Now Christ, who is here speaking to His Church, compares Himself to this beautiful flower which was noted for its loveliness: “I am the rose of Sharon”. All flowers, in order to perfect beauty and maturity, need two things. They need rain so that they may grow, and they need sunshine so that they may bloom; and Christ the rose of Sharon had both. He had, from all eternity, the glorious sunshine of His Father’s love shining upon Him, and the blessed influences of the Holy Spirit ever resting on Him and dwelling in Him. And when He appeared on the earth in human nature, He grew up in the atmosphere of divine love. He lived in the communion and fellowship of His Father’s love; the sunshine of His Father’s smile rested on His person and on His work. “This is My beloved Son”, was His Father’s commendation of His person, and, “I do always the things that please” the Father, was Christ’s own declaration as to His work. He had, moreover, the dew and influence of the Holy Spirit ever abiding on Him, refreshing and watering His holy human soul. Thus He was beautiful and fragrant in the eye of the Father. With complacency and with delight the eye of the Father rested on Him in all that He did and in all that He was. He was the “rose of Sharon” – yea, the rose of heaven in His Father’s view while He dwelt on this sinful earth. Is He the rose of heaven to your heart today?
Also, the rose does not send forth its beauty and fragrance merely when it is growing, it sends it forth specially when it is crushed or bruised; then its perfume fills the air. And so, when Christ in His humiliation went forward to atone for the sins of His people, and was bruised in soul and body in their room and stead, the sweet odour that arose from that bruising filled the heart of Jehovah with indescribable satisfaction and delight. Spices were laid on the Old Testament sacrifices, so that when the sacrifice was burned on the altar the odour of the spices filled the air. When the fire of divine wrath, kindled by divine justice, took hold of the blessed sacrifice on Calvary, the spices of holiness, of love, and of submission, that dwelt in the holy soul of the ever-blessed Victim, sent forth such a fragrance that it reached the very throne of God. Jehovah inhaled that fragrance and was satisfied; yea, Jehovah feasted with joy on that sweet fragrance! The holy angels, who ever worship and adore, felt that fragrance and sought to “look into” whence it arose. The saints in glory, who had been redeemed and saved in virtue of that coming sacrifice, were refreshed by that sweet odour. A wave of wonder and praise filled their glorified spirits. And the Church of God on earth too, when it is under a gale of the Spirit, apprehends something of that fragrance. Yes, friends, the Spirit of God sometimes has wafted something of this sweet odour to poor longing souls seeking access to the Lord; yea, has wafted to some souls in Scotland, even in our own day, a savour of that very fragrance that arose from Calvary to the heart of God! O did a breathing of it ever pass through your soul?
Again, when one sees a beautiful flower growing, one may wish to pluck it. Men will sometimes pull a rose and pin it on their coat, and then the perfume is felt by all who come near them. So, if you had Christ planted in a broken heart, that would make you beautiful, and you would emit a sweet savour. Those who get a glimpse by faith of Christ “the rose of Sharon”, they wish to possess Him, to lay hold of Him, and to have Him as their own; and sometimes, under the light of the Holy Spirit making clear to them the word of salvation, they are enabled to lay hold of Christ and to embrace Him and place Him in their bosom, and then the fragrance will be felt by those around them. O sinner, get Christ into your heart, and the whole world will be the better of you.
2. Christ, in commending Himself to His Church, calls Himself here also the lily of the valleys. Not “the lily of the valley” but “the lily of the valleys”, and not the lily of the garden but the lily of the valleys. And why? Well, we know that when men plant lilies in their gardens, they wall them round so that others may not get at them or perhaps even see them. Now Christ was at one time the lily of the garden. Under the Old Testament dispensation He was so walled within the Jewish Church that only those who were inside its ordinances and ceremonies could get a sight of Him. But after He appeared in the flesh, that garden wall – “the middle wall of partition” – was broken down, and He now manifests Himself as the lily of the open valleys, open to every sinner who passes by, to every sinner who comes under the sound of the gospel. “Whosoever will, let him come,” and “him that cometh unto Me I will in no wise cast out”.
More particularly, there are three valleys into which Christ came, so that He calls Himself the lily, not of the valley merely, but of the valleys.
