The Call and Portion of the Bride
by John Ritchie
1. REBEKAH: OR THE CALL OF THE BRIDE
(Read Genesis 24; 2 Corinthians 11:2; Revelation 19:6-9)
The twenty-fourth of Genesis is a great typical chapter, brimming with Gospel grace for the sinner, and with love and glory for the saint. It tells the lovely story of the heart-winning and the home- bringing of Rebekah, the bride of Isaac, but verily a greater than Isaac is here. We have here portrayed in Isaac, the only begotten and beloved son of Abraham, the risen Son of God; surrounded by the love and glory of His Father’s home, there waiting for the Bride of His Father’s choice. In Rebekah, the daughter of Bethuel, we have in type the favoured Bride of the Lamb, as she once was by nature, as she now is by grace, and as she presently shall be in glory.
Here too, we have the secret unfolded of how a sinner’s heart is won for Christ, and loosed from earthly things; a true picture of genuine conversion. May the Holy Spirit of God, Who wrote this story, and Who has so often since then used it, in winning souls to Christ, use it once again in your conversion, dear unconverted sinner, and in bringing those who are halting and procrastinating to decision for Christ.
There are seven Bridegrooms with their Brides, of Old Testament times, who each in some distinctive feature, point onward to that wondrous mystery, now being unfolded to faith, and soon to be unveiled to sight, namely, the believer’s present union with Christ. If we put the seven—(seven is the perfect number)—together, we have then a complete picture and foreshadowing of the heavenly Bridegroom the Lamb of God, and of his heavenly Bride, the Church.
I can only mention these, that you may trace them for yourselves, and then pass on to our blessed Gospel theme—The Call of Rebekah.
Seven Typical Brides
First, we have Adam with Eve his bride. She was given to him by God as a helpmeet, a counterpart, and she was from him as well as for him; part of his body, and also his bride; formed by God while he slept in the garden, with the wounded side. The fruit we may surely say, of that deep sleep, then presented to him after he awoke, amid the beauties of that unfallen paradise. The shadow here so thinly veils the substance, that little more need be said about it. The Bride of the last Adam, members of His body, His flesh, and His bones, formed as the fruit of those dark hours of Gethsemane and Calvary, will be presented to Him on the morning of the first resurrection, to share His dominion, in a paradise where no lurking serpent can beguile.
Rebekah, the bride of Isaac, the typically dead and risen Son, who waited by his father’s side, while the servant went forth to win her for him, and bring her to him, in the subject of our chapter.
Rachel, the bride of Jacob, the patient toiling servant, comes next in order. His love and labours for her, and her identification with him as a stranger and sojourner in a strange country, all so sweetly speak of Him, who was Lover and Servant, while a stranger here.
Asenath, the bride of Joseph, and Zipporah, the bride of Moses, were Gentiles; given them during the time of their rejection by their brethren according to the flesh, pointing onward no doubt to the rejection of their Messiah by Israel, and His exaltation to the Throne of God, during the days of their unbelief, where He is now receiving from among the Gentiles a people, who are both nearer and dearer to Him than they. Asenath knew nothing of Joseph during the time of his sorrows in the pit, and in the prison. He suffered alone, but she shared his glory with him. The “sufferings of Christ” were His, and His alone, but concerning “the glories that follow,” it is written “the glory that Thou gavest Me I have given them.” Zipporah, in some sense, shared the wilderness with Moses, as believers do now the “fellowship of His sufferings,” who was the faithful, yet the meek and lowly servant of God down here on earth.
Abigail, the bride of David, the man after God’s own heart, was delivered from her former husband, and that condemnation into which by her relationship unto him she had been brought, and by grace, united to David. Even so has the believer been delivered from the law, its curse and condemnation, and married to the Risen Christ (Rom. 7:2-4).
Solomon’s bride, the daughter of Pharoah, who was of royal rank with himself, was brought to the house that he had prepared for her, and a “greater than Solomon” has gone to “prepare a place” for His own, and from that place He will “come again and receive them unto Himself” (John 14:2-3).
In the opening verses of our chapter, we have the father, the son, and the servant in counsel. Their subject is the bride. Ah. There in the solitude of the tent in Hebron (which means “fellowship”), the whole plan was formed. Rebekah was thus early the subject of their thoughts, although she knew it not. Sinner! you have been in the thoughts of God, before you had a being! Yea, before His hand had fashioned Adam’s clay, His heart was filled with thoughts of grace and purposes of mercy toward you. In the solitude of an eternity past, the Godhead had you as the subject of their counsels. Guilty, godless sinner as you are, yet you have cost God full many a thought, and I tell you here and now, that these thoughts are love and mercy. If He had wanted to do it, He could have righteously swept you into hell; but He did not. He passed by the fallen hosts of angels; for them no place of mercy was ever granted; they are “reserved” for judgment. But for man—rebellious man—the greatest mystery of Almighty grace is unsealed. And notice too, where our chapter stands: it comes after the twenty-second, and twenty-third. Of course numerically it must, but it does so in another way. In chapter 22 we have the story of the altar on Moriah, and the perfect obedience unto death of Isaac. There on that lonely mount, the father and the son are together, but their thoughts are occupied with death. The fire, the wood, the knife, and the altar are there. The only son, is bound submissive, and the knife is raised aloft above his head. It was an awful moment: but the faith of Abraham, and the obedience of Isaac, stood the test. So far as Abraham was concerned he had given up his son: so far as Isaac could do it, he had given himself. Had the knife come down, it would not have cost Abraham more than it did to raise it, or Isaac to lie passive beneath its glittering blade. When the cords were loosed that bound him to the altar, by his father’s hands, he was received back from the dead “in a figure” (Heb. 11:19), and as they journeyed back together, it was in the path of resurrection. Isaac’s history onward, is typical of Christ risen from the dead, and glorified at His Father’s side, the result of His “obedience unto death.” The intervening chapter, gives the death of Sarah, his mother according to the flesh—or in type, the setting aside of that nation, of which concerning the flesh Christ came. Then comes our chapter, in which we find Abraham occupied, not at the altar of Isaac, or at the grave of Sarah, but now in giving a bride to his typically dead and risen son. This is the present work of God: this is what is occupying His heart and hand at this present time. He is calling out a Bride for Christ. He is seeking a partner for His only Son, the Lord and heir of all. Yes, that Glorified Man at God’s right hand, is receiving a bride to share His riches, His honours, and His glories, and it is with this object in view, that God sends forth the Gospel in your ears tonight. Think of this unconverted sinner! This is the day of your visitation, as truly as it was Rebekah’s when the servant from Hebron stood before her, laden with the riches of his master, to win her as Isaac’s bride. I come to you tonight the bearer of the riches of a better Canaan, even the riches of the grace of God, and the “unsearchable riches of Christ.” If you will only listen to the message that comes to you from God, and “yield the obedience of faith” thereto, you will be saved at once and for ever, won in heart, and espoused to be Christ’s.
But who was this favoured individual to whom this wondrous message came? Only a Gentile; a Chaldean idolator. No thought had she of such a future lying before her, as she came to the well with the pitcher on her shoulder. Like the woman at the well of Sychar in later days, she was only thinking of “coming hither to draw.” But she who had been the subject of the counsels of the father and the son, and of the prayers of the servant, must now hear from his lips, that which will open a new horizon before her view, and fill her mind with other thoughts. Oh, it is so grand to see the Gospel taking possession thus of the sinner’s heart. To see that youthful heart once set on pleasure, and earthly things, bounding for the first time with the love of Christ. Some of us well remember such experiences, when we first heard of Jesus, His love, His precious blood, His power to save, and when as new-born souls our eyes were opened to “behold the beauty of the Lord.” The world said we had gone mad, but it was a blessed madness. Such it was with Rebekah, when from the servant’s lips she first heard the message of the father and the son (see vv. 34-36) reminding us of the testimony of John concerning Jesus (John 3:34-36).
There was no preaching of himself in that servant’s testimony, no generalising. He bore witness of his master’s greatness, and of his only son, who was heir of all. Then he told his errand, simply, faithfully, plainly, and how the hand of God had led him thither. Unsaved sinner, there need be no beating about the bush. The message of God is plain and clear. You are a sinner, lost, undone, and fit for the flames of hell. You have forfeited everything—God, heaven, holiness, happiness. You have earned the wages of sin, and you deserve to be swept into hell. Yet the wondrous message that rings in your ear tonight is, that the God of heaven loves you; that the Lord hath need of you.
