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My beloved thrust his hand into the opening,

and my inmost being yearned for him.

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The Love of Christ to the Church; Spiritual Desertion.

2 I sleep, but my heart waketh: it is the voice of my beloved that knocketh, saying, Open to me, my sister, my love, my dove, my undefiled: for my head is filled with dew, and my locks with the drops of the night.   3 I have put off my coat; how shall I put it on? I have washed my feet; how shall I defile them?   4 My beloved put in his hand by the hole of the door, and my bowels were moved for him.   5 I rose up to open to my beloved; and my hands dropped with myrrh, and my fingers with sweet smelling myrrh, upon the handles of the lock.   6 I opened to my beloved; but my beloved had withdrawn himself, and was gone: my soul failed when he spake: I sought him, but I could not find him; I called him, but he gave me no answer.   7 The watchmen that went about the city found me, they smote me, they wounded me; the keepers of the walls took away my veil from me.   8 I charge you, O daughters of Jerusalem, if ye find my beloved, that ye tell him, that I am sick of love.

In this song of loves and joys we have here a very melancholy scene; the spouse here speaks, not to her beloved (as before, for he has withdrawn), but of him, and it is a sad story she tells of her own folly and ill conduct towards him, notwithstanding his kindness, and of the just rebukes she fell under for it. Perhaps it may refer to Solomon's own apostasy from God, and the sad effects of that apostasy after God had come into his garden, had taken possession of the temple he had built, and he had feasted with God upon the sacrifices (v. 1); however, it is applicable to the too common case both of the churches and particular believers, who by their carelessness and security provoke Christ to withdraw from them. Observe,

I. The indisposition that the spouse was under, and the listlessness that had seized her (v. 2): I sleep, but my heart wakes. Here is, 1. Corruption appearing in the actings of it: I sleep. The wise virgins slumbered. She was on her bed (ch. iii. 1), but now she sleeps. Spiritual distempers, if not striven against at first, are apt to grow upon us and to get ground. She slept, that is, pious affections cooled, she neglected her duty and grew remiss in it, she indulged herself in her ease, was secure and off her watch. This is sometimes the bad effect of more than ordinary enlargements—a good cause. St. Paul himself was in danger of being puffed up with abundant revelations, and of saying, Soul, take thy ease, which made a thorn in the flesh necessary for him, to keep him from sleeping. Christ's disciples, when he had come into his garden, the garden of his agony, were heavy with sleep, and could not watch with him. True Christians are not always alike lively and vigorous in religion. 2. Grace remaining, notwithstanding, in the habit of it: "My heart wakes; my own conscience reproaches me for it, and ceases not to rouse me out of my sluggishness. The spirit is willing, and, after the inner man, I delight in the law of God, and with my mind I serve that. I am, for the present, overpowered by temptation, but all does not go one way in me. I sleep, but it is not a dead sleep; I strive against it; it is not a sound sleep; I cannot be easy under this indisposition." Note, (1.) We ought to take notice of our own spiritual slumbers and distempers, and to reflect upon it with sorrow and shame that we have fallen asleep when Christ has been nigh us in his garden. (2.) When we are lamenting what is amiss in us, we must not overlook the good that is wrought in us, and preserved alive: "My heart wakes in Christ, who is dear to me as my own heart, and is my life; when I sleep, he neither slumbers nor sleeps."

