Song Of Solomon i. 3
"Thy Name Is As Ointment Poured Forth"
by John Dickie
IT was the custom of the Jews to anoint their persons frequently; indeed, to an extent that, in a climate like ours, we can scarcely sympathize with. This common unction was used for personal adornment, for refreshment to the healthy, and for healing to the sick. So constant was its use, that its omission was a sign of mourning (Dan. x. 3); and to neglect it to a guest, was a noticeable slight (Luke vii. 46). Whatever else the traveller omitted to take with him, he rarely forgot the oil (Gen. xxviii. 18; Luke x. 34), which, in that hot climate, was, to a traveller, less a luxury than a necessary. In the process of time, simple oil came to be rarely used even by the poor; and as for the rich, their ointments were exquisitely perfumed, and very costly (John xii. 6). Besides this common and daily unction, there was also a holy anointing, which was set apart to God's special service; and through it, prophets frequently, the high-priests always, and kings generally, entered on their functions. The holy oil used for the priests was of a peculiar composition, and was not to be imitated on pain of death. All this typified the glorious One, the Christ, or the anointed, as the word means—set apart to be the Prophet, Priest, and King, and fitted for each of his offices by being filled with "all the fullness of the Godhead bodily."
On his solitary head, was emptied the whole vessel of God's anointing oil; for "God giveth not the Spirit by measure unto him" (John iii. 34). So copious was his unction, that the holy ointment, poured upon his head, flowed down to the skirts of his garment (Ps. cxxxiii. 2). And so, in the text here, his "good ointments" mean his unequalled spiritual excellences of every kind. It is the same excellences which the admiring bride sets forth in detail, under a different set of figures, in chap. v. 10-16. He was "full of grace and truth;" and these good ointments are the manifestations of the grace and the truth with which he was filled, and through which he displayed his glory, the glory as of the only-begotten of the Father.
And the savour of these good ointments means faith's delighted apprehension of the glories of Jesus. Oh, how unspeakably precious is he to the soul that can smell this savour! Nothing on earth can be compared with him; nay, among all the shining ones in glory, there is none like Jesus. "Whom have I in heaven but thee?" "Oh black angels, but white, white Jesus!" cries dear old Rutherford. How sweetly did all his garments smell of myrrh, and aloes, and cassia, when he first came to us in our soul's sorest anguish! and lifting from the earth, the poor heart-broken one whom the stern law of God had smitten down, he wiped our tears, and smiled us almost to the gates of heaven, saying, "Son, daughter, be of good cheer, thy sins are forgiven thee." How sweet, too, his perfume, as we trace his path of holy love through the gospel story, and rejoice to find that the Christ of Nazareth, and Bethany, and Calvary; the Christ of Peter, and John, and the Magdalene; the Christ of the sinful and the miserable in Judea of old, is the very Christ of our own daily life. How sweet the smell, when faith goes back once more on its oft-repeated visits to the Cross, to see the holy Alabaster-box broken into pieces there, while out of it flows forth unhindered all the grace that is in the heart of God. Blessed grace, and blessed box, and blessed breaking! the restraint of such a treasury of love straitened and pained his heart, till it got vent to flow (Luke xii. 50). How sweet the perfume, as we travel from the cross to the sepulcher, to see the empty tomb and the folded napkin, and to realize once more that, He who died for us in love, now liveth for- ever, having spoiled our cruel spoilers, and gone up with the shout of a victor. How sweet his perfumes as faith sees him on the throne of heaven, and hopes shortly to see him face to face. "Ointment and perfume rejoice the heart" (Prov. xxvii. 9); but, to the believing soul, the name of Jesus is more reviving than all the balmy treasures of the East, however skillfully compounded or lavishly poured forth.
"His name is music to my ear,
And transport to my heart;
My hopes revive when he is near,
And droop if he departs.
"Let the rich miser prize his gold,
The monarch boasts his crown;
To me, 'tis more than wealth untold,
To call the Lord mine own."