But Rebekah might reply—“How can I be the bride of Isaac, I am unworthy of the place; or, wherewith can I come before him.” But the forethought of Isaac had provided for this. “The servant brought forth jewels of silver, and jewels of gold, and raiment, and gave them to Rebekah” (v. 53). Silver—the type of redemption; gold, of glory; raiment, of righteousness; just what the sinner needs, and what God has provided. Redemption through the blood of Christ: divine righteousness to cover him before God: and eternal glory awaiting him.
In the robes and jewels of Isaac’s own providing, she was brought before him, and he would not reject his own. The believing sinner stands before God, in God’s own righteousness, accepted in the Beloved; and by-and-by when in resurrection he stands before the heavenly Bridegroom, he shall be like Him, fashioned like unto “the body of His glory.” It is no longer “Just as I am” a vile and guilty sinner, but
“Just as Thou art, how wondrous fair,
Lord Jesus all Thy members are.”
The Bride’s Decision and Devotedness
Thus far, our narrative carries us, telling of the Gospel of God, and of the riches of Christ in their suitability for the sinner. But the Gospel brings with it a call, as well as gifts. It is God’s magnet by which He draws the believing sinner out from the world, and his old surroundings, and gives him to Christ. It presents the claims of Jesus Christ as Lord, as well as His grace as Saviour.
The servant now presses the claim of his master, and wants to take Rebekah and depart. This is the way of the Lord. Genuine conversion does not consist in a mere assent to certain doctrines found in the Bible; it is not a professed belief of certain truths, producing no visible result. Conversions of this type are common enough no doubt, but they are a counterfeit of the real article. Conversion to God is a visible, actual fact, the result of new life begotten within. It is the turning of the heart to God; and as a result of this, the feet are turned into His ways, and from the “path of sinners.” “Ye turned to God from idols” was the testimony of the Spirit concerning some of old who had received the Gospel. We must insist on this still. You profess to have believed the Gospel, and to have received the gifts it brings. Well be it so. Is your heart won for Christ? Do you long to see Him, to be like Him, and with Him? Ah! this is the searching test. The world has none of this in its religion, and cannot brook it. The mother of Rebekah says—“Let the damsel abide with us a few days, at least ten, after that she shall go.” This was the voice of the enemy, seeking to hinder her full decision. Wherever Christ is preached, the devil is there doing a similar work. He is here tonight, whispering in the ear of some anxious soul—“time enough yet;”—“wait for a few days.” By procrastination, he is having hell filled up with Gospel hearers. Sinner beware. Your convenient season may never come; God’s “accepted time” is “now.”
Mothers! take care you do not assist the devil to ruin your children’s souls by such advice, and by preaching “moderation” to them. Your damnation will be double, if you drag them with you, either by precept or example. But the faithful steward will have none of it. He resists it firmly, and says—“Hinder me not.” He will have decision. Then comes the crisis. Rebekah is called, she stands before them, and before all heaven and hell. What a moment it is for her. The two paths are before her. Chaldea, home, idolatry, and a grave among her race, on the one hand; Isaac, Canaan, and the desert path, on the other.
The question is put to her—“WILT THOU GO WITH THIS MAN?” and in the fulness of her heart she gives the never-to-be-forgotten answer, “I WILL GO.” The echo rings on through the ages, down to this hour. It is the language of every heart that knows Christ, and would be His. Unconverted sinner! I put this question straight to your soul tonight—“Wilt thou go with this Man?”—the Man who wore the thorny crown and braved the fearful cross, to reach your guilty soul: the Man who lay in dark Gethsemane with the blood-like drops bursting forth from His Holy flesh in agony for you. The Man now enthroned amid the glories of heaven. “Wilt thou go with this Man?” I press the question; it is all-important. Life and death are in the balance. Heaven or hell are involved in your answer. Hush! let all be still. God is listening. “There are angels hovering round.” “I will go.” Yes, Lord Jesus! Man of Sorrows, Bearer of my curse and shame—I WILL GO. Others may linger if they choose, but—
“My heart is fixed Eternal God, fixed on Thee,
And my Eternal choice is made ‘CHRIST FOR ME.’”
And you, young believer, who once believed these words of God: is your devotion as true as Rebekah’s was? Are you wholly Christ’s? Can you look the world in the face and say “Christ for me,” as you did when first converted. The world cannot understand this; it cannot understand a young man or maiden turning their backs on the world’s idols, and its “Vanity Fair,” and severing every worldly tie. The world is baffled, but we know the secret. It is this—
“What has stripped the seeming beauty of the idols of the earth?
Not the sense of right or duty; but the sight of Jesus’ worth.
Not the crushing of these idols, with its bitter void and smart,
But the beaming of His beauty, the unveiling of His Heart.”
The Desert Journey
“And Rebekah arose . . . and followed the man” (v. 61). She left her people and her father’s house, and turned her back on the land of her nativity, all for Isaac. All for one whom she had not seen, but of whom she had only heard. She mounted the camel with a purposed heart, and although the desert lay between her and her Isaac, she would not fear. Here is “the expulsive power of a new affection,” as one has called it. Has the world been expelled from your heart by Christ? Believe me, nothing else will do it, and if you have not Christ enshrined in your heart of hearts, your separation from the world, and your professed pilgrimage to heaven, is only a sham. The Christ-filled heart can sing:—
“’Tis the treasure I’ve found in His love,
That has made me a pilgrim below.”
With her faithful guide by her side, she journeys along the desert way, safe and happy. And we have a Guide in our wilderness journey. The Holy Spirit, the Comforter, whose work it is to bring home the ransomed Bride of the Lamb, is with us, to “guide us into all truth,” to “speak” to us concerning Christ, and to “show us things to come.” If we grieve Him not, what wondrous revelations and unfoldings of the worth of Christ, would He give to us as we journey on.
“As when the pleased Rebekah trod, the desert lone and drear,
While Abraham’s wealth and Isaac’s love, rang in her open ear,
So traverse we this wilderness, while our blest Guide makes known,
The Father’s grace, the Bridegroom’s love, and all He has our own.”
The Journey’s End
But there is one point more in our story, and we must not miss it. While the bride is being brought along the desert, yonder at the other end, amid the peace and love of his father’s house, is Isaac, waiting, watching, with eager look, for her who is to share his vast inheritance. Unsatisfied we may say, until he sees the object of his love. And on the throne of God there is a waiting, watching, longing Man, surrounded by hosts on hosts of heavenly beings, so bright and fair, He the object of their reverence, and of their devotion. But it is not enough.
“There amid the songs of heaven, sweeter to His ear,
Is the footfall through the desert, ever drawing near.
There made ready are the mansions, glorious, bright and fair,
But the Bride the Father gave Him, still is wanting there.”
But the end is nearing
“And Isaac came from the way of the well Lahai-roi.” And Isaac went forth into the field to meditate at the eventide.” “Rebekah arose”—“Isaac came:” nothing between—no dates or prophecies here, no tribulation or reign of Antichrist, only “The Lord Himself shall descend”—only the fulfilment of the promise, “I will come again.” This is our hope, and this is the end of the desert. “We look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus:” not signs but a Person: not blessings but the Blesser. Oh, for burning hearts to long for His appearing; to mourn as the dove for its mate, for our absent Lord. “And he lifted up his eyes and saw.” “And Rebekah lifted up her eyes, and when she saw Isaac she alighted.”
Their eyes met and both were satisfied. They met by the well of “Him that liveth and seeth me”—Resurrection life, and sight. O wondrous hour. Lord hasten it.
“How shall I meet those eyes: mine on Himself I cast,
And own myself the Saviour’s prize, mercy from first to last.”
“He shall see of the travail of His soul and shall be satisfied.” “I shall be satisfied when I awake in Thy likeness.” Mutual satisfaction.
There, in mid air, we shall meet Him, and there He will take us “to Himself”, and thence lead us to the place prepared, amid songs of triumph and everlasting joy.
