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THE GREAT BETROTHAL.
“My Beloved is mine, and I am His.”
WE need not go into the literal and historical interpretation of this Song of Songs. It is enough to know that “a greater than Solomon is here.” It is a vision and a prophecy of one “falling into a trance, hut having his eyes open;”231231 Numbers xxiv. 16. conscious, and not conscious; seeing, and not seeing, how great things he foreshadowed and spake. It is verily and indeed the song of Him who “loved” His spouse the Church, and gave Himself for it; that He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water, by the word, that He might present it to Himself a glorious Church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; hut that it should be holy, and without blemish.”232232 Ephes. v. 25-27. This song is the ineffable 412 communion of the Bridegroom and Bride, both in this wayfaring upon earth, and at the marriage supper of the Lamb. It utters, in human words, and by human figures and emotions, because spoken by man, and addressed to man, things which surpass not only words but knowledge; realities of the spiritual world,—the instincts, energies, and consciousness of the soul. For these what language is deep or fine enough? what can ear or eye attain to those things which even the heart of man hath not conceived? They can be perceived only by the intuitions of the Spirit, and by a power of vision granted to us by God.
Such is the mystery of peace here expressed. “My Beloved is mine, and I am His.” High as these words are, yet they are for all. Not only might His chosen disciple so speak, but the stained and penitent “Magdalene, for she loved much.” Wonderful is His pity and compassion: the least may say this with the greatest. Even now in measure, as hereafter; for in the firmament of His kingdom, though “one star differeth from another star in glory,” yet all are bright and pure: some burning with a ruddy and glorious light, in might and splendour; some pale and meek, in purity and softness; but all are hallowed, sainted, and beloved.
Let us see, then, what these few deep words 413may mean. They express the bond or hold of love between Christ and His elect, whether they be saints or penitents, and they fasten it by a twofold strength. “My Beloved is mine;” and not this alone, but “I am His.” At first sight these words might seem to change the order of love given by St. John, “We love Him, because He first loved us;” but it does not. The order is eternal, laid deep in the bosom of God, and cannot be changed. What, then, do these words express? They teach us:
First, that He is ours in the very sense in which we speak of our father or our child, our life or our own soul. There is nothing we possess, either without or within our inmost being, which is more our own than He is. He is our Maker, our Redeemer, our Helper, our Light, our Daily Bread, our Hope, and our Portion for ever. We may be stripped naked of all other things which are most our own; but of Him we can never be deprived, except we cast Him away. And how has He become ours? Not by deserving or earning, by finding or seeking; not by climbing up to Him, or taking Him for ours; but because He gave Himself to us. He gave us His truth, His holy sacraments, His promises; He gave us sight, power, reason, and life; and because He gave them, they are ours; ours in full, as if there were no other regenerate soul, no other illuminated heart, no other 414intelligence, no other living spirit. We share an universal gift, which is whole in all, and perfect in every one; of which none can challenge our right, or rob us of our portion. So it is with Himself. He took our manhood, and was made one with us; and gave Himself for us as an atonement, and to us as a Saviour. Our possession of Him, therefore, is full and absolute, by His own “unspeakable gift.”