II. The call that Christ gave to her, when she was under this indisposition: It is the voice of my beloved; she knew it to be so, and was soon aware of it, which was a sign that her heart was awake. Like the child Samuel, she heard at the first call, but did not, like him, mistake the person; she knew it to be the voice of Christ. He knocks, to awaken us to come and let him in, knocks by his word and Spirit, knocks by afflictions and by our own consciences; though this is not expressly quoted, yet probably it is referred to (Rev. iii. 20), Behold, I stand at the door, and knock. He calls sinners into covenant with him and saints into communion with him. Those whom he loves he will not let alone in their carelessness, but will find some way or other to awaken them, to rebuke and chasten them. When we are unmindful of Christ he thinks of us, and provides that our faith fail not. Peter denied Christ, but the Lord turned and looked upon him, and so brought him to himself again. Observe how moving the call is: Open to me, my sister, my love. 1. He sues for entrance who may demand it; he knocks who could easily knock the door down. 2. He gives her all the kind and most endearing titles imaginable: My sister, my love, my dove, my undefiled; he not only gives her no hard names, nor upbraids her with unkindness in not sitting up for him, but, on the contrary, studies how to express his tender affection to her still. His loving-kindness he will not utterly take away. Those that by faith are espoused to Christ he looks upon as his sisters, his loves, his doves, and all that is dear; and, being clothed with his righteousness, they are undefiled. This consideration should induce her to open to him. Christ's love to us should engage ours to him, even in the most self-denying instances. Open to me. Can we deny entrance to such a friend, to such a guest? Shall we not converse more with one that is infinitely worthy of our acquaintance, and so affectionately desirous of it, though we only can be gainers by it? 3. He pleads distress, and begs to be admitted sub formâ pauperis—under the character of a poor traveller that wants a lodging: "My head is wet with the dew, with the cold drops of the night; consider what hardships I have undergone, to merit thee, which surely may merit from thee so small a kindness as this." When Christ was crowned with thorns, which no doubt fetched blood from his blessed head, then was his head wet with the dew. "Consider what a grief it is to me to be thus unkindly used, as much as it would be to a tender husband to be kept out of doors by his wife in a rainy stormy night." Do we thus require him for his love? The slights which careless souls put upon Jesus Christ are him as a continual dropping in a very rainy day.

III. The excuse she made to put off her compliance with this call (v. 3): I have put off my coat; how shall I put it on again? She is half asleep; she knows the voice of her beloved; she knows his knock, but cannot find in her heart to open to him. She was undressed, and would not be at the pains to dress herself again; she had washed her feet, and would not have occasion to wash them again. She could not send another to open the door (it must be our own act and deed to let Christ into our hearts), and yet she was loth to go herself; she did not say, I will not open, but, How shall I? Note, Frivolous excuses are the language of prevailing slothfulness in religion; Christ calls to us to open to him, but we pretend we have no mind, or we have no strength, or we have no time, and therefore think we may be excused, as the sluggard that will not plough by reason of cold. And those who ought to watch for the Lord's coming with their loins girt, if they ungird themselves and put off their coat, will find it difficult to recover their former resolution and to put it on again; it is best therefore to keep tight. Making excuses (Luke xiv. 18) is interpreted making light of Christ (Matt. xxii. 5), and so it is. Those put a great contempt upon Christ that cannot find in their hearts to bear a cold blast for him, or get out of a warm bed.

IV. The powerful influences of divine grace, by which she was made willing to rise and open to her beloved. When he could not prevail with her by persuasion he put in his hand by the hole in the door, to unbolt it, as one weary of waiting, v. 4. This intimates a work of the Spirit upon her soul, by which she was unwilling made willing, Ps. cx. 3. The conversion of Lydia is represented by the opening of her heart (Acts xvi. 14) and Christ is said to open his disciples' understandings, Luke xxiv. 45. He that formed the spirit of man within him knows all the avenues to it, and which way to enter into it; he can find the hole of the door at which to put in his hand for the conquering of prejudices and the introducing of his own doctrine and law. He has the key of David (Rev. iii. 7), with which he opens the door of the heart in such a way as is suited to it, as the key is fitted to the wards of the lock, in such a way as not to put a force upon its nature, but only upon its ill nature.