(1.) The valley of the Virgin’s womb. “Great is the mystery of godliness, God was manifest in the flesh.” Jehovah, in order that lost sinners might get possession of this lily, prepared for Him a human nature – “a body hast thou prepared Me”. And why? The infinite and the finite were to be united, and as the finite could not comprehend the infinite, the infinite took hold of the finite. The immortal became mortal, the Eternal Son became an infant of days, and took human nature into such union with His own divine person that He had “two distinct natures” while “one person for ever”. Divine love now found a suitable channel through which it might burst forth toward its objects, for the beloved Son came to the Virgin’s womb and became incarnate there – became bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh, dwelt in the valley of our human nature. “Unto us a child is born”, says the Church.
(2.) Christ came into the valley of humiliation and suffering. His people were the lawful captives of law and justice; a broken law held them captive, and justice made fast their chains. They were thus in a hopeless, helpless condition; they were prisoners and lawful prisoners, and could in no way deliver themselves. But Christ appeared at the prison door, put on the prison garments, was “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief”. Yea, He went down into the prison and took upon Himself the curse of the broken law, submitted to the rage and fury of men and devils, and to the avenging wrath of Jehovah, paid the penalty of the transgressors, and set the captives free! Do you follow Him by faith in this prison of suffering? That will make suffering light to you, especially suffering endured for His sake.
(3.) Christ descended into the valley of the shadow of death on behalf of His people. “The wages of sin is death.” The fruit and punishment of sin is death. Sin has left, and ever will leave behind it, a shadow, a dark shadow, which is death, the foretaste and forerunner of eternal death. Every child of Adam has this shadow following him. And this dark shadow fell on Christ, for although He knew no sin, He made Himself sin for His people and had their sins laid upon Him and reckoned against Him. “The Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all”, says His Church. And the further He went on in the path of humiliation as their surety, the darker the shadow became. It was so dark in Gethsemane that He exclaimed, “Let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as Thou wilt”. And it became so dark on the accursed tree that He cried, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” Why this shadow, this awful shadow? Why? It was, child of God, so that you might not sink under that shadow eternally. Not but that you will have to taste death, to enter the dark valley of the shadow of death, but Christ, having been there before you, will take away the terror of that valley and be a support and comfort to you. Yes, friends, a glimpse by faith of this fair lily passing for you, and passing with you, through the dark valley, will make a death-bed to you a sweet bed. Will you have this lily today, O sinner? Will you take Him and place Him in your heart? If you do, you will then become a lily yourself.
3. Christ not only commends Himself to the Church as the “lily,” but He condescends to call her by the same name, for He says in the next verse, “As the lily among thorns, so is My love among the daughters.” As He is a lily, so she in her measure is a lily also. He is the lily, and in the measure in which His spouse resembles Him, she is a lily also.
But she is a lily among thorns. “As the lily among thorns, so is My love among the daughters.” It is not easy for a poor, lowly lily to be growing up among thorns. And the thorns that surround the spouse of Christ are many and painful. Satan and his hosts are thorns; ungodly men are thorns; the snares of the world are thorns; the corruptions of sinful nature are thorns; and the lusts of the flesh and of the mind that still dwell within the unrenewed part of the spouse herself are thorns. Thorns have pricks, and all these thorns will be pricking the poor lily. Satan’s temptations and her own corruptions will be pricking her; the troubles and crosses of the world will be pricking her; the enmity and persecution of the ungodly will be pricking her; and sometimes the ways and words of her fellow-believers will be pricking her, and these are often the sorest pricks of all. And what will heal all these pricks? I do not know unless it would be a sight by faith of Him who bore these pricks Himself, for it is written that they “platted a crown of thorns and put it on His head”. O the nearness of Christ to His poor tried people! He took their very thorns.
4. Christ is compared in the text to the apple tree. “As the apple tree among the trees of the wood, so is my Beloved among the sons.” Among us the apple tree is planted and cared for, but in Eastern countries it grows in the open fields and is the most beautiful of all the trees of the wood. It not only has beautiful spreading foliage affording shade to the traveller under the scorching rays of the sun, but it also has beautiful fruit, so that one parched with hunger or thirst may find food and refreshment. Moreover, the apple tree is so thickly covered with foliage and fruit, that one going through the woods where it grows, and where wild beasts roam and abound, would be quite hidden and quite safe from the attacks of these creatures if he got beneath the covert of its spreading branches. The apple tree is therefore the foremost of all the trees of the wood for these various reasons; it is beautiful to look at; it is beautiful because of its refreshing fruit; and it is beautiful as a shelter from all danger.
