Rev. Donald Macfarlane
NOTE: This sermon, preached on Sabbath, 28th October, 1917, is taken, with slight editing, from The Free Presbyterian Magazine, Vol. 31, p. 281. Other sermons by Mr Macfarlane may be found in Sermons by Rev. Donald Macfarlane see Church Information for availability of this volume, which is on special offer from the F. P. Bookroom. On the same page are details of the newly republished Memoir and Remains of Rev. Donald Macfarlane. A biographical sketch of Mr Macfarlane appears in a later article in this months magazine.
TEXT: Until the day break, and the shadows flee away, turn, my beloved, and be thou like a roe or a young hart upon the mountains of Bether (Song 2:17).
IN this book of Songs, Christ speaks to His Church and she speaks to Him.
In our text it is the Church who speaks, and she expresses her hope of His coming to her, and also prays for His coming. We have two things here: First, the hope of the Church; secondly, the prayer of the Church.
First, the hope of the Church. What did she hope for? She hoped for the coming of the day of Christ. Comparatively speaking, it was night with the Church in Old Testament times, although she had some light. It was a dark dispensation. Christ was set forth largely in types and shadows. Although the Church saw Christ in these types and shadows, she longed for the day of His coming and she hoped for His coming. The warrant of her hope was Gods promise, which was given to our first parents in the garden of Eden. We cannot hope for anything that God did not promise, but we may hope for all that He promised to sinful men. Although the Church had some light before the coming of Christ, it was not day till He, who is the light of the world and the Sun of Righteousness, came into the world.
Abraham desired to see the coming of Christ. He, by faith, saw it afar off and rejoiced. Believers who lived after the time of Abraham looked forward to the coming of Christ, as did Simeon. It was revealed to Simeon by the Holy Ghost that he would not die till He saw the Lords Anointed. He saw Him in the temple soon after He had been born in human nature. He took Him up in his arms, and blessed God and said, “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart according to thy word. For mine eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; a light to lighten the Gentiles and the glory of thy people Israel” (Luke 2:26-32). Simeon saw the day break, although he did not live to see noon-day, which time did not come till the Resurrection of Christ, when the Sun of Righteousness came to His meridian height, and when the night of the Old Testament Church came to an end and the day of the New Testament Church began. The shadows of the ceremonial law fled away, never to return.
The ceremonial law has no place in the New Testament Church. Some try to keep it up still but this is like lighting a candle in daylight. The Jews were very foolish in trying to keep hold of the shadow of the ceremonial law, and in rejecting the glorious Person who was foreshadowed by it. They were like a wife whose husband was away in a foreign land, and when he came home, she said, “I did not desire your coming at all. I was quite satisfied with your picture which I have in my room.” Christ “came unto His own, and His own received Him not”, but believers received Him.
It is night within the believer when Christ is absent but though in a state of desertion, the believer hopes for the day to break by the coming of Christ. Like Jonah, when he was in darkness in the fishs belly, the believer says, “I will look again toward thy holy temple” (Jonah 2:4). It is not pleasant to be in darkness you are afraid of walking outside on a dark night lest you slip and fall into a ditch but when Christ comes to you, it is day, and the shadows of unbelief and forebodings flee away, as in the case of Thomas. He was for eight days in the darkness of unbelief, but when Christ revealed Himself to him and spoke to him a word in season, the shadows fled away, and he exclaimed with joy, “My Lord and my God.” If we had Christ with us, the darkest night would be turned into a bright day, winter would be turned into summer, and our doubts and fears would flee away. Instead of having gloominess and sorrow, we would rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory.
But so long as the Lords people are in this world they will have their night as well as their day. It is not a good sign on professors of religion who have no experience of these changes. It is a sign of spiritual blindness when people are not able to make any distinction between day and night; when day and night are the same to them. They may have a kind of light: “sparks of their own kindling” which are but darkness. As Christ said to others, “If the light that is in you be darkness, how great is that darkness” (Matthew 6:23). It is a light that leads astray.
In times of spiritual declension it is night with the Church. This has often been the case in the past, both in Old Testament times and New Testament times. In Old Testament times the Church was brought into the darkness of idolatry by false teachers and wicked kings. We may refer you, for instance, to the prophets of Baal, and to Jeroboam, the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin in leading them into idolatry.
In New Testament times, there was a long and a dark night in the Church before the Reformation in the 16th century. There was a period of gross darkness of upwards of a thousand years, commonly called the Dark Ages. Why were they called the Dark Ages? Because Christ, the light of the world, was not in the Church as a Church, and the light of the Word of God was kept hid from the people. But the Lords people, who worshipped Him in dens and caves of the earth, hoped for the coming of the day. Their hope was founded upon Gods promise to revive His church, and to cause His Kingdom to come.
Their hope was not disappointed, for that day came at last: God raised up witnesses for Himself out of the great darkness. The Bible, which was for a long time a sealed book, was opened and its doctrines preached to the people, with the result that the most of the kingdoms of Europe were brought under the benign influence of the gospel, and the dark shadows of idolatry and superstition fled away.
