"As the apple-tree among the trees of the wood, so is my beloved among the sons. I sat down under His shadow with great delight, and His fruit was sweet to my taste. He brought me to the banqueting-house, and His banner over me was love." Cant. 2:3, 4.
This scripture may very fittingly be accepted as a song of degrees in the early history of the soul of a believer; and we say its early history, because there are other and deeper truths which follow; but here we have a little outline of truth suited to babes in Christ who are not yet equal to the strong meat of the word of God. We hope then our few remarks will prove useful to that deeply-interesting class of readers who have but recently come to the knowledge of Christ, and to that much greater number who, having for years, some of them for many years, known something of His grace, have never yet learned the wondrous blessedness of their present portion in Him.
We are firmly convinced that there is a very wide circle of souls (and the circle is widening every day) who need to have the eyes of their heart enlightened to know the character of their calling, and above all to know what Christ is for them and to them, did they but appropriate by faith His fulness. We feel sure we need only mention it to secure a ready admission, that there are hundreds and thousands of persons having divine life in their souls who know what it is to have Christ for their sins, but who have not the remotest knowledge in any practical way of what it is to have Him for their hearts.
This, then, is what we would specially draw out from the scripture before us. First of all the quickened soul is attracted and charmed by an object outside of itself, and is enraptured by its supreme beauty, and its inviting fragrance: "As the apple-tree among the trees of the wood, so is my beloved among the sons." Surely this answers in a divine way to the soul's first sight of Christ by faith; we do not say it is the meaning of this scripture, which doubtless in its real interpretation refers to the intimate relations of the remnant of Israel and the Lord Jesus to each other in a later and a different day. We simply use the illustration in its adaptation to the believer personally, and as such we accept this word as the soul's first discovery for itself by faith of the peerless beauty and attractiveness of His blessed person who is "over all God blessed for ever." The apple-tree in its blossom appears to be suggested; and of all trees, surely this in its early bloom is the most beautiful and attractive to the eye of man. Now this is just what Christ was not (and is not) to the world; for the word of the prophet was fulfilled: "When we shall see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him." But it is what He is, and ever will be, to faith, even "the chiefest among ten thousand;" "yea, He is altogether lovely." The eye that has fully opened upon Christ has beheld a sight for eternity, has looked upon an object above the brightness of the sun, and may well be blind to everything else by reason of "the glory of that light." (Acts 22:11.) Compared to that Tree of Life which God planted for His own glory, who would venture for a moment to speak of the trees of the wood? As well might we compare the sickly yellow hues of an expiring rushlight to the pure and brilliant rays of an electric light. It is Christ in His divine supremacy and heavenly beauty as an object to meet and win the affections of the heart. Beholding Him, I am attracted to His feet like the woman who was a sinner (Luke 7); the eyes of my heart feast upon His divine perfections as I am irresistibly drawn to Him. Little, it may be, do I know, and far less could I disclose to another, what I find in Himself, or derive from Him; but I am spell-bound, riveted with His transcending excellency; I cannot divert my eyes from so commanding, yet so winning, an object. Before Him everything else retires, and the brightest object upon earth pales in its lustre.
Thus delighted with Him, I sit down under His shadow with great delight. This is the second degree, and so we may read the verse (see margin). The soul having discovered something of His worth, would tarry and abide in His presence. As John's two disciples lost sight of the Baptist when the Lamb of God passed by, and asked of the One who had become the magnet of their hearts, "Where dwellest thou?" and in response to His own invitation, "Come and see," abode with Him for a full day, or perfect period of time, so here the soul rests permanently in the presence of its object. The One who has entered the arena of the soul is more than enough to fill and satisfy it for ever. The soul is enraptured; the heart is charged with untold delight, and would never depart from under the covert of His wings. She takes her place beneath His benignant, overshadowing arms, and finds as much her safety as her shelter there. Not now is He an object only eliciting admiration, but He is the One who stands between me and every evil thing. Once my sins were between me and Him, now is He between me and my sins; they are gone for ever, and His everlasting arms embrace me in eternal security. But more than this. As in eastern countries the burning sun is our fiery enemy, so is an overshadowing tree, or a great rock, the most welcome intervention between us and his terrible blast. This also is seen here as a figure of Christ. Under His shadow I find not only my security for ever, but that refreshing shade which is afforded by His eternal wings. As the strong quills of the bird shield her brood from every foe; and her downy breast at the same time affords warmth and comfort to her tender charge, so does His mighty wing stand between me and the enemy; and while on the one hand I experience security from everything without, on the other I learn what it is to be pillowed in spirit already upon His hosom, to enjoy there the eternal security of an assured place in His heart, which nothing shall nullify or disturb. This, then, is what it is to sit down with exultation beneath the tabernacle of His presence, the sanctuary of His shadow!