V. Her compliance with these methods of divine grace at last: My bowels were moved for him. The will was gained by a good work wrought upon the affections: My bowels were moved for him, as those of the two disciples were when Christ made their hearts to burn within them. She was moved with compassion to her beloved, because his head was wet with dew. Note, Tenderness of spirit, and a heart of flesh, prepare the soul for the reception of Christ into it; and therefore his love to us is represented in such a way as is most affecting. Did Christ redeem us in his pity? Let us in pity receive him, and, for his sake, those that are his, when at any time they are in distress. This good work, wrought upon her affections, raised her up, and made her ashamed of her dulness and slothfulness (v. 5, I rose up, to open to my beloved), his grace inclining her to do it and conquering the opposition of unbelief. It was her own act, and yet he wrought it in her. And now her hands dropped with myrrh upon the handles of the lock. Either, 1. She found it there when she applied her hand to the lock, to shoot it back; he that put in his hand by the hole of the door left it there as an evidence that he had been there. When Christ has wrought powerfully upon a soul he leaves a blessed sweetness in it, which is very delightful to it. With this he oiled the lock, to make it go easy. Note, When we apply ourselves to our duty, in the lively exercises of faith, under the influence of divine grace, we shall find it will go on much more readily and sweetly than we expected. If we will but rise up, to open to Christ, we shall find the difficulty we apprehended in it strangely overcome, and shall say with Daniel, Now let my Lord speak, for thou hast strengthened me, Dan. x. 19. Or, 2. She brought it thither. Her bowels being moved for her beloved, who had stood so long in the cold and wet, when she came to open to him she prepared to anoint his head, and so to refresh and comfort him, and perhaps to prevent his catching cold; she was in such haste to meet him that she would not stay to make the usual preparation, but dipped her hand in her box of ointment, that she might readily anoint his head at his first coming in. Those that open the doors of their hearts to Christ, those everlasting doors, must meet him with the lively exercises of faith and other graces, and with these must anoint him.

VI. Her said disappointment when she did open to her beloved. And here is the most melancholy part of the story: I opened to my beloved, as I intended, but, alas! my beloved had withdrawn himself, and was gone. My beloved was gone, was gone, so the word is.

1. She did not open to him at his first knock, and now she came too late, when afterwards she would have inherited this blessing. Christ will be sought while he may be found; if we slip our time, we may lose our passage. Note, (1.) Christ justly rebukes our delays with his denials, and suspends the communications of comfort from those that are remiss and drowsy in their duty. (2.) Christ's departures are matter of great grief and lamentation to believers. The royal psalmist never complains of any thing with such sorrowful accents as God's hiding his face from him, and casting him off, and forsaking him. The spouse here is ready to tear her hair, and rend her clothes, and wring her hands, crying, He is gone, he is gone; and that which cuts her to the heart is that she may thank herself, she provoked him to withdraw. If Christ departs, it is because he takes something unkindly.

