The Rose of Sharon John Love D.D.
Preached at Greenock, on January 15, 1799, and edited.
Text: I am the rose of Sharon, and the lily of the valleys (Song of Solomon 2:1).
MARVELLOUS is the work of the Spirit of the Lord, in alluring the souls of men into the paths of wisdom, and in drawing them to the glorious Saviour. The excellencies of Christ are spiritual, sublime, and mysterious: the souls of unregenerate men are carnal, grovelling, and full of rebellion against the authority and power of genuine religion. A sinner, therefore, delighting in the glories of the Redeemer, and resting in him with supreme complacency, is an object which exhibits the operation of infinite, divine power. But that power hides itself, and moves with majestic secrecy on the dark abyss, veiling itself under a variety of means, figures, and illustrations, wisely adapted to the low condition of the minds of those who are the subjects of grace, the unworthy vessels of mercy.
Long before the Messiahs actual appearance, God spake of Him “at sundry times, and in divers manners”; and, besides diversified visions and oracles, delineated Him to mankind by solemn and striking events, and by typical offices, personages, and exploits. For this end, to hold forth the character and glory of the promised Saviour, God was pleased to erect the throne of the house of David; and in Solomon, eminently the wisest, most peaceful and prosperous among the sovereigns of Israel, were the afflictions, victories, and prayers of the son of Jesse consummated, and the beauties of the Prince of Life emblematically represented.
The history of Solomon, given in the sacred writings, is to be considered in this view; and thus rises to majesty and importance worthy of an inspired book. But in the Song, from which the text is taken, a bolder flight is hazarded. With infinite wisdom, delicacy, purity, and grace, the Holy inspiring Spirit combines those images of conjugal love, of pastoral scenes, and of kingly perfection and magnificence, which are calculated to lay hold on the deepest affections of the human soul. This is part of the wonderful contrivance of supreme wisdom which the blessed Spirit of Jehovah employs, for drawing the heart to Jesus the Messiah, and for hallowing and inflaming its sweetest affections, poured forth on this sublime object, as the fragrant ointment once was poured on His sacred body. The censures of the ignorant, the sneers of the petulant, the blasphemies of the malignant, in reference to this procedure of God, are repelled by the experience of humble and purified souls, who feel the power of these sanctified allegories. There will be a more solemn vindication when the Lord will come “with ten thousands of his saints, to execute judgment upon all, and to convince all that are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have ungodly committed, and of all their hard speeches which ungodly sinners have spoken against him” (Jude 1:15).
It must, however, be confessed, that the prejudice against this part of the Scripture has been much increased, by the coarseness, clumsiness, falsehood, and futility of those strained interpretations, which have been frequently given of it by well-meaning men. Therefore, my brethren, let us draw near to the sacred subject before us, with the more profound humility, sense of ignorance, fear, and dependance on the teaching and guidance of Him who inspired the writer of this allegory; so shall we escape mistakes, and find Divine pasture and delight, in spite of Satan and all his emissaries and agencies.
To a Christian, who has been awakened and overawed by views of the glorious majesty of the Son of God, like those views which caused Isaiah to cry out, “I am undone” (Isaiah 6), and made the apostle John fall “at his feet as dead” (Revelation 1), to such a one, I say, the discovery of Christ in the text will be “as cold waters to a thirsty soul”. Here, the awfulness of Supreme Majesty is softened, and every thing is attractive and inviting, while the Saviour thus speaks, “I am the rose of Sharon, and the lily of the valleys.”
We will endeavour, first, to trace, a little more particularly, the significance of this gentle and delightful emblem. We will, second, contemplate the peculiar, transcendent beauty of Jesus Christ, which is so represented. Third, we will apply the subject.
First, let it be our object, to trace out the significancy of this gentle and delightful emblem: “The rose of Sharon, the lily of the valleys.”
In the first opening of the book of God, we are conveyed into the sweet arbours of the original paradise; and the pleasure and glory of mans primitive state breathe upon us, like the incense-breathing morning, through all the beauties of the vegetable creation. And though, now, death and the curse brood over the earth, wither its flowers, and blast its glory; yet, in those remainders of vegetable sweetness and majesty which Divine goodness hath left on the sinful world, we perceive striking emblems of the pleasures which belong to the soul, and accompany its fellowship with God. The Scripture, therefore, employs such images to realize the delights of Divine love, and carries them forward, even to the state of consummate perfection in Heaven, where we are directed to look for the perfect garden of God its transparent rivers its tree of life, its unwithering flowers, palms, and garland its pure and enlarged atmosphere its light its immortal fruits its music its glorious inhabitants.
