Song of Solomon i. 2
"Thy Love is Better than Wine"
by John Dickie
A MEDITATION ON THE OPENING WORDS OF THE SONG OF SOLOMON.
THE first verse seems to be no part of the song itself, but to be a brief descriptive title prefixed to it. And how suitable it is. Here we have what is truly "the song of songs;" that is, the most excellent of songs. For this mode of expression is a common Hebrew form of the superlative. Thus we have "slave of slaves," in Gen. ix. 25, to express the most abject of slavery. "Ornament of ornaments," in Ezek. xvi. 7, means most excellent ornaments. Similarly, "heaven of heavens," "God of gods," "Lord of lords," "King of kings." And is not this, indeed, "the song of songs" to every heart that has been attuned to its seraphic music? None but such can truly sing it, or ever catch its sublime but hidden harmonies (Rev. xiv. 3). Other songs are said to be sweet (Ezek. xxxiii. 32), but this is the sweetest of them all, yea, even of those that God himself has sung in the ear of man. A song is spoken of as an expression of joy (Ps. cxxxvii. 3), and is an inciter to further joy; but what theme can be so inspiring to a believing heart as the love and the loveliness of Jesus. A song is also a vehicle of praise, and the world's heroes have ever coveted to have their names enshrined in song; but who is so worthy of a song as is the Lamb, and who has ever been so loved and sung as Jesus is, too feebly indeed by the church on earth, but, oh, how rapturously by the church in glory?" Therefore my heart greatly rejoiceth, and with my song will I praise him" (Ps. xxviii. 7).
O that the church were more frequently and more rapturously engaged in the praises of her Lord; and though multitudes might mock, as on the day of Pentecost, yet assuredly, many who are weary of the world's vanities, and half heart-broken with the world's disappointments, would be provoked to ask the reasons for a joy so unusual, and perhaps might be induced to join the song. So then,—
"Sing as ye pass along,
With joy and wonder sing;
Till sinners learn the song.
And own your Lord their King:
Till converts join you as you go.
And make a growing heaven below."
And this song is said to be Solomon's, or rather of Solomon, meaning by this, that it is of, or about Solomon, that is, the true and heavenly Solomon, the Prince of Peace. True indeed, King Solomon, the son of David, was the inspired author of it; but we prefer to regard these words as setting before us the great burden of the church's song. And of whom else shall the Bride make songs, but of the Bridegroom; who else is worthy save only the Lamb that has been slain?
The song really begins with verse second— "Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth." And what an amazing prayer is this! A kiss is the most tender expression of the most tender love. Fervent affection, in its melting moments, cannot more tenderly express itself. So fell the aged father of the prodigal on the neck of his beloved son, and, with bowels yearning over the recovered one, he tenderly kissed him. Of all the signs of joy and welcome in that house that day, not one of them spoke more eloquently of the old man's love, than did that tender kiss. And so, too, with the kiss of betrothal. Yet it is nothing less than this that will satisfy the love-longings of the church, and of the individual believer. Not only Christ's love she longs for, but his most tender love; not only his most tender love, but also its most tender manifestations. For love were no true love, if it could be contented with the coldness of the beloved object; nay, the more tenderly it loves, the more it sighs for a return. And let us put three thoughts together, that we may better understand the magnitude of his grace, who not only permits, but inspires the wondrous cry. Let us remember who it is that asks this, "behold I am vile." Let us remember who it is of whom this boon is asked— it is of him who is "the brightness of the Father's glory and the express image of his person." Let us along with these consider the greatness of the blessing asked; and we shall not fail to be filled with adoring wonder at the greatness of his grace, who not only loves to love us, but loves to be beloved by us. For after all, it is his love and not our own that we must ever think of. Our love at best is
but the faintest, feeblest echo of his love. And if we feel within us the stirrings of a strong desire for the nearest, closest fellowship with him, this is only because he has stirred up these longings in our hearts. And he has stirred them up, because he delights to gratify them. Wherever, by his Spirit, he has prompted the wish, as by his word he has suggested the prayer, it is that he may have the joy of answering it; and we the joy of having it answered. Therefore, O sorely longing soul, who hungerest and thirstest after fellowship with thy Lord, but darest scarcely hope that such a blessing can be open to a soul so utterly unworthy as thyself; take the very ardour of thy longings as a proof that thou wrongest the grace of his most gracious heart, and raise thy believing cry that he kiss thee with the kisses of his mouth, assured of this, that in granting thee thy desire, his joy will be greater far than thine.
And it is kisses that are asked, not kiss. For the sweetness of Divine communion never satiates. The more we have of God's presence, the more we desire it; and one manifestation of the Saviour's love only makes us the more vehemently long for more.