“O the blessed joy of meeting, all the desert past,
O the wondrous words of greeting, He shall speak at last.
He and I together entering, those bright courts above,
He and I together sharing all the Father’s love.”
“Then the servant telleth Isaac
All the things that he hath done,
And Rebekah reigns in Hebron,
Bride of the once-offered One.”
2. EVE: OR, UNION WITH CHRIST
(Read Genesis 2:15-25; Ephesians 5:25; Revelation 22)
In this fair scene of primeval bliss, we have the picture of a brighter day to come. In Adam and his bride, here amid the beauties of a sinless Eden, we have the first foreshadowing of the last great mystery revealed to faith, namely, the union of Christ and His Bride the Church, a mystery already known to faith, and yet to be unveiled to sight, amid the eternal glory of a new heaven and a new earth, the abode of righteousness, the paradise of God. This unique and wondrous revelation of the exceeding riches of God’s grace, was kept a secret from prophets and seers of ages past, but it is now revealed, and indeed proclaimed in the preaching of the Gospel now made known among men, with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven. This is the great, the distinctive mark of the time in which we have been called to live, a privilege and an honour, withheld from honoured men of earlier ages—that all who now receive God’s testimony concerning His Son, are brought into abiding and everlasting union with Him, and form part of His body and Bride, the Church, the mystic Eve, the joint-heir and partaker of His life, His glory, and His home.
Unsaved sinner, I beg of you to lend your attentive ear to the Gospel that tells of all this, and to the invitation of God, that you may come and share it. Self interest may well incline your ear to hear. Such a time, and such an unfolding of grace and glory there has not been before, and will not be again—a time of special grace to us far-off sinners of alien Gentile race. To be saved now, is to be called to be a partner with Christ, What think ye of this? Is it not something worth thought? To escape the dark abyss of the lost and to be brought to the fair paradise of God: this, and much more than this is involved in the reception of the message of grace, now sent forth from God in heaven, to all people.
In Adam then we have a type of Christ the “figure of Him who was to come” (Rom. 5:14), as Head and Lord of creation (Col. 1:15-16), as Head of His body, and Bridegroom of His Bride the Church (Col. 1:17-18). Man was formed to have dominion, to rule for God, to bear His image, and to be His representative on the earth. But the sceptre fell from his hand, and his kingdom passed away from him, to be under the yoke of a usurper and enemy. But the purpose of God has not for ever failed. A man in God’s image, the Second Man, the last Adam, shall in God’s due time receive the kingdom, and His dominion shall endures. The obedient One must reign.
In Eve his helpmeet, given to him by the Lord God, part of his body, as well as his bride, formed while he slept, builded for him, brought and presented to him, we have a type of the Church in her relation to Christ; the “woman who is for the man” (1 Cor. 12:12), whose head is “the image and glory of God” (1 Cor. 11:7-11). Union with Christ, the union of the members with the Head, of the bride with the Bridegroom, a union of life and of love, is the great theme, and lesson of our chapter. Dear young saints, fain would I help you to grasp this wondrous truth, in all its blessedness and power. As David said of Goliath’s sword of old “there is none like it” for liberating the soul from doubts and fears and dark forebodings, and giving to the heart an object worthy of its fullest trust, and fondest love. To have the mind and the heart filled with this grand theme, with Him (for it all encircles round a Person) of whom our type bears witness, and unto whom it points, is as heaven already begun. To know Christ thus, is to love Him, to cleave to Him, to give Him His true place in the heart, and to own His Lordship, in every circle and path of life.
Adam as formed in the image of God, is here a figure of Him who is the brightness of God’s glory and “the express image of His person” (Heb. 1:2). He was formed to rule, and in the wisdom given Him as lord of creation, he gave the beasts their names, and had them in subjection to him.
But amid all the glory of that unfallen creation, that Eden of untarnished beauty, where as yet sin was unknown, and sorrow’s groan unheard, Adam was alone. He had the Lord God high above him, and the beasts far beneath him, but no one on a level with himself. He had no companion, no helpmeet to share his joy, or jointly participate in his dignity and honour. And that perfect but companionless man, in that fair Eden, was thus a type of the Son of God, the only begotten of the Father, the Second Man, the last Adam. As Son of God He was the only begotten: as Son of Man he had no equal. He was the Holy One of God, the undefiled One: separate from sinners: Lamb of God without blemish, and without spot. We were ruined, fallen, lost: unfit to be companions of that Holy One. He stood on earth before His God, and in the sight of man, the lonely One. You remember how He said Himself—“Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth by itself alone, but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit” (John 12:24, R.V.). Blessed be God, He did not for ever abide alone. The Divine purpose was, that He should have a Bride, a companion to share His glory: one to be nearer to Him, and dearer to Him, than any other created being: one to be on a level with Him, “an helpmeet”—a counterpart—a companion—a second self. Wondrous as this may seem, it is exactly what the Word has told us, is the relationship of the Church to Christ. She is more to Him than thrones, and crowns, and glories: nearer and dearer to Him than angels, or all the innumerable hosts of unfallen holy beings, that wait around the throne. Do you know the reason why? Because she is the object of His love. The “one pearl of great price” for which He gave His all. “Christ loved the Church and gave Himself for it” (Eph. 5:25), words that were never uttered, nor will be, concerning any, save the Bride of the Second Adam, the Lord from heaven.
The Bride in the Purposes of God
Before Eve had a being, she was thought of, and provided for by the Lord God. He saw her in Adam, and in him she was blessed and named. He “blessed them and called their name Adam in the day when they were created” (Gen. 5:2). And long before the morning stars sang their earliest song, the Church was chosen and blessed in Christ. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings, in heavenly places in Christ. According as he hath chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1:3-4). Blessed be God!
“Before Thy hands had made, the sun to rule the day,
And earth’s foundations laid, or fashioned Adam’s clay,
With thoughts of love and mercy flowed,
Within thy bosom, O my God.”
Is it not a wonder that we should ever question the reality of His love to us, in the face of all this? Yet Eve did question it, and before the paltry promise of the tempter, she surrendered to him, turning her back on that God who had so loved her, and so blessed her. And Eve lives in the flesh of her seed, ready to do the same thing over again. But in all who are of faith, there is “the new man,” the Christ life, which ever holds with God, and whose hand of faith cleaves to the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God, as the second Man did in the day of His trial in the howling desert, surrounded by the wild beasts. He was asked to question the love of His God, and disown the claims of His Word, but He would not. He stood, where Adam fell, and triumphed where Adam surrendered.
The Deep Sleep
As the sixth day, the day preceding the rest, drew near its close, the last two great acts of Jehovah-Elohim were performed. They were (1) the causing of Adam to fall into a deep sleep, and (2) the formation of Eve to be his helpmeet and his Bride. And here we may surely say, the ground is holy, where our unshod feet must softly tread, and our heads bow down in adoration, in the presence of such matchless grace.
In that mysterious deep sleep of the first man in the garden, the painless wounding of his side, the healing, the awaking, and the joyful recognition of the perfected bride, we have the thinly-veiled shadow of that great mystery—fair climax of all God’s works of grace—the mystery of the wondrous union of the Church with Christ. We here learn what was necessary ere such a union could be formed, and by whose hand it was wrought and perfected.
The “deep sleep” caused by the Creator-God to fall upon the man was surely a figure—and yet a contrast—of the death of Christ. In that early Eden, where as yet there was no sin, there was no pain and no sorrow, but when the Lord of Glory was numbered with the dead, when the hand of His God brought Him into the dust of death, it was also lifted up to smite. The pains of death compassed Him about: the awakened sword of Jehovah smote and pierced Him: the water-floods overflowed Him. Lover and friend stood afar from Him; ravening lions and taunting foes surrounded Him, and His God forsook Him. The depth of His sorrow, the bitterness of His anguish, the suffering of His soul, no human heart can fathom, or know, but blessed be God, whatever it was—and none but God knoweth—“He endured the cross”—He “despised the shame,” and His last triumphant cry—echoed to the heights of heaven, and reverberated to the depths of hell, was—“IT IS FINISHED.” Have you heard in your soul that wondrous word? “FINISHED”—all finished; nothing to do for salvation. All is provided: all is complete. When Immanuel bowed His head in death, the great redemption had been wrought. Then with wounded side, He was laid in a tomb in the garden near the cross. O wondrous sight! The second Man: the last Adam: the Lord of all, laid as in a deep “sleep” in the silent tomb! This was the great answer to the type of the sleep of the first man in Eden, and the precedent of the building of the helpmeet, the partner, and the Bride. Apart from the death of Christ, there could have been no Church. But now that the “corn of wheat” had fallen into the ground and died, He no longer abides alone. He is no longer the only begotten Son. He has His brethren. He greets the loving yet sorrowing Mary with the word, “Go tell my brethren, I ascend to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” Now He is “the First-born among many brethren,” the beginning of a new creation. Blessed union! We may truly sing:—
“Lord Jesus are we one with Thee,
O height, O depth of love.
