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THE BELIEVER'S JOURNEY FROM THE WILDERNESS OF THIS WORLD TO THE HEAVENLY CANAAN.*
Who is this that cometh up from the wilderness, leaning upon her Beloved? CANT. VIII. 5.
In the beginning of this chapter, we find the church, under the notion of the spouse or bride, breathing after farther degrees of familiarity and fellowship with Christ, the glorious Bridegroom of souls, than she had ever yet attained to: "O that thou wert as my brother, that sucked the breast of my mother!" Observe, They that know the Lord, will follow on to know him; they will forget things that are behind, and reach forth unto things that are before. The spouse, although she had been brought into the banqueting-house, and allowed to sit under his shadow with great delight, yet here we find her pleading for farther intimacy, renewed manifestations and discoveries of him. A believer can never be satisfied with any degree of nearness, till he come to be swallowed up in the immediate vision and fruition of him in glory. This request of the spouse she enforces with several arguments: she tells him, ver. 2, in the close, that she "would cause him to drink of her spiced wine, and the juice of her pomegranates; that is, she would entertain him with the fruits of his own Spirit, the graces of his own operation, which are the only entertainment he is delighted with, and the best that her mother's house could afford. Observe, That a believer thinks nothing too good for the entertainment of his blessed Lord; if he had ten thousand heavens of glory at his disposal, they should be all at his service: they cast their crowns down at his feet. Our blessed Lord's tender heart will not allow him to restrain or keep up himself long from the soul that is panting after nearness to him; for we find, ver. 3, he grants her suit, and allows her a renewed discovery of his tender love, insomuch that she is made to own, "His left hand is under my head, and his right hand doth embrace me." Upon which, ver. 4, she expresses her care
*Two sermons, preached upon a Thanksgiving-day, after the administration of the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper, in the Tolbooth Church of Edinburgh, March 6, and in the Tron Church, March 7, 1732; and afterwards enlarged upon in several sermons at Stirling.
and concern to prevent any farther interruption of her fellowship and communion with her Lord, either by herself or others; "I charge you, O daughters of Jerusalem, that ye stir not up, nor awake my love until he please." The daughters of Jerusalem, particular believers, being supposed to be witnesses of this blessed intimacy between Christ and the spouse, and to the actings of her faith and love upon him, they are introduced in the words of the text, expressing their wonder and satisfaction at that blessed interview between Christ and his beloved spouse, even here in a militant state: Who is this that cometh up from the wilderness leaning upon her beloved?
In the words we may notice, 1. The designation given to this world, with reference to the church and people of God; it is but a wilderness, or a weary land, through which they are travelling toward their own home.
2. We have the course they are steering while in the wilderness; they are not sitting still in it, or going farther into it, as if it were their home; no, they are coming up from the wilderness: their affections are set upon things that are above, and not upon things that are below: they have got a taste of the grapes of Eshcol, they have got a view of the land afar off, and of the King in his beauty, which makes them disrelish this present world, and look and long, not for the things that are seen, but the things that are not seen, and which are eternal.
3. We have the spouse's posture as she comes up from the wilderness; she is leaning. Hebreans observe, that this is a word not elsewhere used in scripture; the seventy interpreters translate it confirming, or strengthening herself. It plainly supposes the spouse's weakness and impotency in herself to grapple with difficulties in her way through the wilderness, together with her dependence on the grace and furniture that was laid up for her in Christ; and that she must needs fag and fail in her journey, without new supplies and communications of light, life, and strength, from him in whom all fulness dwells.
4. We have the blessed show and prop on which she leans and rests her weary soul, in coming up from the wilderness; it is upon her beloved, that is, upon Christ, whose love and love. liness had ravished her heart, and drawn out her cordial assent and consent to him as the Bridegroom of souls, who had betrothed her to himself in mercy, faithfulness, and lovingkindness. It is pleasant here to observe how the heart of God the Father, and the heart of the believer, jump and centre upon Christ: "This is my beloved Son," says God the Father, in whom I am well pleased;" he is "my servant whom I uphold, mine elect in whom my soul delighteth,"
And O! says the believer, as he is the Father's beloved, so he is my beloved too: he is just the darling and delight of my soul: "Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none in all the earth that I desire besides thee."
5. We have the influence or impression that this pleasant sight has upon the daughters of Jerusalem, expressed in a way of question, Who is this? This is not a question of ignorance, as though they wanted to be informed who the spouse was; but, (1.) it is a question of wonder. They are struck with a holy amazement at such intimacy and familiarity between parties that are at such infinite distance; that "the high and lofty One who inhabiteth eternity," should admit dust and ashes, defiled with sin, "the abominable thing that his soul hates," into such friendship and fellowship. (2.) It is not a question of contempt, but of esteem. Although believers, who are the spouse of Christ, be in themselves despicable and polluted; yet, by virtue of their relation to Christ, they are worthy of the highest esteem, being made beautiful through the comeliness that he puts upon her. (3.) It is a question of approbation and commendation. They hereby express their satisfaction with her practice, and the exercise of her faith in coming up from the wilderness leaning on her beloved, as the safest course she could take for accomplishing her journey to the Canaan that is above, through the dens of lions and mountains of leopards. Observe, That it is, and will be, the pleasure and satisfaction of a gracious soul, to see others thriving and prospering in the Lord's way, and in acquaintance with Christ even though they themselves be outstripped and darkened thereby in the world's view. The words would afford a great variety of doctrines, but I confine myself to this one:
OBSERVE. "That it is the undoubted duty, and the laudable practice of believers, truly betrothed to Christ, to come from the wilderness of the world, towards the land of rest and glory that is above, staying and leaning their souls upon him as their beloved." Who is this that cometh up from the wilderness leaning upon her beloved?