But this does not reach up to the fulness of this mystery. He gave Himself to us as the bridegroom gives himself to the bride. It was an act of His love stooping to us, giving up, as it were, His right over Himself, and putting Himself into the power of His Church, so as to be Head to none other than to her. And this is why St. John says, “He first loved us.” It was,—it could only be,—His own free choice; His own first advance; His own unsought, unknown love, by which He gave to His Church the dowry of Himself. In this mystery of love is summed up all that is inviolable, binding, and eternal. The force of this betrothal has all strength, human and divine. He will never draw back from it, or release Himself, or annul His vows, or cast us away. On His side this is impossible. The pledge of His love is everlasting, as His love itself. But not only is this a mystery of strength and of eternity, but of tenderness, care, pity, and 415compassion. “No man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the Church: for we are members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones.”233233 Ephes. v. 29, 30. These things are not to be explained away into figures and metaphors, or to be lowered by lax interpretations. They reveal great verities of the Spirit; eternal realities of the new creation, Husband never loved a wife; bridegroom, in the first gladness of perfect affection, never loved a bride, with a love so deep, fervent, tender, self-forgetting, as that love which binds the Son of God to the Church for which He died. The coldness of our natural heart, and the remote abstractions of reason, make us to content ourselves with a theory of God’s love which belongs to the schools of philosophy, not to the revelation of the Gospel. But the love that is revealed to us in Christ, is all that is of God, with all that is of man. It is divine in its perfection, and human in its intimate embrace of our most vivid and tender emotions. “My Beloved is mine” He has so given, pledged, and bound Himself to me; He has so fulfilled, confirmed, and assured me of His bonds and pledges; that I ought sooner to doubt that He made me than that He loves me; that my own sight or soul are mine, than that He is mine; mine by every sense in which the word can be 416spoken; mine as my help, head, shelter, protection, guide, happiness, and everlasting rest.
2. And next, these words mean that, in giving Himself to be ours, He took us to be His own. “And I am His.” It is a full contract, binding both, though made and accomplished by Himself alone. He created us when we were not; He redeemed us when we were dead in sin; He regenerated us when we were born in uncleanness; He called us by all the vocations of His truth and Spirit when we were unconscious, forgetful, or rebellious; He strove with us when we were impenitent; He converted us when we should have perished; He made Himself ours by a gift, and He has made us His own by the power of His Spirit. We are His, therefore, by every bond and title. We are bought, purchased, redeemed; we are pledged, vowed, and betrothed; but better than all these, He has made us to be His by the free, willing, and glad consent of our own heart. This is why we may call Him, “My Beloved.” Because after all His miracles of creation and redemption, of our new birth and of His long-suffering, He has wrought one more, greater than all; He has made us to love Him in return. Who that remembers what he was in childhood, boyhood, and even the riper years of life; who that remembers the sins and provocations of his corrupted will, the 417cold ingratitude and proud defiance of his rebellious heart; nay, who that knows what has been the frigid, reluctant, soulless religion of his seemingly devout and penitent life; but must wonder at the kindling of his own heart, as if the touch of an angel had brought fire out of a rock? It is nothing less than a miracle in the order of the new creation of God; and to be the subject of such a miracle is full of wonder and awe. It is no less a work of the Holy Ghost than the tongues of fire which sat upon the apostles in the day of Pentecost. What more wonderful than that we should begin to desire His love whom we habitually slighted; and to sorrow most of all that we cannot love Him again? Strange, that what was once without savour should now be sweeter than the droppings of the honeycomb; that our hearts should beat, and thrill, and tremble with the desire, not so much to be loved by Him as to love Him above all; that our chief disquiet should be our own loveless spirit, and our highest joy the least kindling of our soul towards Him. What is this but “a change from the right hand of the Most High?” The gift of love to Him is the greatest gift of all. If we have this one gift, though besides we have nothing, yet we have all things; though we had all things, without this we should have nothing. What a mystery of wonder is the company of His 418elect; from righteous Abel to the Annunciation, and much more from that time unto this day. What is the inward life of that great company, of whom the world was not worthy? What was their aim, hope, and stay? What drew them out from home and kindred, and knit them into a new fellowship,—in the world hut not of it,—neither a temporal State nor a retired household, but a kingdom wide as the earth, in every land, of every tongue, under every sky, always suffering, never failing, perpetually replenishing from some unseen source, outliving races and dynasties, awing and binding kings in chains, subduing the roughest wills, and changing the rudest natures,—what, I say, has been the secret life, energy, and power of this miracle of God, but the mystical union and marriage between Christ and His elect, “the love of” His “espousals,” the divine virtue of these few words, “My Beloved is mine, and I am His?” This has been the strength of prophets and apostles; this has made martyrs, saints, and penitents; the love of Christ and His Church, uniting both in one flesh and one spirit, with one heart and will, in life and in death. This, then, is the plain meaning, shortly expressed, as needs must be, of these words. And they are full of all manner of consolation. For instance:
1. They interpret to us the whole discipline 419of sorrow. It is most certain that, if it were not necessary for our very salvation, He would never send affliction. That we should be afflicted, is more against the tenderness of His love for us than against the delicacy of our love for ourselves. When it comes, it is a proof how much He loves us; so much, indeed, that He would rather afflict us than let us perish. Most of our sorrows are the close followers of positive sins. We draw them upon ourselves. And He, in His mercy, turns what we make penal into purification. Sometimes they are sorrows not in the order of nature but of providence; and are then laid on by Him to purge us of some spiritual disease, which, if left alone, must be our death. Such are the deadly sins and their chastisements.