Once slain for us upon the tree,
We’re one with Thee above.”
The Building of the Bride
The death of Christ, then, is the foundation and the procuring cause, of this great mystery, this great work of the forming and building of a bride for Christ, and what the Son died to purchase, the Spirit is working now to effect. From the rib of Adam, Eve was formed. The present work of the Holy Spirit is the gathering out from the world, a people who are to be to Christ a special treasure, the formation, and building of the mystic Eve, the Bride of Christ. Silently—so far as the world is concerned—but surely, this great work is going on, the work of regenerating sinners, and of uniting saints to the risen Christ, and to one another. This is the great work of God in this present age. God is giving to His Christ an helpmeet. The Gospel goes forth in the power of the Spirit, and dead ones are made to live. Then as living ones, they are joined to the Lord; in “one Spirit,” “they are all baptised into one body” (1 Cor. 12:12), and this body is the church, “the fulness” (or compliment) (Eph. 1:23), of Christ, at present being formed by the Holy Ghost throughout this age, to be completed and presented to the heavenly Bridegroom without spot or wrinkle on the fair morn of resurrection. This was the mystery kept a secret in bygone ages, but now revealed and made known to faith (Eph. 3:5). This was the special theme of the ministry of the apostle Paul, first intimated to him from the heaven, by the lips of the glorified One, in the words “Why persecutest thou Me?” as he journeyed along the Damascus road, a fiery persecutor of the saints. These suffering saints were part of Christ, the members of His body, dear to Him as the apple of His eye, and whoever touched or molested them, were regarded by heaven as persecutors of “Him.” How heinous then the guilt of stretching forth the hand, against the least of the little ones that belong to Him. How infinitely precious are the saints to Christ! Think of this ye fearful and doubting followers of the Lamb! You belong to Christ: you are one, eternally one, with the Man at God’s right hand. Joined to the Lord by the Eternal Spirit: how can you ever be parted from Him? Grasp this by faith, and you will never indulge the thought, that you can ever perish. You are dear to God as He is dear: loved as He is loved: accepted in His own acceptance. He the Head: His saints the members: and Head and members together “the Christ” (1 Cor. 12:12, Greek). Do any of you doubt whether you will be for ever Christ’s? Some there are who think the link that binds them to Him, is one more or less of their own making. They fear lest in some evil hour, they may lose their hold, and all be lost. But this is far, far from being the truth now revealed to faith. The saints are “members of His body.” How can He ever lose them? They are as necessary to Him as Eve was to Adam. If one of them were to perish, He would be without a “member,” and this—be it said with reverence—is impossible. All His members, the least as truly as the greatest, are possessors of His Life: they bear His image, they are fit companions and associates for Him. When He is revealed, they will appear in their beauty in the full image of the Son of God.
“Meet companion then for Jesus,
From Him, for Him made;
Glory of God’s grace’ for ever,
There in me displayed.”
When Adam awoke from his sleep, he beheld his bride standing in beauty, fresh from the hand of God, by his side, and in the joy of his heart he exclaimed—“This is now bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh”—a faint foreshadowing of the joy of the Lord, when He shall have presented to Him on the resurrection morning, the Bride for whom He bled and died, and when before all worlds, He will acknowledge His saints as the sharers of His glory, and the partners of His throne. Then He shall see of the travail of His soul and be satisfied, as He beholds the fruit of His toil, and sorrow. The whole of this age, during which the Lord Jesus is rejected by the world, may be likened to the period of Adam’s sleep: and it is during this same period that His bride is being formed. When the morn of resurrection dawns, the bride will be complete, and the Bridegroom will appear to unfold to wondering worlds the mystery of her union with Him.
“He is coming as a Bridegroom,
Coming to unfold at last
The great secret of His purpose,
Mystery of ages past.
And the Bride, to her is granted
In His beauty now to shine,
As in rapture she exclaimeth,
“I am His, and He is mine.”
Oh! what joy that marriage union,
Mystery of love divine;
Sweet to sing in all its fulness
“I am His, and He is mine.”
The first resurrection will be as the awakening, when Christ and His saints together shall appear in the glory of risen life and beauty. Those who from the times eternal, have been given to Him by the Father, and in continuance fashioned by the Holy Spirit, shall be presented to the Son, to share His dominion and His glory. Haste, happy day.
“Soon, soon shall come that glorious day,
When seated on Thy Throne;
Thou shalt to wondering worlds display,
That Thou with us art one.”
The Eternal Home
And thus for ever by His side, adorned in His beauty, glorified in His likeness, the Bride of the Lamb shall pass into the eternal home prepared to receive her, that fair paradise of God, where the tree of life for ever yields its fruit, and the river of life its refreshment, where no lurking serpent shall beguile, or hidden tempter lurk, where the Lamb shall be all the glory, and where God is all in all,
“We shall behold Him as He is,
His glory forth shall shine;
Reflected in His countless saints,
A radiancy divine.
For ever with Him at His side,
Wherever He shall be;
His chosen, spotless, glorious bride,
To all Eternity.”
3. RUTH: OR, REST AND RELATIONSHIP WITH CHRIST
The Book of Ruth presents to us the call of the Gentile stranger, from the place of alienation, to the place of nearness and relationship with him, who is the type of Christ, the true Boaz, the “Mighty Man of wealth.” In the simple unaffected Oriental story, we read the call, the choice, and the destiny, of her who was an alien from the commonwealth of Israel, a stranger to the covenants of promise, by nature one of the cursed race, which was not to enter the congregation of the Lord (Deut. 23:2), but who yet “found grace” in the eyes of him who became her kinsman-redeemer, and through whom she was raised from the place of the outcast and the stranger, to the royal line, through which the Messiah, the hope of Israel, came (see Matt. 1:5).
Dispensationally, we have here the fall of the Jew, and the grace of God flowing—as it is till this day—to the Gentile. The present Gospel call to union with Christ, a share of all His unsearchable riches now, with eternal glory by and by. The path of the Bride, from natural degradation and distress, to rest, redemption, and relationship with Christ. It is a wonderful story of grace. May the heart be drawn Christward, as we seek to follow along this wondrous path from grace to glory.
There are seven forms introduced to us, all more or less connected with Ruth, from whose names and history, we may gather solemn and precious lessons.
In Elimelech (“My God is King”) and Naomi (“Pleasant”) we have the course and the experience of the backslider. In Mahlon (“Sick”) and Chilion (“Pining”) the two sons of Elimelech and Naomi, we have the story of the poor unsatisfied worldling, sick and pining all his days, and at last goes down to the grave in the far-off land. In Orpah (“A Fawn”) we see the awakened sinner, aroused to think of better things, but who, when the supreme moment for decision comes; when the choice for Christ or the world, life or death, heaven or hell has to be made, procrastinates, halts, and goes back to the world. Ruth (“Satisfied”) is one out and out converted: her heart won, her decision made, her face set steadfastly to God and heaven. Boaz (“In him is strength”), Naomi’s kinsman, the mighty man of wealth, the redeemer and bridegroom of Ruth, type of the Risen Christ, for whom the heart of the sinner is won by the Spirit, to whom it is increasingly drawn in intimacy and communion, both in service and in rest; and with whom, in the coming day of full redemption and manifested glory, the saints will appear as His Bride, while the earthly people restored and brought again to their land like Naomi, will share in another relationship and sphere, the blessings of that day.