What knowest thou, O my soul, of these love-kisses of thy blessed Lord? Covet earnestly beyond all gifts, this best of all his gifts. One hour with Jesus will make thee grow more in the true knowledge of him, than a long lifetime's study in books, and will fill thee with a joy that is utterly unspeakable. Only the happy soul that is kissed by Jesus can know the rapture, but he cannot explain the joy to others. Such a precious season did Jonathan Edwards enjoy when riding alone through the woods and musing on the glories of his Saviour. At length, so affected did he become, that unable to set in the saddle, he had to dismount and recline for a while on a grassy bank, weeping for joy, and swallowed up with the holy ineffable rapture, for he was "kissed with the kisses of his mouth." So, too, was John Flavel kissed, when, as is recorded by him, he was rapt away amid his meditations, till he lost the consciousness of outward objects, and on recovering it, found himself lying dabbled with his own blood. And many, many believing souls since Paul, have, like him, been caught up into the third heaven, whether in body, or whether out of it, they could scarcely tell, being overcome by "the kisses of his mouth." And just as really, though in gentler methods, have most of the Lord's little ones been kissed; sometimes in the closet, sometimes in the sanctuary, sometimes on the bed of sickness. And oh, what strength, what joy it gives a soul! My soul, be this thy constant cry, "Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth."
"So glows thy love within this frame,
That, touched with keenest fire;
My whole soul kindles in the flame
Of one intense desire.
To be in thee, and thou in me
Still pressing closer nigher."
And she gives a reason for her ardent prayer, "thy love is better than wine." Who that has ever known it would compare it with aught beside? "THY love," she says. She had just said "let HIM kiss me," as if speaking of one who was at a distance; but now she says "THY love," as if speaking to one beside her. And it is ever so with a lively saint. The Lord may not be realized as near when his exercise begins, but the slightest exercise of soul suffices to recover the joy of his presence. And it is " Thy LOVE " that she boast of. Oh, these little words are easily pronounced, and represent but little to the careless utterer of them; but to the thoughtful worshipper, enjoying in some measure what he speaks of, they express realities greater than heaven and earth, endless as eternity, and precious above the power of angels or of men to estimate. What a blessed portion for a soul to rest in as its own for ever! True heart-love is the greatest gift that one being can bestow upon another; but what shall we say of the love of him who himself is LOVE incarnate. What can he withhold from those from whom he has not withheld his heart? And yet, unworthy as thou art, if thou acceptest it, as he offers it, great though it be, the whole shall be thine for ever. Yes, all that lies between the highest height and the lowest depth of the uncomprehended and incomprehensible love of Jesus, shall rest upon thee. For his is no partial love. It is the love of his whole heart and his whole soul (Jer. xxxii. 41). It is a love like that of God the Father for the Son (John xv. 9). No wonder, then, that saints on earth aspire to join their feeble whispers to the thundering chorus of the saints in glory, "Unto him that loved us be glory and dominion for ever and ever" (Rev. i. 5, 6).
Oh, then, my soul, if thou art "beloved of God" (Rom. i. 7), "set apart for himself" (Ps. iv. 3), what hast thou to do among the husks that befit the swine? Why turnest thou in restlessness from one creature to another, seeking from them what no creature has to give thee? Thou art not for creatures, but for Jesus; let his love satisfy thee, yea "satiate thee with fatness." Bid the creature farewell for ever; for he, who for thy sake denied an interfering mother and officious brothers (Matt. xii. 46-50), wishes thee also to forget, for his sake, even "thine own people and thy father's house" (Ps. xlv. 10). And if, in thy service to him, it be needful for thee to take the world's things into thy hands, watch and pray— pray and watch lest they steal into thy heart, for that must be kept for Jesus only.
"Thy love is better than wine."— Wine is one of the great temporal gifts of God; but what are all earthly luxuries, even to the soul that finds its solace in them, compared with the love of Jesus to a heart that knows it! "I have had more pleasure this morning," said Brainerd on his death-bed, "than all the drunkards in the world enjoy, if it were all extracted." Wine cheers the heart (Judges ix. 13), even to the pitch of exuberant mirth (Eccles. x. 19); but what wine ever cheered a downcast soul like this wine of the kingdom? Wherefore "give this drink unto him that is ready to perish, and this wine unto those that be of heavy hearts: let him drink and forget his poverty and remember his misery no more" (Prov. xxxi. 6, 7). Art thou weak and languid, and is duty a burden? This is the wine which God hath sent thee, that such as be faint in the wilderness may drink (2 Sam. xvi. 2). Nay, my brother, make conscience of using it, for there is no room for languid loiterers in God's busy harvest-field; and it is thy sin if thou art weak and sorrowful, seeing that God hath provided this wine for thy refreshment. Be sure then to take conscience to task, whether or not you have been using the Physician's prescribed medicine.