But passing over these; the love He has to us, and the right to our undivided love, make Him impatient of our estranged affections. He is “a jealous God, even a consuming fire.” And He will not endure that we should give to others or to ourselves what is due to Him alone. If you would take this as a key, it would open to you the darkest passages of your past life. He has been weaning you from irregular and excessive affections. After the love of gross sin is cast out, self and the world long hold their sway. Men love and aim at power, rank, reputation, wealth, high relations, great friendships; 420or it may be they turn to intellect and literature, and to the subtil allurements of a purer and more refined self-love; or still more subtil, they take up even the sanctities of religion and of His service as the subject-matter of their energy and self-esteem, or of their repose and self-indulgent consolation. They love power over other minds, and the more so in proportion as that power is higher, purer, and more intense. They make to themselves thrones in the reason or the imagination, in the conscience or the heart of others. And what is sadder still, they use even the name, the person, and the passion of the Son of God as the occasion and material of ministering to their own service. This sounds very startling and sinful, and perhaps many may say that they are wholly innocent of it; indeed, perhaps few will confess themselves to be guilty. And yet, what is ambition, vanity, self-importance, whether worldly, literary, or spiritual, but this? The plain interpretation of such sins is, that they are a transfer of your affections from the heavenly Bridegroom to the world, or to yourselves. And this, in His love, He will not suffer. He will lay on the rod, stroke after stroke, till He has wakened you to know yourselves. He will never leave you till He make you to desire that you may be supplanted, dispossessed, dethroned in the heart of every creature, 421so that you may rest on His heart alone. Sharp as the discipline may be, and sick at soul as you must be under it, yet the time will come when you will feel it a sharper anguish to be conscious of any affection at variance with your love to Him; when you will sicken with a far deeper self-abasement at every feeling or thought which betrays the stubborn vividness of self-love.
There is something unutterably humbling in the inward consciousness of any one heart-sin, such as envy or vanity, which makes it impossible for us to rest sincerely and altogether in His love. Such sins shew at once that we have not passed out of ourselves, but that we are still festering in the very core of self. Now all these He will expel, one by one; gently if it may be, or all together, if it must be, by some overwhelming stroke. And besides this purgation of sins, He also will not cease to visit us till He restore unity and measure even to our pure affections. The order of love is, that we should love Him with all our soul, and others as ourselves. Such is the charity of Heaven; the love of blessed spirits round His throne. But with us, all is disorder and division. What is the order of our sensible and active love? We love first ourselves greatly, then our friends a little, and then God least of all. Therefore He will not stay His hand till all this be reversed. Hence come losses 422and disappointments, baffled hopes, and a multitude of graves. The lesson must be learnt; and if you cannot learn it in a throng, you must learn it in solitude. He will be “the first and the last,” the chief and all in your hearts; and that not for His own sake, but for yours. He will have you to draw out and realise the whole of your bond and betrothal with Him, that you may sit down with Him, and with all your beloved ones, at the great marriage supper. It is a good thing, then, to try ourselves often, and to ask, “If such or such a solace were taken away, could I stay myself upon His love? If I had none of these things, would He suffice me? If He should say, Keep all without Me; or give up all, and keep Me alone; which should I choose? If I could now leave all, and go to sit at His feet, would this be happiness?” If not, then let us not wonder if we be chastened. Let us not doubt His tenderness in afflicting. It is because He sees that, with this blessing or that happiness, with this friend or that child, you will never be able to say, “I am His.” Therefore He makes your heart empty, that your love may gather itself again in strength, and fasten upon Him alone. Not only are His chastisements in love, but they are for love, for the sake of love. The final end is, that we may be made perfect in love; that the gift of His love may be shed abroad in us, and a drop of that holy fire which He came 423to kindle may fall into our hearts, and purge them seven times for Himself.