Now Christ is as the apple tree to His people, the foremost and fairest beyond all others. As the apple tree excels all the trees of the wood, so Christ excels all others in the view of His Church. The other trees of the wood were desirable and pleasant, but the apple tree excelled them all. The image of Christ may be seen “among the sons” in more or less measure, and that makes them desirable and pleasant, but Christ “among the sons” is beyond them all. The Old Testament prophets were pretty “sons”, the New Testament apostles were pretty “sons”, the martyrs and Reformers were pretty “sons”, and all who truly love His name are pretty “sons”, but Christ is fairer than them all. “Thou art fairer than the children of men.”
Now what is it in Christ that makes Him so fair and pleasant to His Church? We think it is this: His Church – every individual member of it – has something within their own bosom which, when prompted by Satan, ever seeks to make them miserable, and that is an accusing conscience. The Church has many enemies, outward and inward; but if she was free of an accusing conscience, these would not hurt her or grieve her as they do. Now what is a poor child of God to do when wounded and hunted by an accusing conscience? Where is he to flee? O friends, where is he to go but to Christ? And what does he find in Christ to pacify conscience? What but His blood? “When I see the blood I will pass over you.” Nothing will give relief to a poor soul pursued by the terror of an awakened conscience but a faith’s glimpse of the blood that was poured out on Calvary. “It is the blood that maketh atonement for your souls.” It is here the soul finds shelter from the wrath of God felt to be due to his sin, it is here he sees that reconciliation and peace are to be found, and so he says, “I sat down under His shadow with great delight”. I can here take rest. I can here “sit down”, for here I see One who is a just God, yet a Saviour – God reconciled in Christ. “The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin.”
But the spouse not only found shelter and rest under the apple tree, but she found also food and refreshment, for she adds, “His fruit was sweet to my taste.” Now, when a soul gets a little view of Christ in His atoning death, he gets also a little liberty to make use of Christ as a Saviour, to make use of Him in all His offices, and so to enjoy the benefits, or fruits, of His death. And O what a precious benefit it is as a fruit of Christ’s death when He as a prophet speaks a word in the gospel, on the ground of His blood, to a poor needy soul! When He speaks a word of pardon and peace on the ground of the blood, that is a sweet fruit to the soul! And when as a priest He reveals to the soul something of the intercession He exercises on its behalf at the right hand of God, and when the soul sees that this intercession is carried on on the merit of the blood, that is a sweet fruit indeed! And when He as a King interposes sometimes by His Word and providence to deliver the soul from harassing trials and temptations, and manifests that the poor prisoner is, for the sake of the “blood of the covenant”, sent forth out of the pit wherein is no water, that is sweet indeed!
And when, according to His promise before He left the world, Christ sends forth the Holy Spirit to dwell in the soul and to shed abroad there the love of God, and when that indwelling is seen to have been the purchase of blood, that is a sweet fruit indeed! And when there are moments when He vouchsafes His own fellowship and communion to the soul, whether in secret or under the ordinances of His appointment, and gives the soul some sweet nearness to Himself – a moment of a foretaste of glory, enjoying a blood-bought salvation – that is a sweet fruit indeed! And let me say, you that get a taste of these fruits may look out for trials. Not that the fruits bring trial, they bring blessedness, but trials are needed to put an edge on our spirits so that we may relish those fruits for which by nature we have no appetite, and also to wean us from everything that would come between us and the enjoyment of these precious fruits. If Satan and the flesh get their way with you, you will have little taste or relish for the fruits of the apple tree. O keep near to it then, keep under its shadow, and you will find its fruit sweet to your taste.
And, O sinner, turn towards the apple tree. Let your cry be, “We would see Jesus”. For if God wakens up law and conscience against you, and you do not have the shelter of this apple tree – Christ, above you or around you – you will be a hopeless wanderer away from God, not only in time but throughout an endless eternity of woe! Let not Satan go back to his den this night saying with regard to your poor sinful soul, “It is mine yet”. The Lord grant you wisdom. Amen.
1. It is now 100 years since Mr Macdonald’s death on 20 August 1901 in Shieldaig. He was the only minister to support Rev Donald Macfarlane in maintaining the Reformation testimony in Scotland in 1893, when it was necessary to separate from the then Free Church of Scotland. The sermon was taken down by a hearer at Wick on Monday, 30 April 1894, and is reprinted from Memoir and Remains of Rev Donald Macdonald. This volume will shortly be available again, DV, possibly by the end of this month.