GETTING THE MESSAGE/God’s love for His redeemed people
The Bible is about God gathering a people for Himself out of a world that is in rebellion towards Him. His redemptive work is not because they are worthy but proceeds from His love. Christ came into the world to redeem people that they might know God. In John 17 Jesus prays, “This is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”
The metaphor of marriage is used in the Bible, not only in this book, but other books to depict God’s love for His redeemed people. Revelation 21:1 looks ahead to a new heaven and new earth. In verse 2 we read, “And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” Song of Songs uses these human categories of love to describe the love Christ has for His people and the love His people have for Him. We love Him because He first loved us. The greatest gift is to have love for Christ.
We will be looking at Song of Songs chapter 3 for the next few weeks. Verse 1 says, “On my bed by night I sought him whom my soul loves; I sought him but found him not.” This is allegorical language about the church or the Christian thinking about Christ.
In Chapter 2 the believer enjoyed joyful communion with Christ. There was feasting in the banqueting house and “his banner over me was love” (verse 4). The believer had a rich sense of the comforting love of Christ. It was a season of spiritual spring: flowers blooming, smell of blossoms, a time of singing, etc. (verses 11-13). The believer exclaims, “My beloved is mine, and I am his” (verse 16).
Nothing compares to having the sense of Christ’s dying love for you. Paul said he did all things because “Christ loved me and gave himself for me.” But the comfortable sense of Christ’s love is not a constant thing in this world. As chapter 3 begins, things have changed for the believer. She seeks “him whom my soul loves,” but doesn’t find him.
One reality of the Christian life is that Christ will never leave you or forsake you. Another reality is that His Spirit will withdraw at times, and the believer will lose the comforting assurance of Christ’s presence. John Owen says about this passage, “The Lord is pleased at times to withdraw himself, not from the being of a believer, but the believer’s experience of comforting grace.”
The believer hasn’t lost her sense of the relationship, the knowledge of Christ’s love for her and her love for Him. She is seeking him on her bed at night. So, she hasn’t been forsaken. But she is experiencing a time of darkness in her soul.
David knew these ebbs and flows, the different seasons in his walk with the Lord. In Psalm 63, though he is in the wilderness, he is joyful. He says, “In the shadow of your wings I sing for joy”, and “Your steadfast love is better than life.” But in Psalm 6, he pleads with the Lord for grace because his bed is soaked with tears due to his own sin and his enemies.
If you find yourself in this spiritual condition, it will be difficult, but it indicates Christ is at work in you. Samuel Rutherford says these withdrawals of Christ are for a wise end; they test our faith and the steadfastness of our love: “As nights and shadows are good for flowers; and moonlight and dews are better than a continual sun; so is Christ’s absence of special use. It gives sap to humility, puts an edge on hunger for Christ, and provides a field for faith to show itself.”
Richard Sibbes says the withdrawals wean us from the world. They show us “what poor comforters prosperity or earthly contentment’s are without the comfort of the Holy Spirit.” Thomas Watson said, “If he hides his face it is in love. When light is withdrawn, the dew falls. We see the rainbow in the dark clouds. By this God quickens grace that may be dormant. When God hides his face from his children he is still a Father and his heart yearns for them. It is a sad case for the wicked. They cannot say ‘Our Father.’ They can only say ‘Our Judge.’”
The believer searches for “him whom my soul loves.” It is impossible to measure the worth of loving Christ. When we love Him, we live. Rutherford says, “Let those who love this present world have it, but Christ is a more worthy and noble portion, blessed are those who have him.”
The Rev. Chris Shelton is pastor of Union’s First Presbyterian Church.