Alas! how few discern the savour of Christ's precious ointment. Man savours his own things, but naturally he has no relish for the things of God (Matt. xvi. 23). There is nothing more sad about his case than this, that he is not attracted but repelled, by the holy excellences of Jesus. God's beloved Son is still, to men, only as a root out of a dry ground, with no beauty in him, wherefore sin-loving man should desire him. With unanimous voice, the representatives of our race gave their votes against him, saying, "Not this man, but Barabbas." Alas! man naturally prefers the stench of the grave, among the putrefaction of which he burrows like the worm, to the heavenly fragrance of the Rose of Sharon. Nay, the very same preaching of Christ, which to a living soul, is the sweet savour of life, is as, to a dead soul, the foul savour of death (2 Cor. ii. 16). Ah, we need to be made partakers of the same anointing, ere we can discern or be regaled with the heavenly odours of our Lord's good ointments! "Oh," says Rutherford, "if my soul might but lie within the smell of his love, suppose I could get no more but the smell of it!"
But though our enjoyment of Christ be the result of the Holy Spirit's grace, yet we, on our part, must stir up the gift of God which is in us. Exactly proportioned to our individual diligence will be the riches of our spiritual income. As the fire that fell upon the altar, at first was fire from heaven, so likewise is the fire of holy love that is kindled in a believing heart; and as part of the priestly function was to keep up, by human care, the fire thus kindled at first by God, so we, too, have it for our special service to supply with abundant fuel the heavenly flames within us. And the only fuel that will keep them burning is the ordinances of Christ observed in the power of the Spirit. Unless we keep the altar of our hearts in an atmosphere saturated with the fragrant odours of his presence, the fire of love shall burn low and lower; and in this case, what warrant has the careless Levite, that it shall not go wholly out?
Let us notice, too, that it is for his own inherent graces and excellences that the believing soul so highly values Christ. Twice over, in the verse, is this fact stated, giving it the strongest emphasis possible; "Because of the savour of thy good ointments thy name is as ointment poured forth;" and again, "therefore do the virgins love thee." He is loved, not for some good selfishly fancied, as having been received through him or expected from him, but because of the savour of his own ointments. The blind eye has been opened, and through it the soul has gazed, with happy amazement, on Him who is the brightness of the Father's glory, till the heart has been won forever. Oh, my soul, hast thou thus seen "the King in his beauty?" hast thou had revealed to thee, as no words of man could have done it, the hitherto undiscovered glories of the Son of God? If not; if thou hast no better reason for loving Jesus, than this solitary one, that he hath loved thee; then it is not Jesus that thou lovest, but only thyself in him. In this case, surely thou hast not yet "seen him, neither known him." He himself has said, "If ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? Do not even the publicans, the same?" Yes; even publicans. Not only unregenerat human nature in its higher forms, but human nature in its lowest and vilest forms, can accomplish this, while it remains as degraded as ever. "Even the publicans" do it. It is not Jesus, then, that thou art really loving, if it be not for his good ointments that thou lovest him. If works done in a selfish legal spirit be rejected, because not done in love (1 Cor. xiii. 1-3), how much more the spurious love itself, which sees nothing love-worthy in the Beloved of the Father, save only this—that he loves me! Of course it is not denied—it is vehemently insisted on—that the personal appropriation of his love and grace is a most important element in our enjoyment of him. With Luther, we desire to put peculiar emphasis on the "me" and the "my" of holy Scripture. While we would go over in detail, along with the love-smitten spouse, her ravishing description of her Lord in chap. v. 10-16, we would equally close it with her joyous boast, "This is my beloved, and this is my friend, O daughters of Jerusalem." It is needed to complete the blessedness of the soul to be able to say, "My beloved is mine." Nay, we would go still further, and affirm, that to seek to love him only for what he is in himself, and apart altogether from any gracious relationship to ourselves, is a refinement far too high for weak and feeble creatures such as we. It is never so much as once asked from us by God. He has so revealed himself to us as to satisfy, and over-satisfy, all our affections; and grace in the soul does not annihilate these affections, but sanctify them, and fill them all with him. But while this personal relationship is one of the sweet ingredients in his good ointments, it is not the only one; and when Christ is prized, not at all for himself, but for selfish motives; not for his own spiritual excellences, nor for the blessedness of divine communion into which he brings us, but only for those adjuncts and appendages of his work, which the fleshly mind is quite competent to appreciate, then Christ is not loved at all, but only accepted as a mighty servant to the idol Self.