The Path of the Backslider
In Elimelech and Naomi we have the course of the backslider. In a day of trial in Judah’s land, where God’s Name was known (Ps. 77:1), they turn in their distress to the place of the uncircumcised, the land of Moab. They leave their Bethlehem home—(“The House of Bread”), and, so far as we are told, without a single acknowledgment of God, they set their faces towards Moab. True, they had no intention of making Moab their home, they only went to “sojourn,” but the Scripture says they “continued there” (v. 2). Such is ever the way of the backslider. Rather than count on God in the midst of trial, rather than seek to learn its cause, he flees to the world, to some arm of flesh, even if it be that of an enemy of God, to seek satisfaction there, instead of in the living God. But the backslider must be “filled with his own ways” (Prov. 14:14), he must learn that it is an evil and a bitter thing to forsake the Lord (Jer. 2:17), and so Naomi found it. First her two sons married Moabite wives; then they died, and her husband Elimelech died also. Moab was to her the place of desolation. There, every prop was taken from her, every arm of flesh failed, and she was left more helpless and desolate than before. Such is the world to the backslider. It is a broken cistern: there is no satisfaction there. The blight of death is over it all. Chastisement and sorrow follow hard upon the wanderer, to cause her to return to God. Then there is a rift in the cloud. She hears that the Lord had visited His people in giving them bread. Blessed Gospel for the sinner! “Christ was born in Bethlehem.” Glad tidings too, for the unsatisfied backslider: “There is bread enough and to spare” in the father’s house (Luke 15:16). This awakens the backslider, and arouses the sinner. Naomi and her two daughters-in-law—three desolate widows—all arise and set their faces toward “the House of Bread.” A returning backslider, and two awakened sinners. Alas! for them to be in such company. Ten years in Moab, have left their traces on Naomi. She speaks evil of the Lord; she makes the way difficult for them. She raises obstacles, and advises them to go back and seek rest in Moab. A backslider is a poor preacher. Better far if he would hold his tongue. He can only stumble souls, and raise doubt and difficulty in their minds. Her speech is full of contradiction: it lacks the clear ring: it can help nobody. Yet it had its effect: the devil used it for Orpah’s destruction. Yes, sad to think of it, Orpah was misled, she was driven back to her idols, by the bad advice of the backslidden Naomi. See to it ye backsliders, that sinners are not driven back from Christ and His Gospel, to the world and to a deep, dark hell, by your words and ways! The choice of Orpah was largely due to the evil counsel of one, who, had she been right with God, might have led her on to Bethlehem.
The Choice of Orpah
Orpah (“A Fawn”) timid and easily frightened, wept as she heard Naomi’s words. Then a kiss, a lingering look, and Orpah bade farewell to Naomi, to Ruth, and to Bethlehem for ever, and went back to “her people and her gods”—her old companions, and her old religion. The curtain falls upon her there: her name is heard no more. Moab was her choice, and very likely her grave. She stands before us as the awakened sinner, the procrastinator, halting short of Christ, going so far with others, but finally returning to the world. Of her, as of many, it has to be said—
“She hath chosen the world and its giddy crowd;
She hath chosen the world and an endless shroud.”
Awakened one! be warned. Think not that you are safe, because you have left the world and your sins behind. Have you got Christ? Have you made Him your choice? Can you say—Christ for me? There is no separation, no conversion, no heaven without Him. If you have no Christ, sooner or later you will drift back to the world, and on to the dark eternity of the worldling.
Sweet it is to turn to one who heard the same miserable teaching, who had the same example, who had extra pressure put upon her to return to Moab, but who, in the face of it all, stood forth with a purposed heart, and deliberately made her choice for eternity. In spite of counter attractions, in spite of hindrances put in the way, she boldly and fearlessly made her decision, and I am sure she never did regret it. The aged Naomi was amazed, it was more than she had counted on—and so when she saw that she was “steadfastly minded,” she left off speaking. Decision wins the day. A soul who will have Christ, is soon let alone by the world. One who can say:—
“My heart is fixed Eternal God—fixed on Thee,
And my immortal choice is made,—Christ for me,”
will not have much further trouble from the temporising backslider. How grand it is to hear of such decisions! How the music of the words re-echoes through the vaults of heaven! A sinner won for Christ, drawn to Him by the cords of love; led to Him, convicted yet confiding, to trust Him; to receive Him as Saviour; to own and confess Him as Lord. This is true conversion—none of your sing-song sentimental talk of the lips—but a genuine whole-hearted decision to be Christ’s, all Christ’s, ever Christ’s; and to be done with the world and all its belongings, once and for ever. “Turned to God, from idols, to serve the living and true God.”
The sevenfold confession of Ruth—these “seven togethers” may be regarded as a seven-linked chain binding the believer to Christ. They may be arranged and read as follows:—
1. Dead together—“Where thou diest will I die.”
2. Buried together—“There will I be buried.”
3. One God—“Thy God my God.”
4. One people—“Thy people shall be my people.”
5. Lodging together—“Where thou lodgest I will.”
6. Going together—“Whither thou goest I will go.”
7. Living together—“If aught but death part thee and me.”
Dead with Christ. Where did Jesus die? At Calvary. There the believer dies also. “I am crucified with Christ” (Gal. 2:20). Do you believe that? Does your faith accept it? Do you give it effect in your life?
“Faith His judgment acquiescing,
Reckons now that I am dead.”
Dead people don’t run after fashions! They are not concerned about politics; they have passed into a scene beyond. Have we? Buried with Christ; the last link gone. Death dissolves the link; burial hides the dead from sight. Baptism rightly understood, is the symbol of this. No wonder it is hated by fleshly men, and opposed by the devil. Buried as men in the flesh; risen as a new creation.
“Thy God, my God.” The first utterance of the Risen Christ was, “I ascend to my Father, and your Father, to my God, and your God.” Wonderful nearness! Blessed relationship.
“So dear, so very dear to God, I cannot dearer be,
The love wherewith He loves the Son; such is His love to me.”
“Thy people shall be my people.” No more of the world. No longer unequally yoked to the unbeliever, but one with the people of God—openly one with them a sharer of their privileges and responsibilities. Moses identified himself fully with the brick-makers in Egypt; he suffered affliction with the people of God. To be a companion of those that fear God; not to forsake the assembling of ourselves with fellow-saints, who gather around their Lord, is the will of God for His people, and such obedience is a test of their love. Then follows the lodging, going, and dwelling with Christ for ever. Blessed choice! Happy pathway! Holy eternity! Be sure you do not miss them.
“So they two went until they came to Bethlehem”—“the House of Bread.” They reached it at “the beginning of barley harvest;” the season of plenty; the time of fulness. And the city was “moved.” Heaven rejoices over the return of the backslider, and the salvation of the sinner. They got no cold reception, but a warm welcome there. And thus they pass in to the place of fulness, to hunger no more.
Ruth in the Fields of Boaz
In the second chapter of our book, we have the Bridegroom shadowed forth. Boaz, the wealthy Bethlehemite, whose name signifies “in Him is strength.” He who became the kinsman-redeemer of this Gentile stranger, is the type of Christ. Here, as elsewhere, there is one prominent feature only foreshadowed, for it takes not one, but many types, to give us a complete picture of Him who is the Bridegroom of His Church. In Adam we have Life and Headship; in Jacob, Love and Service; in Isaac, the Son and Heir; in Solomon, Wisdom and Glory; and here in Boaz we have the might and wealth of Christ. As we have it in the Epistle to the Ephesians, “the exceeding greatness of His power”—“the exceeding riches of His grace.” Wealth and power are what the men of the world run after. The Risen Christ has both. The “unsearchable riches” never to decrease, shared by all His people. “Glorious power,” never to pass away,—the bulwark of that throne on which His saints shall reign with Him.