2. But in this we see further the true pledge of our perseverance unto the end. Our whole salvation is begun, continued, and ended in His love. There is no other account to be given of it. How this is interwoven with the intricate mystery of our probation, we cannot now discern. Why should we? If we cannot believe this, where is our faith? To what fountain but His changeless love can we trace up the stream of mercy, which has borne us onward unto this day? His grace descended upon us when we were unconscious. It bare with us through long years of sinful ignorance; it restrained us from unknown ways of perdition, on which we were resolutely bent; it converted us when we were dead in security; it has upheld us through all dangers, declensions, and swervings, even to this day. If He had, at any hour, renounced His pledges with us, we must have perished. Here is the wonderful token of His patient love. He has preserved us not only from the power of sin, but from and against ourselves. Not only would sin have destroyed us, but we should have destroyed ourselves. He has watched over us as a guide and keeper. While we have been struggling to break from Him, His love has held us fast. He held us, pitying our ignorance, knowing 424 our will, that as yet we had no true will of our own, but a slavish will; a will not free, because in bondage to our own sins. It is as if He had said, “Thou shalt not perish so. Thou shalt at least first see Me, and thyself in My light; and then perish if thou wilt,—if thou canst.”
And that same love is the pledge of blessings yet to come. He that kept us from perishing when we were willing to perish, will surely keep us from perishing now that we are trembling to be saved. If He kept us while we loved the sweetness of sin, He will, beyond all doubt, hold us up now that we abhor it. It is from this love of sin that He will save us. When we are overcome with shame and fear because sin is still alluring to our eyes and pleasant to the taste, we may go to Him with this special confidence, that He will either make it to be hideous and bitter, or He will give us grace to withstand it to the end. If sin were hateful and tormenting, like sharp wounds or searing irons, where would be our danger? “No man ever yet hated his own flesh;” no man would be in peril of torturing himself into perdition. It is only because sin is sweet that it is perilous; and if it be sweet to us, it is because we are fallen and in a state of trial. He will not count us guilty because sin is alluring, but only because we consent to its allurement. To hate it in spite of its sweetness, 425and to hate it for its sweetness, to be humbled with shame and sorrow at the consciousness that it has any power over us, and we any susceptibility of its attraction,—this is His work in us, and the pledge of our safety. Against this life-long peril our strength is His love. We may go to Him, and hold fast by Him, and none of these things shall set on to hurt us. But perhaps we may say, “Yes, this I would do, if I were sure of myself; but here is my chief misgiving and my greatest danger,—the instability, changeableness, fickleness of myself: what can I say to this?” We may say, “I am not my own; I am His. I cannot help myself. If He should give me into my own keeping, I should perish outright. My intentions, my resolutions, my strength, my strivings, are faint, treacherous, soon wearied out, soon abandoned; but I can give myself over into His hands, and ask Him to keep me, for I cannot keep myself.” This we may answer. And what more would we desire to say? What more can we say than this: “I am sinful, prone to fall, ready to slide at every step. Every kind of sin is stronger than I. Pride, vainglory, sloth, envy, anger, and the like, seize on me, and infuse themselves into my heart even against my will. Sometimes, for a moment, I even consent to them; or, if I do not consent to them, I feel them with such a fulness and vividness as shews 426my heart to be of their close kindred. And, besides this, the wayward, moody, cold, estranged, loveless temper of my own mind is always making breaches between Him and me. I am always ready to perish, always perishing in my own hands. The root of death is in my own soul. It is against myself that I need a helper.” Blessed hope and trust. We may give ourselves into His hands; we may go to Him, and, trembling, say, “I am afraid of myself, and dare not trust myself alone. Take me, for I am not my own. I am Thine, by my bond and pledge, by Thine own blood and by Thine own love, by Thy promise and by Thy betrothal. Take that Thine is, and keep it for me, lest I lose it utterly.” What more can we say or need? “I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him against that day.”234234 2 Tim. i. 12.