And, oh, how sweet it is to the soul that is weary of sin, weary of self, weary of the world, to be regaled and revived by the smell of his good ointments! They are abundant enough, for he is perfumed with all the powders of the merchant (chap. iii. 6). All that God is, he is in Christ; and all that he is in Christ, he is to encourage the sinner's faith, and to secure the believing sinner's blessing. Is he Almighty? Then all his omnipotence is engaged in Christ, to preserve us and bless us, and that is a sweet ointment. Is he true? Then all his truth is, in Christ Jesus, pledged to fulfil whatever is implied in the invitation to the sinner and the promises to the believer; and surely this is a sweet perfume. Is he unchangeable? Then in Christ Jesus, he is unchangeably our Father, and this is a good ointment. Is he holy? Then that most lovely holiness—a holiness awful, hateful once, but lovely now—is all on our behalf, arrayed not against us, but only against our sorest troubler, sin. Is he omniscient? Then how blessed the assurance that he is thinking, in his perfect wisdom, of poor and needy me; and how sweet this perfume is to an afflicted sufferer, when, refreshed by it, he bows his head to the sovereign will of his gracious Father, and says, "Not my will, but thine be done." In short, all the perfections of absolute Godhead, which to the guilty, sin-loving soul are full of horror, are, in Jesus, every one of them, good ointments, which to faith send forth a most delightful perfume.
But the world cannot smell these good ointments; therefore shine, O believer, that the world may see something of thy Lord in thee. Thou who art able sweetly to enjoy the savour of thy Lord's anointing, from direct communion with himself, art set apart to make him known to the perishing around, by transposing them into objects of sight, that his grace may be seen in thee. Thou art an epistle of Christ, a book whereon he means thy neighbour to read, in plain and legible type, about himself. Like the light-house lantern, thy great service is to shine out with clear ray amid the darkness of the world, in order that the tempest-tossed ships around thee may seek a shelter in the haven which thou hast found. Therefore shine, and trim thy lamp each day, that its light may be daily brighter. Perhaps you say, "But how can I shine, I who am but a clod of earth, with not a spark of light in me? I cannot shine." Yes thou canst, if thou hast Christ; for Christ, who has come to be the world's solitary light, will shine wherever he may be. Hold up Christ, then, in words, but still more in temper and in life; hold up Christ higher and higher still, that men who are not able to catch the sweet odour of his ointments from himself—men whose eyes even are so diseased that they cannot bear to look on his own glory in his own person—may see that glory toned and mellowed down through thee, shining out clear and full; as clear and full, indeed, as they are at first able to look upon it. But shine, and shine always, and seek to shine more brightly. Yet, with it all, be very jealous for the Lord's glory, and so shine, that men shall not be tempted to admire the candlestick, but the candle—shall not speak of the pale and changing planet, but of the clear bright Sun. And your shining shall assuredly not be in vain. One and another will be stirred up by it to draw nearer to the light; so near, as to be caught and ravished with the savour of Christ's good ointments; and you shall hear them say, to your inexpressible delight, "Now we believe, not because of thy saying, for we have heard him ourselves, and know that this is indeed the Christ, the Saviour of the world."
The bride goes on to add, in the closing words of the verse, "therefore do the virgins love thee." We have already referred to the force of the word "therefore." It teaches us that whatever be the reason for which others profess love to Jesus, "the virgins" really love him became of his good ointments. This is important to the professing believer; only we would caution the anxious sinner not to abuse it. God demands nothing good in thee in order to receive forgiveness; he has found all that he demanded already in his Son; and for Jesus' sake alone, he is now ready to pardon thee as thou art. Let no one object, then, that his concern about salvation is wholly selfish, and that he has no regard in it to God's glory, but only to his own welfare. This is quite true. Yet God's grace is such that it will stoop down to reach the sinner wherever he may be, dead in his trespasses and sins, and with no feelings but selfish feelings. True, indeed, God's grace will not leave the sinner there, though it will meet him there; but if he only yield to its drawing, it will forgive him without good in him of his own, and will lift him up, and make him a partaker of his Lord's anointing; so that, able now to discern and to relish the good ointments, he shall, on account of them, love his Saviour with the love of all who are virgin souls.