Ruth is now in Bethlehem, “The House of Bread.” Around her lie the golden fields of Boaz, in which the busy reapers toil, in bringing in the sheaves. To these fields she hastens, and there takes the place of the humble gleaner. It was an ancient ordinance in Israel, that the gleanings of the field belonged to “the poor and the stranger” (Lev. 23:22). She takes the lowly place; she seeks the gleaner’s portion. Guided by the God of Israel, under whose wings she had come to trust, her “hap” was to light on the field of Boaz—his own field. It was not “sub-let,” but owned, and watched over by himself. She took her place there, and “gleaned after the reapers.” Here we have a picture of the newborn soul, the young believer, going forth into the fields of Scripture, to gather food for the new life. He may not be able to do more than gather “here a little and there a little.” A simple promise, an easy precept, a new assurance, to begin with. “Hath everlasting life.” “Are justified from all things.” “Shall not come into condemnation”—are among the earliest handfuls that some of us remember gleaning from the fields of our wealthy Lord, after we had turned our backs on hell and the world, and come to Him for salvation. Oh, how our souls rejoiced, as we met the great Master there Himself, and heard Him say “Go not to glean in another field”—“Abide here”—“when thou art athirst go unto the vessels and drink.” There was nothing like this in the world: no such encouragement in the service of sin and Satan. The devil drives his servants from pillar to post, promising much, but giving nothing. The gracious words of Christ, draw the soul the closer to Him, and lead it on “from strength to strength.” Here also we may learn the joys of early service for the Lord Jesus. His fields are yet white unto harvest: it is the time of “bringing in the sheaves.” The young believer who goes forth to win souls for Jesus, will find it blessed work. The path may be humble, and the labour lowly, but what of that, when the Master is there. As we sing—
“In the gleaner’s path there is rich reward,
Though the time seem long and the labour hard;
But the Master’s joy with His chosen shared,
Drives the gloom from the darkest day.”
At “meal time” she was allowed to sit beside the reapers, and the master himself supplied her from His own hand. She seems to get closer to Boaz as the day fleets by; there is a growing intimacy between them. This is a sign of progress in the soul of a saint. A closer acquaintance with Christ, more personal, direct communion with Him, closer cleaving to His Word, and increasing diligence in His work—these are true indicatons of growth in the Divine life. And thus Ruth gleaned until evening, and then beat out what she had gleaned, and carried it home. She had something tangible to show as the result of her day’s labour, in the ephah of winnowed barley she laid at Naomi’s feet. So may the saints and servants of God, continue to glean and gather from the field of the Word, bread and to spare for the sustenance of their spiritual life. Never neglect the Holy Scriptures, dear young believer. Make it your daily habit to gather from thence your spiritual food. There, too, you will meet with the Master; there you will be fed from His hand, and there you will hear His voice speaking words of holy comfort and friendly cheer (see v. 13). And despise not, nor neglect, the gleaner’s humble path of service, winning a soul here and there for the Master. Remember how Boaz said to Ruth, “It hath fully been shown me all that thou hast done”—“The Lord recompence thy work, and a full reward be given thee” (v. 11-12). From the heaven into which our Divine Boaz, our Master and Lord has gone, we hear the word, “Behold I come quickly, and My reward is with Me to give every man according as his work shall be” (Rev. 22:12).
Resting at the Feet of Boaz
An aged servant of the Lord used to say—“I run my Master’s errands by day, and rest at His feet by night.” The busy hours of service must still be followed by seasons of rest. The soul requires its rest, as well as the body. The Martha-like service, must be accompanied by the Mary-like sitting at Jesus’ feet. There must needs be rest. This is the word of chapter 3. Rest is the theme of the chapter. In chapter 2 Ruth is busy gleaning. In chapter 3 she is resting at the feet of Boaz. This is the true resting-place of the soul. In Christ the weary sinner finds rest (Matt. 11:26), for his conscience rest from his toils in the finished work of Christ. Under His yoke the saint finds rest, true rest of heart (Matt. 11:28). The wearied servant finds rest, alone in the presence of his Lord, far from the busy crowd (Mark 6:30). And there remaineth a rest for the people of God (Heb. 4:9). a long sabbath, unbroken by a groan, the long rest of eternity. Here Ruth lays herself at the feet of Boaz. She virtually hands herself over to him. She claims him as her near kinsman. Is he angry at this liberty? Does he chide her for this approach? Nay, verily. He esteems it a “kindness.” “Thou hast showed me more kindness at the latter end than in the beginning” (v. 10). This is how he regards her confidence. And thus the Lord Jesus, our mighty Man of wealth, our Kinsman-Redeemer, delights to have the confidence of His people. He longs to see them resting at His feet. Far more to Him are the hours of our rest at His feet in communion, than the busy days of service, if the heart has wandered from Himself. And more to us also. Ruth returns to Naomi full. She only managed to glean one ephah of barley, all the day long of labour in the field: she comes with six measures after her season of rest. Full well the soul knows, that the fullest measure of spiritual blessing, is to be had in quiet waiting at the feet of Christ. She rises and returns to Naomi full. Others share the riches of the well-filled soul. It cannot be hid. Naomi is no longer a backslider, telling Ruth to go back and find rest in Moab. She has been restored to God, and finds better work to do now. She says to Ruth, “Sit still my daughter.” She knows what rest is now, and she knows what Boaz will do. “The man will not be in rest until he has finished the thing this day.” Blessed be God. On the Cross in agony, the dying Jesus said—“It is finished.” On the throne, He is waiting for that hour when He shall go forth to claim His Bride, and have her for ever with Himself. He will not be “in rest,” He can never be fully satisfied, until He has His Bride by His side. His rest, and her rest: His joy and her joy are bound up in the same event. Both will then be satisfied, satisfied in each other.
“He and I in that bright glory,
One deep joy shall share,
Mine to be for ever with Him:
His that I am there.”
Redemption and Relationship
Chapter 4 closes the scene. There we have redemption by Boaz, followed by relationship with Him. Ruth is first redeemed by Boaz, then she is united to him.
There was a nearer kinsman, who had the first claim, but he could not perform a kinsman’s part. Then came Boaz to the front. He espoused the cause of Ruth. In the presence of elders and people, he bought the inheritance and the bride. The person and the property passed righteously into his hands. Redemption gave him a title to Ruth, and to the inheritance, and he laid claim to both. Thus she who was by nature a Gentile, one of the accursed race, passed into the honoured place of being the bride of Boaz, and had her name interwoven in the illustrious line of David’s house, through which Jesus Christ came (see Matt. 1:5).
“Christ loved the Church and gave Himself for it (Eph. 5:25). Redemption by blood has already been effected fully at the Cross, and the “day of the redemption of the purchased possession” (Eph. 4:30), when Christ shall openly and fully claim His people, draweth near. Then the Bride purchased by His precious blood, the object of His everlasting love, shall be publicly owned amid the hallelujahs of a rejoicing heaven, as she passes in to the place of greatest nearness, and the place of highest honour to reign with Christ, for ever and for aye.
“Thou too shalt reign, He will not wear
His crown of joy alone;
And earth His royal Bride shall see,
Beside Him on the Throne.”
4. SOLOMON’S BRIDE: OR, COMMUNION WITH CHRIST
(Read The Song of Songs which is Solomon’s)
Each is the title given by the Spirit to this inspired Book. As there is a “Holy of Holies” and a “Heaven of Heavens,” so there is a “Song of Songs.” We are told that Solomon (whose name means “Peaceable”) wrote one thousand and five songs (1 Ki. 4:32), but this one has the pre-eminence. It is a Song of love, the love of the Bridegroom and the Bride. It will no doubt have a dispensational fulfilment in a later day, when the house of Israel, restored to their land, shall acknowledge Jesus of Nazareth as their Messiah-King, and, under His peaceful and benign reign, as the Son of David, the true Solomon, they shall appear on the earth as His covenant people. But we may meanwhile use the language of this Song, as expressive of the communion of saints with Jesus their Lord, and of these holy affections of the heart, that find their joy and delight in Him. The question of salvation is not raised here at all. All this is settled. Relationship is known; peace is enjoyed. The words of the Song can only be sung when the soul is at peace, and in the kingdom of Him who is a greater than Solomon, the Prince of Peace. Such then is the character of this “Song of Songs.” It is a song of communion: the communion of hearts closely united, and perfectly satisfied in each other’s love. There must be this, in order to have communion. If the love and the confidence were all on one side, there would not be communion. Real communion is joint participation, mutual sharing of that which is common to both. It is reciprocated love: mutual confidence: oneness of mind between lover and loved one. And this—wonderful as it may seem—is what the believer has been called to share. He has been called into the closest relationship with Jesus Christ, God’s Son: married to the Lord (Rom. 7:3), one spirit with Him (1 Cor. 6:30). The believer’s union with Christ is no sentimental thing, but a blessed reality. It is not the language of Poetry, but of Scripture that witnesses to this oneness. “We are members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones” (Eph. 5:30). Apart from death and resurrection, sinners could have had no relationship with Christ. By nature and practice we were far, far away, having nothing in common with God or His Son, and no capacity or desire for heavenly things. But blessed be God, He stooped down to our low estate, in order that He might raise us. He took flesh and blood; He lived and died, in order that He might reach us, and lift us up, uniting us to Himself for ever. This is what grace has done for all who are Christ’s. As we sing:—
“Lord Jesus are we one with Thee?