A rich spot in the country of Canaan and the valleys of the consecrated land of promise are, with much propriety, selected, as yielding those flowers, which are honoured to represent those excellencies of the Messiah which no tongues of men or angels can fully describe.
Inspired men, looking to its connection with the Messiah, and the presence of God in Him, have denominated that country, “the glory of all lands”; “the pleasant, the glorious land”; “the land where glory had her habitation”. (Ezekiel 20:6; Daniel 8:9; 11:41; Psalm 85:9).
In that land of promise, after it had been sprinkled with the blood of enemies, stood forth Solomon, arrayed in the glories of princely wisdom and virtue, representing the Person of the Messiah, and represented by the fairest flowers which adorned the country. Even Saul, in reference to his official character, was styled “the beauty of Israel”: much more might the language of the text be applied with truth to Solomon, though it would have been arrogant and indecent for him to have said of himself, “I am the rose of Sharon, and the lily of the valleys,” had he not respected the sovereign designation of the Most High, and the surpassing glory of his future anti-type, the Incarnate Son and Wisdom of God.
As the richest gardens of the land of promise put forth those roses, the fragrant beauty whereof might be a shadow of the glory of Christ, so, the actual constitution of His Person, by His becoming man, is to be regarded as by far the noblest birth of Gods covenant of promise. And, as in the sweet valleys of that sanctified and blessed country, sprung up those fair, majestic lilies, which afforded a dark figure of the Saviour, so it was, in the low, but enriched valleys of this mean earth, and of a state of humiliation, that the assumed, human nature of Him who is God grew up a Plant of renown, a Tree of life and salvation, fair and pleasant to the eye, fragrant to the smell, and still sweeter to the taste.
This, then, my brethren, beloved in the Lord, is the sum of the emblematical signification of the text; that, as the fairest roses and lilies delight the eye, fill the air with fragrance, and exhilarate the whole animal system, so the transcendent excellency, beauty, and sweetness of Jesus Christ is, to the soul, a paradise of heavenly pleasure, an inexhaustible source of refreshing and spiritual enjoyment.
One thing, however, farther, is to be considered, that we may apprehend the full force of the emblem in the text, and perceive the meaning of the Spirit in it. The things already mentioned, are connected with the passion of love, in its pure and conjugal exercise. This passion, when chastened, and regulated by the word and Spirit of God, brings with it a ravishing sweetness, and clothes with seven-fold lustre the attracting qualities of persons and objects. Of the mighty power of this affection, it appears that the wise heart of Solomon had experience, especially in his early and more unpolluted days; though, afterwards, he became an awful example of the weakness and all-perverting depravity of the heart of man. He was led, in writing this book, to select the purer feelings of his heart, in the lawful exercise of conjugal affections, as the literal ground of a sacred allegory, which rises to the representation of the most sublime movements of affection, connected with the mystical marriage between Jesus Christ and His spiritual spouse. This allusion, which is found not only here, but throughout the sacred volume, (and who dares to censure it, but one ripening for the flames and brimstone of the fiery lake?) is to be kept in view in the words before us. The unspeakable excellencies of Jesus are surveyed by the true church of holy souls, not with philosophical coolness, but with the eyes of that marriage love which shall know no abatement through the boundless revolutions of eternity.
You see, my brethren, the just accommodation of those figurative expressions to our blessed Lord Jesus Christ. They tend to fix our thoughts on His supreme amiableness, and to touch our hearts with the incomparable sweetness of His glory.
Following their sacred impulse, and without confining ourselves to the letter of these figures, let us:
II. Secondly, endeavour to take a view of the peculiar, transcendent beauty of Jesus Christ Immanuel the wonderful Saviour of sinners.
“He is altogether lovely.” In Him, the mingled lustre of all possible excellencies, uncreated and created, Divine and human, personal and official, meets our admiring eyes. But, who shall describe, what no heart can comprehend! We are checked in the attempt, by a conscious blindness and insufficiency, by the insolence of the froward prepared to deride the infirmity of our ideas, but chiefly, by the fear of profaning that which is infinitely sacred, and “of darkening counsel by words without knowledge.” Yet we will make the attempt to point out some outlines for guiding the meditations of the humble, where no seraph or archangel would undertake a full delineation.
The inviting beauty of the Redeemers character may be surveyed in three different views: there are, His Divine, human, and official excellencies.