For the souls that love Jesus are all virgins, and all virgin souls love Jesus. The whole number of them combined constitutes the one great body spoken of in this Song as the bride, and which has been espoused as "a chaste virgin" to Christ (2 Cor. xi. 2). Each member of the body, too, in the new nature, is a chaste virgin; and the characteristic of every individual is, that he loves Jesus, and loves him too for his good ointments. O my soul, is it a virgin's love that thou art giving thy Lord—pure, fervent, single-hearted? Many talk of him, many name themselves by his name, many com- mend him, but "the virgins love him." Dost thou love him, O my soul—love him when he comforts thee—love him when he chastens thee—love him always—love him only? Art thou like Orpah, who loved her mother-in-law, and wept to leave her, but who yet left her; for she loved her people and her home in Moab better? Or dost thou love like Ruth, who clave unto Naomi, though it cost her all that she had on earth? Hast thou now no home but Christ's home, and no people but Christ's people, and no love but Jesus?
There is no spiritual gift to be preferred to love—holy, single-hearted, virgin love. "God is love." Therefore, "follow after love" (1 Cor. xiv. 1). And then, when your earnest prayers for its increase have been answered, still "follow after love." All minor gifts are of any value only as they are serviceable to love in her blessed ministry to God and man. Riches are, to a Christian, worse than worthless, except as love can take them up to use them. Powers of intellect, persuasive eloquence, knowledge, are all to be valued only, that love may have the more to work with; but the best gift, that is most to be coveted, is virgin love. Without this, all the rest is but a sounding brass, unprofitable, nothing.
What a joyous thing is love! "How infinitely sweet," says David Brainerd, one of the virgins, "It is to love God, and to be all for him." He that loves most has most of Christ's presence, and, therefore, most of heaven in his soul. But yet, on the other hand, what a sorrowful thing is love. In a world like this, the love that links our hearts to others, or to the cause of Jesus. will lay us open to the sharpest thrusts of grief. The Lord Jesus, when he was here, felt it so. His incomparable love went a great way towards making him the man of incomparable sorrows. The words "all ye that love Jerusalem" have as their equivalent in the parallel clause, "all ye that mourn for her" (Isa. lxvi. 10). To love and to mourn for, often means the same thing. For, if beloved ones will not hearken, and if we be concerned for God's name and for their safety, what less can we do than weep sore in secret places for their pride? (Jer. xiii. 17). This was one of the cups of Christ's earthly sorrow (Luke xix. 41); a cup which he hands to everyone that loves him (Rom. ix. 2, 3), in order that we may be trained in perfect sympathy with him.
Oh, what infinite reason have we to love Jesus, and what a shameful thing that any among us, could be truly charged with losing the first fervours of its holy heat! (Rev. ii. 4). And yet, alas! alas! who among us is not compelled to bow his head in sorrow? No wonder that John Bradford's tears trickled down his face into his food, when he reflected on the strange hardness that so held back his heart from the adequate love of his Saviour. And yet, these sorrowful heart-longings for love are among the surest proofs that the heart which cherishes them is a virgin heart. They flow out of love, the most tender love, coupled with an exalted apprehension of the infinite loveliness of Jesus. He is seen to be so "altogether lovely," that the heart is broken with the mournful yet gladdening consciousness, that our highest pitch of love falls infinitely beneath the love-worthiness of the Beloved. And this is safe for us, for it sends us away from our own hearts to find our only rest and comfort in the free, unchanging love of Jesus. And surely, too, as Herbert sings,—
"When the heart says (sighing to be approved),
Oh, could I love! and stops; God writeth, Loved."