O height, O depth of love,
Once slain for us upon the tree,
We’re one with Thee above.”
It is of this union, this relationship, that the communion of the Book is founded. Were it not so, the language would be unwarrantable. We do not use familiar words to a Stranger. There is reserve in the presence of a Superior. But the intimacy that belongs to Kindred is of another character. There is no reserve, no formality, but the freest, fullest, and deepest intimacy between the bridegroom and the bride, coupled with the truest respect. There is freedom of speech, and expression of love and desire, without fear of rebuke. The believer individually, and the Church collectively, is already united to the Risen Lord: already one spirit with Him. Yet in another sense, it is the time of betrothment, the day of espousals (see 2 Cor. 11:2). During this period—the day of manifested union being yet to come—the Bridegroom’s delight is in His bride, and the joy of the bride is in her Bridegroom. This marks the suitability of the Book, as the expression of the communion of saints of this present time. The Lord is personally absent. He has passed within the heavens, leaving His people on earth for a little while, with the promise “I will come again,” and during the period of His absence, it is the privilege of His saints to enjoy such communion with their Lord as this book bespeaks. Alas! that some should have learned to do without it, and to occupy themselves with other objects. Yet there are those to whom He is the “Altogether Lovely.” Saints of the longing soul, and the homeless heart, to whom earth is a waste, and who daily sing:—
“My heart is with Him on the Throne,
And ill can brook delay,
Each moment listening for the Voice,
‘Rise up and come away’.”
We have communion here in many respects; for it is not always the same. The soul is led on in the company of the Lord Jesus from “strength to strength,” in different paths. There is the intimacy of the secret place; the chambers of the King, the table of the King, the footsteps of the flock, the banqueting house, the field, and the wilderness. In every path of life, at every stage of the journey, in joy and sorrow, in service and in suffering, it is the Lord’s delight to commune with His loved ones, to hear them tell their joys and sorrows to Him, and to have them listen while He speaks the thoughts of His heart concerning them. Such then is the character of these Canticles, or idyls. They are rather to be taken up by the soul of the saint for meditation, than for public exposition. True love to Christ, a longing heart for Himself, will be found the best key to open their treasures, and thus opened, let the heart feed on them and delight in them, “My meditation of Him shall be sweet” (Ps. 109:34). “While I was musing the fire burned, then spake I with my tongue” (Ps. 39:3). “My heart is inditing a good matter, I speak of the things which I have made, touching the King” (Ps. 45:1).
The First Request
“Let Him kiss me with the kisses of His mouth.” This is the first utterance of the Bride. There is no formal introduction, but an impassioned utterance, telling of ardent desire for closer intimacy with the object of her love. She does not even mention His Name; she simply says, “Let Him kiss me.” She supposes every one must know of whom she speaks. As one has said, “The pronoun is used, without a consciousness of the absence of the antecedent”—rather a happy unconsciousness we may say. It reminds us of the words of Mary in the garden, on the resurrection morning, “Sir, if thou hast borne Him hence, tell me where thou hast laid Him, and I will take Him away.” She has only One to speak of, and she supposes everybody will know who she means by “Him.” There is not much of this kind of Christianity in this day of ours. Indeed it is considered to be rather “out of date.” Saints of the yearning heart are not so many. The cold world, the power of things seen, have too much place. Yet they do not give happiness or satisfaction to the soul.
Better far to he “old fashioned,” behind the times, and in company with the saintly Samuel Rutherford, who dwelt in spirit much in the atmosphere of the “Song of Songs,” than in the van with many of the hypercritical “Divines” of our day, who spend their time in raising doubt and difficulty, regarding that Person and Word, on which their forefathers delighted to feed. The “kiss” is used in Scripture as a token of friendship and love (Gen. 31:10-11; 2 Sam. 21:41). When the soul is living in the enjoyment of Christ’s love, it loves Him in return, it is able to say, “Thy love is better than wine.” Wine is the emblem of earthly joy, but the soul filled and satisfied by the love of Jesus, has no heart left for that. It says—
“’Tis the treasure I’ve found in His love
That has made me a pilgrim below.”
The Fragrant Name
Here the Bride speaks forth the worth of her Beloved’s Peerless Name. “Thy Name is as ointment poured forth.” The more it spreads, the more its savour is increased. Surely it is thus with the Name of Jesus. Every blessing the believer now possesses, comes to him through Jesus’ Name. Forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation, are all bestowed in that Name. And not only so, but as he learns the value of His Name, as “Christ” and “Lord,” the position he has in Him, and the loving submission due to Him, the fragrance of the poured forth ointment, the matchless worth of that peerless Name fills his soul, as the spikenard filled the house of old. As he journeys on, he sings:—
“This Name shall shed its fragrance still,
Along life’s thorny road;
Shall sweetly smooth the rugged hill,
That leads me up to God.”
The Chambers of the King
The Bride, still longing for personal and secret communion, is drawn unto “the chambers of the King.” We may take this to mean the secret place where the soul is alone with the Lord, and where He reveals Himself, and manifests afresh His love. Less than this will not satisfy the longing heart of a true believer. “My soul doth thirst for God, the living God,” is the breathing of one who knows the Lord. Outward form and ceremony may satisfy the mere professor, but nothing short of personal, secret intercourse with the Lord, will do for the saint. This He delights to give. The prayer of “Draw me” is ever followed by the experience “the King hath brought me into His chambers.”
Black but Comely
The next word is the Bride’s testimony concerning herself, to others. Communion must ever precede testimony. Lessons learned in the secret place; truths heard from the Master’s lips while sitting at His feet, will never fail to produce true witness-bearing for Him. “I am black but comely” is the Bride’s word concerning herself. Strange as this paradox may appear, it is perfectly true. “Black” in herself; comely in Christ. Both these pictures are found in the Word. “Sinners of whom I am chief” (1 Tim. 1:15); “Complete in Him” (Col. 1:10), are equally true of every saint. The one refers to what he is by nature, as a child of Adam: the other to what he is by grace, as a child of God.
“Black” the saint will ever see himself to be, for in his flesh no good thing dwelleth, but accepted in Christ; “fair” as the curtains of the inner Sanctuary, which were made of pure and fine linen, and lay basking continually in the light of the presence of the Lord.
The Shepherd and His Flock
Again the Bride makes request, and this time it is not for personal and secret communion, but for fellowship and feeding, in company with others. She wants to know where her Beloved as a Shepherd feeds His flock; where they rest at noon, in order that she may be with them. The desire for the fellowship of saints is quite as much the work of grace in the heart, as is the desire for individual intercourse with the Lord. The saints of this age are not units, but “members one of another.” They are not only sheep individually (John 10:27), but they form part of His flock collectively (see Acts 2:27; 1 Pet. 5:2). The will of the Lord is, that His people should be found “gathered together,” to be fed and shepherded by the Great Shepherd of the sheep. The New Testament Scriptures show that thus it was with saints of early times. They were found in company, not isolated; they were separated from the world, but gathered together themselves (Heb. 10:25), and unto Christ (Matt. 18:20). Such were the churches of apostolic times, and such ought the churches of these later days to be. There is no new pattern, no fresh commandment. The Bridegroom’s answer to this enquiry of the Bride, is the answer to the saint desiring to be with and under Christ, as the Shepherd and Ruler of His people. “Go thy way forth, by the footsteps of the flock.” These good old paths are still to he found in the Word, and the simple obedient soul, who has no object but to please the Lord, will easily find them there. Wherever difficulties and perplexities are found in regard to Christian fellowship, they spring from a want of simplicity, and a single eye for Christ. If a saint has a “cause” or a “system” of his own to defend, or if he has a course marked out for himself, for which he seeks to find the sanction of the Word, he will find perplexity enough, and in the end both sorrow and confusion, but the simple devoted soul, whose desire is to be with Christ, and to follow Him alone, will find “the footsteps of the flock” both plain and clear.