1. His Divine excellencies. “In him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.” “He is over all, God blessed for ever” (Colossians 3:9; Romans 9:5).
The Divine Essence is in Him, with the complete assemblage of the perfections of Deity. We at present consider the perfections of Deity as opening to the mind with an attractive sweetness, and satiating the thoughts and affections of the soul with a delicious variety of pleasure.
Here, the carnal mind operating with equal force in the profligate sensualist, the proud philosopher, and the empty professor of Christianity hesitates, and shows itself to be enmity against God, by denying that any such pleasure is to be found in the Divine nature and attributes.
But, whatever may be the dry speculations of such men, we are assured that God is an infinite source of delight to the mind, and that an inexhaustible fulness, of the most peculiar beauty and glory, does reside in him. This assurance we obtain, by considering God as the author of every thing amiable, which now appears on the earth, or was found in the original paradise by examining the true idea of heaven by adverting to the great commandment, which requires the supreme love of God and by remembering that he was, from eternity, infinitely happy in himself, before created worlds had existence.
It is more difficult to define, in express terms, wherein principally consist, the peculiar glory, and attractive sweetness, of the Divine Being. This is, in some respects, the general result of all the excellencies of Jehovah; and inexpressible views of Divine amiableness break in on the illuminated soul, from every survey of His nature.
But, more especially, the lofty majesty, independence, self-sufficiency of the Godhead, combined with boundless condescension, benignity, and bounty; the holy self-complacency, purity, wisdom, justice, and rectitude of the Most High; His overflowing compassion and mercy; His inviolable faithfulness and veracity furnish unspeakable delight to the soul brought near to God, and favoured with His presence.
In Jesus, we behold “God manifested in the flesh.” In Him, the glories of Deity are at once veiled and revealed: their reality and sweetness become clearly perceptible; but their overwhelming and terrifying splendour is softened by the gentle familiarity of the medium through which the Eternal Godhead approaches to us even our own nature. Here, the glorious holiness and mercy of Jehovah mingle their beams.
2. But, descending from the arduous view of uncreated perfection and beauty, let us behold in Jesus Christ, the spotless and August assemblage of created, communicated excellencies, residing in His human nature.
With what peerless dignity is that human nature invested, personally united to, and, as it were, ingrafted into the everlasting Divinity of the Son of God! Placed in that situation, unspeakably lofty, the human soul and body of Jesus look forth, the wonder of the universe, and see the worlds of seraphs and cherubim far below His feet.
But how joyful to the view of believing sinners, is the sight of this majesty of the man Christ Jesus, connected with His human purity deep and abundant, immovably fixed above all possibility of failure strong and overcoming, impregnated with immense worth and meritorious value!
And with what a sweet cement is the soul united to all this fulness of holy perfection, when we feel the heart of kindness, the bowels of compassion, the melting fire of love, in the human nature of Him who is not ashamed to call us brethren. “Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb?” Let the tenderness of ten thousand myriads of mothers, the most gentle and affectionate, be collected, and its distilled sweetness transfused into a single heart: how soft the emotions, how compassionate the bowels, how attracting the embraces of such a spirit! But whole worlds of spirits so sweet and loving, would afford but a faint resemblance of the all surpassing love, kindness, compassion, and grace of the man Christ Jesus. On that bosom of love, let my soul rest and solace itself to all eternity!
Such, my beloved brethren, are the glorious and manifold perfections which reside in the wonderful Person of your Saviour. These personal excellencies appear in action, and are deeply impressed on believing souls, while they contemplate His official glory
3. His official glory. In these official acts which belong, agreeably to the ordinary and just distinction, to the character of the Great Prophet and Light of the world, of the High Priest and Sovereign King of Sion Jesus Christ appears as the Rose of Sharon, and the Lily of the Valleys.
We behold Him, the Prince of the Prophets, the supreme Shepherd and Bishop of immortal souls, the rising Sun of the intellectual world. “In him are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” The stores of natural knowledge and political sagacity in the mind of Solomon were a shadow, and only a shadow, of the rich fulness of wisdom, penetrating into all the secrets of eternity, which He possesses who is “the only begotten Son in the bosom of the Father.” From the vast abysses of His eternal Godhead, is transfused into His human soul, by an unmeasured communication of the Spirit, that fulness of knowledge and wisdom, in comparison with which, the angels of light may be charged with folly.