The doctrine being clearly founded on the words, I shall not stand on the confirmation of it; but shall, through divine assistance, endeavour to speak to it in the following method and order:
I. Give you the characters of the soul espoused or betrothed to Christ.
II. Speak a little of the world, the place of the believer' residence, under the notion of a wilderness.
III. What may be the import of the spouse's coming up from the wilderness.
IV. Speak a little of her posture; for she comes up, leaning upon her beloved.
V. Inquire into the grounds and reasons of this doctrine, why the spouse of Christ comes up from the wilderness, and why she comes leaning on her beloved. And then,
VI. Apply the whole.
I. The first thing is, to give you the character of a soul truly espoused to Christ. And I shall endeavour to draw the character from the text and context.
1. Then he is one that is always breathing after more and more nearness to the Lord, and a more intimate fellowship and acquaintance with him. Hence the spouse here, ver. 1. notwithstanding of all she had found, cries out, "O that thou wert as my brother, that sucked the breasts of my mother!" Some make this to be a wish or a prayer of the Old Testament church for the actual incarnation of the Son of God. As if she had said, O that that happy day were come, when thou shalt actually become the seed of the woman, a child born to us! I think, if thou wert actually incarnate and clothed with my nature, I would not keep at such a distance, but would "enter with boldness into the holiest, through the veil of thy human nature." Whether that be in it or not, yet it is plain, that the words express a desire after more intimacy and nearness than she had yet enjoyed. Sirs, if you be espoused to Christ, whatever nearness or access you have had, you will desire more, and be ready to cry with David, Psal. xlii. 1: "As the hart panteth after the water-brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God." Whenever any cloud overcasts your sky, you will be ready to say, "O that I knew where I might find him."
2. The soul espoused to Christ will not be ashamed to own him before the world; as you see in the close of verse 1. "When I should find thee without, I would kiss thee, and should not be ashamed." We are commanded to "kiss the Son, lest he be angry," Psal. ii. 12. And they that are espoused to him, kiss him with a kiss of affection and love, and with a kiss of subjection and reverence, and are not ashamed to do it before the profane carnal world, who perhaps may be ready to laugh at them for their religion; no, they will confess him, and his cause and interest, whatever be the hazard, knowing that "they who confess Christ before men," he will not be behind-hand with them, but "will confess them before his Father, and before his holy angels." Sirs, beware of suffering yourselves to be bantered or laughed out of your
religion in this degenerate day: "For he that is ashamed of me before men, of him will I be ashamed before my Father, and before his angels. Christ despised the shame and ignominy of the cross for us, and therefore let us despise the reproaches or the revilings of the world in owning him.
3. The soul that is really espoused to Christ, is heartily concerned for the good of his mother-church, and to have the Lord's gracious and sensible presence in his ordinances; that he may be a public good to others, as well as to himself. This disposition you see in the spouse here, verse 2, in the beginning, "I will bring thee into my mother's house." As if she had said, 1 would make it my business to have the Lord brought back to the assemblies and dwelling-places of Zion, that he might be the glory in the midst of her. Sirs, the Lord is angry with our mother at this day, he is threatening to break up house with her; there is little of God to be seen or felt in our judicatories, in our ordinances, in preaching, in hearing, in communicating; an Ichabod may be read in corner: little of the life and power of religion is to be seen among magistrates, ministers, or people. Well, if you be espoused to Christ, you will study to wrestle, and bring him back again to your mother's house, especially when you find him in a sensible way present with your own soul; according to the practice of the spouse, Cant. iii. 4: "I found him whom my soul loveth: I held him, and would not let him go, until I had brought him into my mother's house, and into the chamber of her that conceived me."
4. The soul espoused to Christ is one that is fond of the instructions of his word and Spirit; as you see in the spouse, in the middle of verse 2. This is one of her great designs in bringing Christ into her mother's house, that so she and others might have the mysteries of the kingdom, and secrets of the covenant, and the wonders of his law, more clearly opened and unfolded. Christ is "the Son of righteousness, the light of the world; he is made of God unto us wisdom," the great prophet of the church, "the interpreter among a thousand.” And when he comes to a land or place in the power of his Spirit accompanying his word, the oracles of heaven are then opened, and the mysteries of the kingdom are unveiled, the people that sat in darkness are made to see a great light. And O this is the delight and desire of every soul truly espoused to the Lord.
5. The soul espoused to Christ is one that is desirous to give him the best entertainment that it is capable to afford; as the spouse in the close of verse 2: "I would cause thee to drink of my spiced wine, and of the juice of my pomegra nates." Christ entertains his spouse with "fat things full of