Horses in Pharaoh’s Chariots
The Bridegroom next speaks. He has already answered the requests of His loved one, for closer friendship, secret communion, and fellowship with His people. Her threefold request, “Kiss me—Draw me—Tell me” has been freely met, according to the desire of her heart. How He begins to tell His delights in her, for not only has she found her portion in Him, but the Lord has His satisfaction in His people. “The Lord’s portion is His people” (Deut. 32:9). “The Lord taketh pleasure in His people” (Ps. 149:4). He likens them here to “a company of horses in Pharaoh’s chariots.” This is surely the emblem of service, or we may say, of unity and fellowship in service. All ready to move at the word of command, obedient to one guiding hand, true yoke-fellows and fellow-labourers, striving together for the faith of the Gospel. The Lord finds His delight in such a condition of things among His people. He has made full provision that such may be, and it ought to be His people’s study and aim, to give Him the joy He seeks amongst them.
The Spikenard at the Table
“While the king sitteth at His table, my spikenard sendeth forth the smell thereof.” Here we have fellowship and worship at the table. The table is His, the spikenard is hers. He gathers His redeemed ones around His table, to feed them, and refresh them from His bounteous store. They offer unto Him their worship and grateful praise in return. Only as we are receivers from Him, can we be givers to Him. “Of Thine own have we given Thee” (1 Chr. 29:14), must ever be the language of our hearts. In New Testament times, the Church assembled on the Lord’s day, around the Lord’s table, to eat the Lord’s Supper, and thus gathered, there was worship, thanksgiving, and praise drawn forth from, the hearts of the saints (see 1 Cor. 11, 14), and thus it ought to be and would be still, if saints walked in the simplicity and love of these bright early days.
The Lord’s Delight in His People
We can only thus briefly note the various aspects of communion between the Bridegroom and the Bride, which appear throughout this precious book. Sometimes they are together in the chambers communing secretly, sometimes in the valleys and the vineyards, far from the bustle and noise of the world. There the loved one hears from the lips of Him who loves her, of her value and beauty in His sight. How precious are the saints to Christ: How lovely they appear in His eyes! “As the lily among thorns, so is my love among the daughters” (chap. 1:2). Surely here we have the character of the saints, and the world, side by side. A “lily:” pure, unspotted, lowly: separate from the world. A “lily of the valley” too, growing in the shade, unknown, unrecognised by the world, but well known to Him.
He feedeth among His lowly people, and when their days of earthly testimony are overpast, He goes down and “gathers” them (see chap. 4:3), to His own paradise. In Solomon’s temple, which in certain of its parts, is typical of the glorified Church in resurrection, we are told that on the pillars there was “lily work” (1 Ki. 7:22). And in that glorious “Church,” which is now being builded by a greater than Solomon, the “lily work” shall not be awanting, for He has promised unto those whose garments are unspotted here, that they shall walk with Him “in white” hereafter (Rev. 3:4), and that he who keeps His Word and denies not His Name shall yet stand as a pillar in the temple of His God (Rev. 3:12), to bear His Name for ever. Again the Bridegroom speaks, and now He likens His loved one to a “dove in the clefts of the rock, in the secret places of the stain” (chap. 2:15). Surely we have here the security of God’s people. They are safely hid in the cleft of the Rock, and we know “That Rock is Christ.” Familiar, but true, are the words of the ancient song:—
“Rock of Ages cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee.”
There the sinner flees for refuge, and there the saint makes his dwelling-place. The “dove” nestles there. Her safety consists in her strong dwelling-place. She is no match for the vulture or the hawk. She has neither claws nor weapons wherewith to defend herself. In the day of her distress, as well as in the day of her gladness, she flees to her nest in the cleft of the Rock. So teach Thy saints O Lord to flee to Thee, and to say, “Thou art my Hiding-place” (Ps. 32:7) in the hour of danger, and “Thou hast been our Dwelling-Place” (Ps. 90) throughout our pilgrim days. We can only note another of the Bridegroom’s comparisons of His Bride as He tells her again of her beauty, and of the delight He finds in he graces. He adds, “a garden enclosed is my sister, my spouse, a spring shut up, a fountain sealed.” There need be no doubt as to the meaning of the language here. It tells of an entire separation from the world, and a complete surrender to the Lord. Had there been no danger around, no lions or beasts of prey, there would have been no need for the “enclosure” here spoken of by the Bridegroom. But He had just told her of “the lions’ dens” and “mountains of the leopards.” Hence the need of His garden being “enclosed.” And me may rest assured, that if there had been no danger to the believer in the world, there would no danger to the believer in the world, there would have been so such word as this—“The friendship of the world is enmity with God,” and no such dividing wall as this—“Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world.” The people of God are called to be a separate people, a people “enclosed” from the world’s sins, and its spurious religion and to be to Christ a peculiar treasure, a people purified “unto Himself for His own possession” (Tit. 2:14, R.V.), or in the language of our song, “a spring shut up, a fountain sealed.” Happy had it been, if the Lord’s redeemed had maintained this place of separation from the world, but alas, in how many cases has the wall been broken down, the world allowed to come in, and the roaring lion to do his deadly work. Nevertheless the truth still abides, and to all who yield obedience thereto, the Lord will fulfil His word. If they keep themselves for Christ, He will be for them, and thus separated unto Him, they will have His discipline and His care. He will cause His “north” wind and His “south” wind to blow, to bring forth the fragrance of His spices, and His saints however few, or feeble in the eyes of men, will be as “a well of living waters, and streams from Lebanon” (chap. 4:15).
The Saint’s Delight in the Lord
The soul of the saint taught of the Spirit, finds its delight and its portion in Christ. To “consider Him” (see Heb. 3:2; 12:3) is the chief business of the saint. To be occupied with Christ is the heart and soul of God’s Christianity, and to be near Him is heaven begun. To lose sight of Him is misery for the saint who has known communion. Here, we find the Bride’s estimate of her Beloved, in various aspects, and under various circumstances. He is “the apple tree,” under whose shade, rest, and refreshment are found (2:3). He leads to the “banqueting house,” where “wine to strengthen,” joy, such as the world knows not of, is supplied, and where the weary one is rested and embraced in the arms of the Lord. All these images and variety of scenes, tell of the Lord’s love for, and care of His people. It is such communion and such strength, that fits the saint for warfare and testimony here. Need we wonder, that when the opportunity is given, she is able to give a full description of her Beloved to those who ask the question—“What is thy beloved more than another beloved?” (v. 9). “When the clouds are full, they empty themselves upon the earth,” and when the saint has been filled with the knowledge of the Lord, while communing with Him, and receiving from him, it is the easiest thing in the world to pour forth from the lips, the glories and virtues of His Name. Communion with Christ, makes the best evangelist. Personal acquaintance with Him, gives matter to the teacher. To know His heart equips the pastor. In short, all true ministry, in the world, or in the Church, must have its spring and its source, in communion with the Lord. They may be right words, but apart from this, they will be barren and void of unction.
Until the Day Break
Sweet and precious as the saint’s communion with the Lord now is, there is something better still awaits him. There never can be satisfaction until the Bridegroom and the Bride are with each other, never more to be parted. “The mountains of Bether”—that is of separation, for a little while part the Lord from His people, but this will not for ever last. There is a limit to the time of espousals. “Until the day break and the shadows flee away.” Then the absent one comes forth in all the love of His heart to say to His Bride, “Rise up my love, my fair one, and come away.” This also is the theme of communion. He longs for the day of “the gladness of His heart.” She waits to hear the voice that will call her away, and this “Song of Songs” ends with the loving, yearning request, “Make haste my beloved.” And so the Book of books, the great charter of the Church ends. The promise, the last spoken word of the Bridegroom is—“Surely I come quickly,” and then the loving, longing response is recorded. “And the Spirit and the Bride say, Come”—“Come, Lord Jesus” (Rev. 22:17-20).