The doctrine which He conveys to men, and impresses on their minds, appears as coming from an infinite source of light; and its beams are directed with the most transcendent wisdom and skill, whether we consider Him as speaking on earth, “as never man spake,” or as darting rays of glory from on high, by the seven spirits before His throne, sent forth into all the earth.
In comparison of His doctrine, what sordid weeds, what briars, what disgusting, poisonous plants, are the crafty inventions of worldly men, the speculations of philosophy, the flights of unhallowed, poetic genius, the delusions of idolatry and false religion! Sink into darkness, ye miserable comforters, ye physicians of no value! “Thou art fairer than the children of men; grace is poured into thy lips, therefore God hath blessed thee for ever.”
But the fair communication of counsel and instruction from Christ, leads us to the sight of incomparable glory, and the savour of unrivalled sweetness and fragrancy, in His priestly acts. Behold the Lamb of God, taking away the sin of the world; the Lily of the Valleys, majestic in humiliation, glorious in abasement, sweet in suffering; the Rose of Sharon, amiable, reviving, and attractive, in the white paleness, and crimson stains of the cross! Or, see Him ascending from the dust into the holiest of all, shining in beauty, and pouring through the heavenly regions the new odours of His sweet-smelling sacrifice, and joy-inspiring incense!
Or, let His regal majesty and sweetness delight our enamoured souls, while, from a throne high above those of archangels and seraphs in glory, He dispenses pardon and repentance to guilty souls, leads captive their captivity, discomfits their enemies, guides and supports their trembling steps, opens to them the gates of paradise, draws them to His own bosom.
Happy art thou, O spouse of Immanuel! Because God thy Father loved thee with love immense and eternal, He gave thee such a husband, in whom thy heart might rest with boundless complacency, finding in him combinations of excellency, attractions of beauty and love, strong to overcome thee with an eternal ravishment and delight.
III. Thirdly, in applying this subject, we observe its two-fold aspect:
1. On those who have obtained some beginnings of the saving knowledge of the Redeemer.
Think, my brethren, with adoring gratitude, of what sovereign mercy hath done, in bringing you to the true knowledge of such a Saviour. Once you did not even believe that such excellency existed. Into what an unknown paradise of delight have you entered! How sweet and marvellous have been the first dawning beams of the glory of Immanuel! Your knowledge of Him, however, is but in its infancy. The object of your confidence, the source of your pleasure, is infinite and unsearchable in all perfection.
I have only to say farther, be thankful for what you have received; improve it wisely; “follow on to know the Lord;” seek for the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, that your knowledge of Christ may accommodate itself to all your feelings and circumstances. When the vile corruptions of your depraved nature open to view, when the world around you appears a gloomy wilderness, let the beauty and fragrancy of this Rose of Sharon, and Lily of the Valleys, revive and cheer you. In days of prosperity and gladness, let His sweetness and excellency crown and consummate your enjoyments. Amidst the languishments of declining nature, the fears and pains of dissolution, the putrid horrors of the grave, let the savour of the love and beauty of Jesus Christ be your present cordial, and your pledge of victory, immortality, and joy.
2. This subject frowns, with majestic indignation, on the enemies of the blessed Redeemer.
Could it have been imagined, that perishing mortals would prove themselves enemies, by continuing in voluntary, obstinate estrangement from such a Saviour?
Immortal souls, originally formed in the image of God. Whence is it, that the assemblage of all Divine and human excellencies hath no charms for you? Whence is it, that you repeat the crime of those murdering Jews, who said, “He hath no form nor comeliness there is no beauty that we should desire him?” Must not the disease of your nature be deep and alarming? If you feel it, we pity you, and join in your cries for healing and deliverance.
But, if you glory in that which is your shame your wicked estrangement from the Lamb of God we despise, we detest, we defy you. Yet we will not despair of your recovery. Hearest thou, O sinner, that remote, murmuring thunder, “If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be Anathema Maranatha?” Thou shalt know the excellency of Him whom thy vile heart despiseth. When the sulphurous stench of the lake of fire invades thy nostrils, thou shalt know, with anguish, that others are in paradise with this Holy One of God. And, in proportion to the glory of His Divine and human excellencies, shall be the expressions of heavenly wrath upon thee. But why wilt thou die? What are the charms of hopeless torment? Turn yet to the strong-hold, thou prisoner of hope. Thou blind sinner, lift up one cry, before the shades of everlasting death close upon thee; to which cry, may the ear of Infinite mercy listen! “Thou son of David, have mercy on me, open these blind eyes, reveal Thy glory, lead captive the captivity of this woefully stubborn heart!” Amen.