But there is a third thing - "His fruit was sweet unto my taste." The apostle Peter says, "Unto us who believe He is precious," or more correctly, "is the preciousness." The more we find out one another, the more we discover imperfection, failure, and defect; the more we find out Christ, the more we discover His suitability, His sufficiency, His excellency, and how replete He is with everything calculated to feed and delight the soul. If of all trees no tree so beautiful in its bloom as the apple, so of all trees is none so valuable for its fruit, affording wholesome food for the hungry, and refreshing drink for the thirsty: it feeds, nourishes, and refreshes. How much more so is Christ all this, and infinitely more, for the needy soul! "His flesh is meat indeed, His blood is drink indeed;" as He said, "He that eateth me, even he shall live by me." To the soul that has found its all in Him, how true and how forcible are these simple words, "His fruit was sweet to my taste!" "all, all I want is there!"
Dear reader, are these the experiences of your soul? Are you personally attracted and enraptured by this blessed object, this sight for eternity? Well, that, then, is our first degree. Are you consciously under His shelter - His blood between you and God? Himself between you and your sins? Further, Are you housed in the eternal security, and happy in the eternal serenity, which is found only in one sweet and sacred spot, even under the covert of His wings? That is our second degree. Again, are you feeding upon Him? The wave-breast and the heave-shoulder are for you as a believer; all the tender affections of His heart, and the resistless might of His upholding arm, are yours for faith to appropriate, use, and enjoy. This, therefore, is our third degree. ''Now mark whatever He is for us He is for ever. (1)His cloudless beauty can never fade, His surpassing excellency never depart, His peerless perfections never be sullied. Before Him I am less than nothing; yet attracted to Himself, my eyes are filled with the revelation of His person; and my heart enraptured for eternity. (2) His wing of power and breast of love alike are mine; and the security and the shelter they afford me I can, through grace, lay claim to for ever. (3) His fruit is sweet to our taste now; the antepast is ours already; and the full fruition is at hand in the Tree of Life, and the hidden manna, our living food for ever and for ever.
But there is yet another degree or two more - "He brought me to the banqueting-house." (margin, "house of wine.") Oh, who shall declare to us the blessedness of being inside the house, at home with Him there! Yet do not we know something of that anticipated bliss already? If we have indeed passed the three degrees, we shall surely not be blocked at the fourth. Let faith plume her golden wings, and rejoice in those precious words as she soars upward, "He brought me," Himself the doer of it. Surely He shall have His own unhindered way soon! But ought He not now? And, if we would but let Him, here He tells us what His loving heart would lead Him to do. He would conduct us to His house of wine, the wine of joy and gladness; and His blessed heart would unbend itself, and He would joy over us with singing. Let the reader here pause, and ask himself how much of this divine, this heavenly joy, his heart has experienced today in company of spirit with Christ. Is your joy His joy, and His joy your joy? Have you thus proved that in this at least you are "one spirit with the Lord?" Do you cultivate the joy of Christ and of God as your joy, and thus make manifest that you have taken your eternal place in His house of wine? Alas! how very few of the dear children of God know what it is to joy in Him through our Lord Jesus Christ; many indeed know not what it is to have peace with Him. They have never then sat down under the inviting shadow of Christ; but even of those who have that settled peace of soul, how few have final rest of heart in Him, sitting down together in His house of wine. It is the fourth step in our series, and with the next we conclude our song of degrees. "His banner over me is love." Have you reached this crowning degree, this climax of all? It is the eternal triumph of His love. On His unfurled banner, waving for ever over our heads, shall be read, "The love of Christ which passeth knowledge," as immeasurable as it is inexhaustible; "He will rest in His love."
Surely these are degrees in the achievements of grace which enter into glory, and tell of it beautifully and blessedly! But they are for faith now; and, dear reader, if you have never yet done so, let me invite you to take your degrees. Each is a step onward in divine blessedness for the soul - an inviting, cheering, inspiriting step, to which the Holy Ghost would lead the dear children of God. These picture-lessons about Christ, with which the word of God teems, are drawn by the pencil of God to rejoice our hearts, to increase our faith, to develop our growth by the Holy Ghost -
"From glory into glory changed,
Till we behold His face."
The Lord do it for His own sake. W. R. (D).
My fellowship with the Father is my taste of the delight He has in the only-begotten. G. V. Wigram.