To eyes that have been anointed by the Spirit of God, everything we see, above, around, within us, is a provocation to love. Mercy, tender mercy, plenteous mercy, meets us at every turn. We are the children of mercy, a mercy that busied itself about us in eternity, planning our blessings ere ever the worlds were made; mercy that has followed us all our life long, guiding us, guarding us, blessing us, unaffected by the rebellion and ingratitude of our godless years. O my brother, does not the touching retrospect melt and humble thee, and dost thou not say with Job, "I abhor myself?" And yet the meek and patient love of Jesus has never abhorred us, never abandoned us, never failed to say of, as even at our worst, "How shall I give thee up, Ephraim?" (Hos. xi. 8). Nay, he has only used our most exceeding sinfulness to show forth the more wonderfully, the exceeding riches of his holy love. Let us then never forget our sins, even though he promises to forget them; but let us use the remembrance of them chiefly to deepen love, in order that being frankly forgiven so much, we may love him most of all.
And true love is far more than a mere sentiment; it is always active. "If ye love me, keep my commandments." True love is a giver; nay, it is an exhaustive giver, it gives all that it has; and along with these it gives itself. Whosoever has our love has ourselves. If, then, we love Jesus, we shall keep from him nothing that he wills to have. But while real love delights in sacrifice, spurious love is content with sentiment. The one, filled with the spirit of Christ, imitates the self-emptying grace of Christ, and shrinks from no needed Gethsemane or Calvary; but the other is soon wearied when it has to go the length of working, and calls a halt so soon as its labour becomes more than a pleasant change of pastime. But true love lives for the Beloved; and, giving its all, it is ashamed that its all is so little. With David, when he brought forward his millions of gold and silver for the temple building, it says, "Now, behold, in my poverty, I have prepared for the house of the Lord an hundred thousand talents of gold, and a thousand, thousand talents of silver" (1 Chron. xxii. 14).
We will do well to test our love, were it for nothing else than for our humbling. Had there been no danger of self-deception, we would not have been exhorted to "unfeigned love," nor to take heed that "love be without dissimulation." How much pleasure do we find in secret converse with Jesus?—only so much do we love him, and no more. How cheerfully do we deny our wishes that we may prefer his will?—so much, and only so much, do we love him. How much do our hearts warm towards the meanest and least attractive of his children, counting them the excellent of the earth simply for his sake who so dearly loves them?—only so much, AND NO MORE, do we love him. For it is him that the virgins love; and these, as well as the most comely, are members of his body. The broken-hearted and rejoicing penitent in Luke vii., lavished her grateful kisses upon his feet; for were they not for his feet, and therefore for his sake beloved? No matter to her that the feet were dark with sweat and dust, for Simon had given him no water to wash away the travel-stains; they were still his feet, nay, they were still himself, and therefore she loved and washed them with her tears. Ah, my reader, how is it that you and I honour the feet of Jesus? Those lowly members of his, whom those who are not virgins are sure to overlook, are members of his mystical body as certainly as those who are more comely; and the virgins recognize and love him in the meanest as well as in the most exalted. Almost everyone will readily lavish honour on the honourable, and kiss the saints of note and name; but dost thou, O my soul, love also, love equally, the unnoted and unnamed—the dusty, uncomely feet of Jesus? For, though they are only feet, still they are Christ's feet; and because they are his, and because, too, they lie more within the reach of heart-broken penitents, these virgin souls love them, and kiss them, and hang over them, till wondering professors chide their folly. For we love Jesus as we love his feet—only so far, and no further. And he counts it so himself; for he shall yet say, "Inasmuch as you have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me" (Matt. xxv. 40).
Oh, for love, more love, and that the love of the virgins! For want of this, and for want of its constant exercise, divine life is low and feeble among us; and the world is stumbled by the inconsistencies of many who really know not God, for God is love.
"O Jesus, King most wonderful,
Thou Conqueror renowned,
Thou Sweetness most ineffable,
In whom all Joys are found!
When once thou visitest the heart,
Then truth begins to shine,
Then earthly vanities depart,
Then kindles love divine.
O Jesus, Light of all below,
Thou Fount of living fire;
Surpassing all the joys we know,
And all we can desire;
Jesus, may all confess thy name,
Thy wondrous grace adore;
And, seeking thee, themselves inflame
To seek thee more and more!"