There are many in our own day who, in their darkness, hold that the Reformation was a mistake and a breaking up of the Christian Church. They miscall the Reformers, saying they did an evil work. Luther, in particular, is vilified for his work of establishing the Reformation in Germany.
The Reformation from Popery extended to our own land in the 16th century. This had the effect of savingly converting many, and also of reforming the morals of the people. When this light of the gospel came to our land, the shadows of ignorance, idolatry, and superstition fled away.
We have a dark time in our own day the darkest since the Reformation. Christ is not preached as He used to be, the light of the Bible is put under a bushel. The idolatry of Popery is introduced into so-called Protestant Churches, and our rulers in the State do their utmost to advance the darkness. But when the darkness will come to its height we may expect the dawning of the day. We hope for the coming of that day, and Gods promise is the warrant of our hope, for He has promised a bright and a long day of a thousand years. Although we may not live to see the dawn of the millennial day, like Abraham we rejoice because that day is coming, when the shadows shall flee away.
There is another day coming: the day of glory in heaven the brightest day of all when all shadows shall flee away, never to return again. The Church hopes for that day, and the warrant of her hope is the promise: “He will give grace and glory” (Psalm 84). That day of glory shall be brighter than the millennial day, for bright as the millennial day will be, there shall be shadows of darkness in it. The light of glory has not the least mixture of darkness and it shall also be longer, for it shall be an everlasting. day. The sun shall never go down and if it is pleasant to see the light for a short time, how much more pleasant it will be to behold it always. For this the Church hopes and prays.
Secondly, we have the prayer of the Church: “Turn, my beloved, and be thou like a roe or a young hart on the mountains of Bether.” It is to be noted that the person to whom the Church prays is a person whom she loves. She addresses Him as “my Beloved”. Christ loves His Church and she loves Him.
The first petition in the prayer is, “Turn,” which implies that He had been present with her before. It is those who have enjoyed Christs fellowship who pray that He would come to them again. In the interval in this world before they are brought to be with Him where He is in heaven, they pray that He would visit them again and again. They cannot be happy without Him.
The second petition in the prayer is that He would make haste in coming that he would come swiftly like the roe or the young hart that runs more quickly than other quadrupeds and travels a long distance in a short time; but swift as the roe is, Christ comes to His people more quickly when they cry to Him in their time of need. Though they should cry to Him, like the Psalmist, “from the ends of the earth”, He comes to them in a moment of time (Isa. 61:2). Others who are not in earnest, may ask Christ to come to them but not now, and they think He shall come in good time if He comes to them before they die. But His own people pray that He should come speedily: “Make haste, O God, to deliver me. Make haste to help me, O God” (Psl. 70:1).
But there are mountains in the way, and as the roe or the young hart comes swiftly over mountains, so does Christ come to His people. The mountains are called “the mountains of Bether”, or mountains of separation. There are several mountains standing between Christ and His people, and they cannot see Him or enjoy His presence as they would wish until He comes over these mountains. Unbelief is one of these mountains; the carnal mind is another; and provocations innumerable are other mountains. The temptations of Satan are another fearful mountain. But none of these mountains shall hinder Christ from coming to them. Christ comes to them in the word of the Gospel. In answer to their cry, He comes to them in fulfilment of His promise, “I will not leave you comfortless (or orphans): I will come to you” (John 14:18).
So long as man stood in the state of innocence in which God created him he had a bright and a happy day, but when he sinned he brought a dark night upon himself and upon his natural posterity. But when the promise of the coming and work of the Saviour was given to our first parents, the light of day and of a brighter day than before began to shine on a sinful world. There was thus a door of hope set before lost men, and the promise kept those who believed it from falling into the darkness of despair. It was the promise of the coming of Christ that turned that dark night into day. O! how thankful we ought to be that we were not left like the fallen angels, to whom no promise was given, and for whom no Saviour was provided.
It is night with all who are still in a state of nature, but those who have been taken out from that night who have been delivered from the power of darkness and translated into the Kingdom of Gods dear Son” (Col. 1:13) have the light of a day that shall never come to an end. Whatever darkness they may still experience darkness that is in themselves, and darkness by which they are surrounded in a sinful world they shall never fall into the darkness of a state of nature. They may be brought into darkness by the temptations of Satan, not because of any sin lying on their conscience, but for the trial of their faith “that the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:7).
As the Church of the Old Testament prayed for the coming of the day, as well as hoped for it, the Lords people now should pray for the coming of the day when “the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea”, and when all the kingdoms of the world shall “become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ”. That glorious event shall take place by the preaching of the gospel. Let the Lords people pray that His Kingdom may come, and that the kingdom of Satan may be destroyed. Then the shadows shall flee away.
With regard to the day of glory, the means of grace as they are now used shall flee away. A new dispensation shall be ushered in, which shall never come to an end, when all the redeemed shall be gathered up to heaven. Christ shall be the only preacher, and ministers of the Gospel shall be among His hearers. He, as the Lamb “in the midst of the throne, shall feed them and lead them unto living fountains of waters, and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes” (Rev. 7:1,7). In that city of perfect light and happiness there is no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it: for the glory of God lightens it, and the Lamb is the light thereof (Rev. 21:23). Amen.