3. And lastly, in this there is our true and only stay in death. If we were saints, if we loved Him with all our soul and with all our strength, the most blessed day in life would be the last. To go and be with Him whom our soul loveth; to be for ever with Him, gazing upon His face of love, ourselves sinless and living by love alone,—this is heaven. Does it not shame and affright us to read how His true servants, not only the greater, 427but even those who were among the least, have panted for that meeting; counting life a banishment, and the world desolate, and time laggard and slow? When the forerunners of death seemed to appear and greet them, when friends were full of eager sorrow, they rejoiced; evil tidings were to them glad tidings of good; for the end of their pilgrimage was come, and the vision of peace all but revealed. Why was this so with them? why did they not shrink and tremble? why did not their hearts beat with the fear of death?
Why, but because they could say, from the soul of their very being, “My Beloved is mine, and I am His.” “Perfect love casteth out fear. . . . He that feareth is not made perfect in love.”235235 1 St. John iv. 18. We are conscious of many sins, of a poor languid repentance, of a weak faith, doubting hope, and of a love rather in word and in tongue, in the reason and imagination, than in life and heart. A sense of our unfitness to call Him “My Beloved,” or to stand before Him as His,—this shakes our very soul with fear. In such an hour where shall we find a stay? Where but in this, “He loves me; He loves me more than I love myself. On His side” this is sure. On mine; I love Him. He knows how little, yet He knows I do; or at least, that to love Him is my desire. ‘Lord, Thou 428 knowest that I love Thee.’ ‘Who shall separate me from the love of Christ?’ He will not, and I dare not. Who, then, can? The powers of this world cannot reach into the world unseen. The gates of hell cannot prevail against the Rock on which I stand. Satan hath nothing in Him, nor through Him in me. It is sin that drives me closer to His Cross. My own will I have given into His hand; He will not leave me to myself.”
Let us ask again, “Who, then, shall separate me? There is none that can. Though all powers of hell be against me for my unutterable guilt, all holy powers are on my side. God the Father loves me, and gave His Son for me; God the Son loves me, and gave Himself to me; God the Holy Ghost loves me, and has regenerated, prevented, restrained, converted me; the ever-blessed Trinity loves me, and desires my salvation; all heavenly powers and all holy angels love and rejoice over one penitent soul. The whole world unseen is benign and blessed, full of love to sinners, ‘of whom I am chief.’ I give myself into the hands of a boundless love: as an infinite misery, I cast myself upon an infinite mercy. This is my only stay, but it is all-sufficing.” Let this be your answer.
But that we may be able to cast ourselves on this in death, we must make it our perpetual stay 429in life. We must live in the grace of faith, hope, and love; or when our trial comes, we shall find our hearts fearful, doubtful, and shrinking. Let us more and more strive to see Him by faith, by the vision of our hearts, and to rest ourselves upon a full trust of His loving-kindness. Above all, let our labour and our prayer be, that we may love Him with an uniting and absorbing love. For what end did we come into this world, but that we might be united to Him eternally? What is the end for which we were redeemed, yea, by the foreknowledge of God created, but that we should be one with Him, as He is with the Father? The old creation was but a type of the new; the first espousals a shadow of that eternal marriage between the second Adam and the Church of the elect. Wonderful, and surpassing all thought and heart of man! Our spiritual sight is darkened before so great a splendour. What seems to us to be but a restoration is the ascent of a perfect work. The first is last, and the last first. “Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory, and honour, and power; for Thou hast created all things, and for Thy pleasure they are and were created.”236236 Rev. iv. 11. “And I heard as it were the voice of a great multitude, and as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of mighty thunderings, 430saying, Alleluia: for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth. Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to Him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and His wife hath made herself ready. And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints. And he saith unto me, Write, Blessed are they which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb. And he saith unto me, These are the true sayings of God.”237237 Rev. xix. 6-9.431
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