my conversion, I may know him when I get to heaven; but if he is still living anywhere in this world, God bless him! And I know that many of you would say the same of the outward instrumentality which was used as the means of blessing to you; and you will say the same, will you not, of all the brotherhood of which some of us are but the spokesmen and representatives? We love the Church of God. Well, then, whenever we find our Beloved, we have to hold him, and not let him go, and then to bring him down to the house of our mother, and to the chamber of her that conceived us.
How can you bring Christ to his Church? Partly, you can bring him by your spirit. There is a wonderful power about a man’s spirit, even though he does not speak a word. Silent worshippers can contribute very greatly to the communion of saints. I know some brethren, — I will not say that any of them are here now, — but I have known some brethren whose very faces dispirit and discourage one, whose every movement seems to make one feel anything but spiritual. But I know others of whom I can truly say that it is always pleasant to me to get a shake of their hands, and to have a look from their eyes. I know that they have been with Jesus, for there is the very air of saintliness about them; I do not mean sanctimoniousness, that is a very different thing. In the old pictures, the painters used to put a halo round the head of a saint, — a most absurd idea; but I do believe that there is a real spiritual halo continually surrounding the man who walks with God.
If you, dear friend, have really found Christ, and bring him with you into the assembly, you will not be the man who will criticize, and find fault, and quarrel with your neighbour because he does not give you enough room in the pew. You will not be the person to pick holes in other people’s coats; but you will be very considerate of others. As for yourself, anything will do for you, and anywhere will do for you, for you have seen the Beloved. You want other people to get as much good as they can; you are no longer selfish; how can you be, when you have found him whom your soul loveth? And now your poor brother need not be very choice in the selection of his words; if he will only talk about Jesus, you will be quite satisfied; if his accents should be a little broken, you will not mind that. So long as you feel that he wishes to extol your Lord, that will be enough for you.
So, in this manner, you will in spirit bring the Beloved to your mother’s house, to the chamber of her that conceived you.
But, dear friend, it will also be a happy thing if you are able to talk about your Lord, for then you can bring him to the Church with your words. Those of us who are called to preach the Word have often to cry unto the Lord to help us to bring Christ into the assembly by our words, — though, indeed, the words of any human language are but a poor conveyance for the Christ of God. Oh, let the King, my blessed Master, ride in the chariot of angelic song, and not in the lumbering waggon of my poor sermons! I long to see him flying on the wings of the wind, and not in the car of my feeble language; yet has he come to you many a time that way, and you have been glad. Let him come as he will, if he will but come, it is our delight to bring him into our mother’s house, into the chamber of her that conceived us. Therefore, dear friends, each one of you in turn, as you are able, talk to your brother and to your sister, and say, “I have found him whom my soul loveth.” You know that, when Samson killed the lion, he said nothing about it; it would have been a great feat for anyone else to boast of, but Samson could kill a lion any day, so he did not think much of doing that; but when he afterwards found a swarm of bees and honey in the carcase of the lion , he took some of it and began to eat, and carried a portion of it to his father and mother. So, if ever you find sweetness and preciousness in Christ, the true strong One, be sure that you carry a handful of the honey to your friends, and give portions to those for whom otherwise nothing might be prepared.
Thus hold Christ fast, and bring him to your mother’s house by your spirit and by your words. f
But if, alas! you feel that you cannot speak for Christ, then, beloved, bring him by your prayers. Do pray, especially at these communion seasons, that the King himself will come near, and feast his saints to-day. Ask him not only to bless you, but to bless all his saints, for you are persuaded that they all love him better than you do, and that they all want him as much as you do, and that they will all praise him even more than you do if he will but come and manifest himself to them. In this way, each one of you, as you come to the house of prayer, and to the place of fellowship, will be a real accession to our spiritual force, and we shall seem to get nearer and nearer to our Master as the house fills with loving worshippers who have found him, and held him, and brought him here.
Now may we find all this to be especially true as we gather around the table! The Lord be with you all, for his dear name’s sake! Amen.