2. Now observe what she does, in this case, and what befel her. (1.) She still calls him her beloved, being resolved, how cloudy and dark soever the day be, she will not quit her relation to him and interest in him. It is a weakness, upon every apprehension either of our own failings or of God's withdrawings, to conclude hardly as to our spiritual state. Every desertion is not despair. I will say, Lord, I believe, though I must say, Lord, help my unbelief. Though he leave me, I love him; he is mine. (2.) She now remembers the words he said to her when he called her, and what impressions they made upon her, reproaching herself for her folly in not complying sooner with her convictions: "My soul failed when he spoke; his words melted me when he said, My head is wet with dew; and yet, wretch that I was, I lay still, and made excuses, and did not open to him." The smothering and stifling of our convictions is a thing that will be very bitter in the reflection, when God opens our eyes. Sometimes the word has not its effect immediately upon the heart, but it melts it afterwards, upon second thoughts. My soul now melted because of his words which he had spoken before. (3.) She did not go to bed again, but went in pursuit of him: I sought him; I called him. She might have saved herself this labour if she would but have bestirred herself when he first called; but we cut ourselves out a great deal of work, and create ourselves a great deal of trouble, by our own slothfulness and carelessness in improving our opportunities. Yet it is her praise that, when her beloved has withdrawn, she continues seeking him; her desires toward him are made more strong, and her enquiries after him more solicitous, by his withdrawings. She calls him by prayer, calls after him, and begs of him to return; and she not only prays but uses means, she seeks him in the ways wherein she used to find him. (4.) Yet still she missed of him: I could not find him; he gave me no answer. She had no evidence of his favour, no sensible comforts, but was altogether in the dark, and in doubt concerning his love towards her. Note, There are those who have a true love for Christ, and yet have not immediate answers to their prayers for his smiles; but he gives them an equivalent if he strengthens them with the strength in their souls to continue seeking him, Ps. cxxxviii. 3. St. Paul could not prevail for the removing of the thorn in the flesh, but was answered with grace sufficient for him. (5.) She was ill-treated by the watchmen; They found me; they smote me; they wounded me, v. 7. They took her for a lewd woman (because she went about the streets at that time of night, when they were walking their rounds), and beat her accordingly. Disconsolate saints are taken for sinners, and are censured and reproached as such. Thus Hannah, when she was praying in the bitterness of her soul, was wounded and smitten by Eli, one of the prime watchmen, when he said to her, How long wilt thou be drunken? so counting her a daughter of Belial, 1 Sam. i. 14, 15. It is no new thing for those that are of the loyal loving subjects of Zion's King to be misrepresented by the watchmen of Zion, as enemies or scandals to his kingdom; they could not abuse and persecute them but by putting them into an ill name. Some apply it to those ministers who, though watchmen by office, yet misapply the word to awakened consciences, and through unskillfulness, or contempt of their griefs, add affliction to the afflicted, and make the hearts of the righteous sad whom God would not have made sad (Ezek. xiii. 22), discouraging those who ought to be encouraged and talking to the grief of those whom God has wounded, Ps. lix. 26. Those watchmen were bad enough that could not, or would not, assist the spouse in her enquiries after her beloved (ch. iii. 3); but these were much worse, that hindered her with their severe and uncharitable censures, smote her and wounded her with their reproaches, and though they were the keepers of the wall of Jerusalem, as if they had been the breakers of it, took away her veil, from her rudely and barbarously, as if it had been only a pretence of modesty, but a cover of the contrary. Those whose outward appearances are all good, and who yet are invidiously condemned and run down as hypocrites, have reason to complain, as the spouse here, of the taking away of their veil from them. (6.) When she was disabled by the abuses the watchmen gave her to prosecute her enquiry herself she gave charge to those about her to assist her in the enquiry (v. 8): I charge you, O you daughters of Jerusalem! all my friends and acquaintance, if you find my beloved, it may be you may meet with him before I shall, what shall you tell him? so some read. "Speak a good word for me; tell him that I am sick of love." Observe here, [1.] What her condition was. She loved Jesus Christ to such a degree that his absence made her sick, extremely sick, she could not bear it, and she was in pain for his return as a woman in travail, as Ahab for Naboth's vineyard, which he so passionately coveted. This is a sickness which is a sign of a healthy constitution of soul, and will certainly end well, a sickness that will not be death, but life. It is better to be sick of love to Christ than at ease in love to the world. (2.) What course she took in this condition. She did not sink into despair, and conclude that she should die of her disease, but she sent after her beloved; she asked the advice of her neighbours, and begged their prayers for her, that they would intercede with him on her behalf. "Tell him, though I was careless, and foolish, and slothful, and rose not up so soon as I should have done to open to him, yet I love him; he knows all things, he knows that I do. Represent me to him as sincere, though in many instances coming short of my duty; nay, represent me to him as sincere, though in many instances coming short of my duty; nay, represent me as an object of his pity, that he may have compassion on me and help me." She does not bid them tell him how the watchmen had abused her; how unrighteous soever they were in it, she acknowledges that the Lord is righteous, and therefore bears it patiently. "But tell him that I am wounded with love to him." Gracious souls are more sensible of Christ's withdrawings than of any other trouble whatsoever.

Languet amaus, non languet amor—

The lover languishes, but not his love.