But while it is the believer's privilege and duty to drink of the wine of his Saviour's love, that thereby his heart may be cheered, his affections stimulated, and his strength braced for his service of labour or of suffering, let us never forget to note, that the very word that thus comforts, contains within itself a powerful guard against the abuse of it. And our deceitful hearts need this guard; for so treacherous are they, that they can turn the very truth of God's grace and Christ's love into a license for fleshly liberty. To help us over this abuse, let us keep before our minds the fact, that love, tender love, is always jealous; not, indeed, in the bad sense of being unreasonably suspicious, but in the good sense of being intolerant of a rival. True love cannot endure to share with others. It gives an undivided heart, but it looks for, it demands, an undivided heart in return. It will not submit to have only a corner in a heart which reserves its other corners for its other lovers. No; it must have the whole— or none. The devil, the world, and the flesh, like the harlot at the judgment-seat of Solomon, may be content to take a part, but God, like the true mother of the child, must have the whole or none. His love is jealous love, because it is true and pure. His very name is "Jealous:" He is the "Jealous God" (Exod. xxxiv. 14). In the preceding context where he thus speaks of himself, he had revealed his character as "the Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious" (verses 5, 6, 7); and thus, so far from his jealousy being an abatement of his love, it is the perfect proof of it. Even as "our God," he "is a consuming fire" (Heb. xii. 29). And we shall see that this expression refers to his jealousy, if we turn to the words in Deut. iv. 24, from which the quotation is made, "the Lord thy God is a consuming fire, even a jealous God." He cannot take pleasure in a heart that does not choose to be wholly his; but loathes the lukewarm love, and is ready to spue the half-hearted lover out of his mouth (Rev. iii. 16). We read of Israel of old, that "they provoked him to anger with their high places, and moved him to jealousy with their graven images; so that God was wroth, and greatly abhorred Israel" (Ps. lxxviii. 58, 59). And we see from 2 Tim. iii. 1—5 that there is as much danger as ever of the same awful sin; for while there may be the form of godliness, there may be also the love of self, the love of money, the love of pleasure, above the love of God. O my soul, be jealous over thyself with a godly jealousy, for thou hast to do with one whose holy love makes him a jealous God!
"Thy love is letter than wine."— Who is it that says so? Who but only a renewed soul? Christ's gifts may be prized by others, but Christ's love will be valued only by those who have been born again. If it be so, then these words on the lips of all who truly use them are
not only a fervent commendation of Christ's love, but also a confession of the speaker's own. For where we do not cherish love ourselves, we care but little for their love in return. Wilt thou, then, O downcast disciple! who mournest thy little love for thy Saviour, and who sometimes darest scarcely think that thou lovest him at all, wilt thou steadily look at this fact, and perhaps it may comfort thee a little. Think not, for the present, on how much or how little thou feelest the stirrings of love in thy heart towards the Lord Jesus; but say rather what value thou settest on his whole-hearted love for thee. We are not speaking of his gifts, of his heaven, of his glory; but what is thy true estimate of the love of his heart? How fervently dost thou desire its fullest enjoyment; and if thou canst say but little of the blessedness of that, how much canst thou say about the sorrow of wanting it. Ah! be sure of this, that thy genuine estimate of the preciousness of the love of Jesus is indirectly a measure of thy true heart-love to him. For Christ's love is to his people— ALL; but, to all besides, the love itself, apart from its gifts,is— NOTHING.
But while we desire to rejoice in the free, full, holy love of Christ, let us seek also to feel its sweet constraints. Let "the love of Christ constrain us." Let its enjoyment bind us to his service with its strongest cords. True faith will always have this issue. A selfish, earthly heart may, in its own coarse, fleshly way, abuse its notions of the love of Christ; but the true enjoyment of the love of Christ, of the kisses of his mouth, no selfish heart ever abused, for it never enjoyed them. A loving, gracious, regenerated heart is needed to understand, to believe, to enjoy Christ's love. As it is only the truly holy who can have a relish for God's holiness, so it is only the truly loving who can appreciate the holy love of Jesus. And the same regeneration, which quickens a soul to understand, to believe, and to enjoy it, also binds it to his Person and his service for ever, with its ear nailed to his door-post.
And no experience humbles a soul in a right condition like this amazing love of Jesus. While only the heart-broken can enjoy it, it breaks the broken heart still farther, thereby preparing it for farther joy. "Methinks," says Payson, "I could bear his anger, but his love cuts me to the heart." To feel that one deserves wrath, only wrath, wrath to the uttermost, while one is receiving love, only love, love to the uttermost— oh, this breaks down the penitent as nothing else can! Let us set our hearts steadfastly to seek more of this true penitence, and of the penitent's true comfort, that we may be emptied completely of all confidence in the flesh, that we may glory only in the Lord, and that we may henceforth find all our happiness in the kisses of his mouth, and in the lowly service which these strengthen us to yield.
The more I love thee, I the more reprove
A heart so lifeless and so slow to love;
Till, on a deluge of thy mercy tossed,
I plunge into that sea— and there— am lost."