“I am black, but comely, O ye daughters of Jerusalem, as the tents of Kedar, as the curtains of Solomon. Look not upon me because I am black, because the sun hath looked upon me: my mother’s children were angry with me; they made me the keeper of the vineyards; but mine own vineyard have I not kept.”
Endless has been the guesswork, and tiresome the random speculations which have gathered around the heavenly bride’s complaint that she is “black but comely”. “She is a negress”, say some. Others more ingenious, allege that it is Pharaoh’s daughter (married to Solomon at the time he mounted the throne of Israel after the death of his father David). It is curious to reflect that despite so distinguished a royalty derived from the mightiest nation then on earth, we should find her forced into the menial and arduous task of caring for a vineyard not her own. To have reduced this royal lady from her lofty place in the courtly family of Pharaoh, not to speak of her rightful place as partner to the throne of Israel’s brilliant monarch - to be compelled to labour in someone else’s vineyard in the burning heat of the day, can only be the theme of men (be they divines, preachers, or commentators) who lack the most elementary of qualifications for the interpretation of the most unique and mysterious poem the world has ever known.
Any ordinary concordance would have informed these gentlemen that the word ‘black’ has in this connection a mysterious meaning of almost unfathomable depth. It denotes trial and affliction, cruelty and scoffing, rejection and ill-will, and is so used in the following instances:
For the hurt of the daughter of my people am I hurt; I am black; astonishment has taken hold on me.(Jeremiah 8:21)
Judah mourneth and the gates thereof languish; they are black unto the ground .... (Jeremiah 14:2)
The punishment of the iniquity of the daughter of my people is greater than the punishment of the sins of Sodom... Her Nazarites were purer than snow, they were whiter than milk...their visage is blacker than coal; they are not known in the streets. (Lamentations 4: 6 – 8)
Before their faces the people shall be much pained: all faces shall gather blackness. (Joel 2:6)
Cruden (that most neglected of interpreters of the divine Word) writes:
The colour black is applied:
1) To the Church, whose outward beauty is often eclipsed by reason of infirmities, scandals, reproaches, and persecutions (Song of Songs 1:5);
2) To the Jews, whose countenance changed and turned black, being struck with terror at the approach of God’s judgments (Joel 2:6; Nahum 2:10);
3) To hell, the place of extreme darkness, horror and misery (Jude 13).
Hengstenberg refers very pointedly to the attempt of a commentator of some distinction, who tried to persuade himself and others that the word in Song 1, verse 5, means brown, or brownish red - to which Hengstenberg bluntly observes, “If that were so we should have to encounter in chapter 5, verse 11 of the Song, a brownish red raven!” (In the verse so referred to we have in our translation, “His locks are bushy, and black as a raven”).
Such are the liberties which otherwise scholarly men have taken with the text of the Song of Songs, and we can only applaud the severity of Hengstenberg’s criticism in such a case as this.
It is clear therefore that the daughter of Pharaoh has no place in the Song. What we are seeing is as far removed from any of King Solomon’s domestic arrangements as can well be imagined. Throughout, the divine poet writes under the impulse of the Spirit of Holiness and Truth who in this great verse of the Song is showing the Church’s place in a hostile world which endeavours to enslave the pure Bride of Christ and destroy by persecution and cruelty her claim to be what she is - the true and only church of the Redeemer. Her blackness is the mark of her suffering as in the case of the Israel of the Old Testament. Her cry of affliction is heard still. Always, in some part of the world, the people of God are suffering, and even in the individual life of the humblest Christian there are trials, and tears and crying.
No matter if the way be sometimes dark,
No matter though the cost be oft-times great,
He knoweth how I best shall reach the mark,
The way that leads to Him must needs be strait.
Note: “strait” - the word means NARROW, DIFFICULT, RESTRICTED, CONFINED, DISTRESSFUL.
There lies the secret of the Church’s sufferings. Only under trial, under the pressure of oppositions without and within can her love and longing for the Saviour be won and perfected. In the wider sense, this is the history of the church from the time when Abel was slain by his brother Cain. Let the sufferings of Job likewise testify to this essential trial of the Church.
In the invisibility, powers are at work which test and prove the devotion of the Church to her Lord. There is the challenge of the Evil One whose slander against God and against the people of the Lord is always expressed in the same terms – “Doth Job fear God for nought?...But put forth thy hand and touch all that he hath, and he will curse thee to thy face.” (Job 1:9-11) That challenge is made before the throne of God in the case of every soul whom divine grace has brought into communion with the Lord. Power is allowed to Satan to work his will against the Church, whose members are frequently tried to the utmost because of the slander of Satan that God is only served for the advantage which is gained thereby.
Stripped of all advantage and all earthly comfort, Job’s faith, trusting even where he cannot see, prevails against the Evil One. At the height of the trial he sees in vision the coming of the Promised Deliverer. “I know that my Redeemer liveth” exclaims the sufferer, “and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth.” Job knew of the promise originally deposited with the human race in the words of the Almighty God to the Serpent of hell, “I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed. It shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.” (Genesis 3:15)
Our first parents heard, and believed, and handed on to posterity the Promise (which enshrines the secret of all creation), and they two went on to live their long life, and die in the faith and expectation of the great deliverance which the promise ensured for our race. We expect to see our first parents in heaven, not because of any merit in them, but because against hope they believed in hope (like Abraham in a later generation) and transmitted to their posterity the promise of life eternal through One who would in human flesh meet and conquer the enemy. Not by strength but by weakness would Satan be overthrown, and the new creation of redeemed souls would in their turn, through the power of that Name which is above every name, defy the power of evil and its Prince of Death, even though, as with Job, the day should darken about them, and hope be well-nigh extinguished. The Church must always prevail in the patience of suffering, for we can only know we have faith, when faith is put to the test.
Preachers and commentators in these decadent days, who do not understand the purport of Job’s sufferings and the darkness - the blackness - through which he passed, will continue to muse from the comfort of their study, upon the blackness of that trial which fell upon that great and good man, and will write Job small, as though, had they been in his shoes they would have given a brighter example of faith. They do the same with Abraham, and with Isaac and Jacob, even with Joseph, and many another. It is small wonder that these gentlemen cannot explain to us the mysteries of the Song of Songs, and can offer no help to us concerning the church’s complaint of her blackness. There is no easy way to the eternal glories which ‘gleam afar to nerve our faint endeavour’, and these men do not understand the Saviour’s parting counsel to His disciples – “In the world ye shall have tribulation - but be of good cheer; I have overcome t he world”. (John 16:33)
Rapid and unexpected indeed are the changes through which the Church and her members are called to pass. In verse 4 of our chapter we left the Bride in the enjoyment of those blessed resting places (“The king has brought me into his chambers. We will be glad and rejoice in thee”) - even those periods of time when the Church has rest from her trials. This is noted in Acts 9:31 – “Then had the churches rest throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria, and walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost, were multiplied.” Unexpectedly the chief persecutor of the church, one Saul of Tarsus, had been converted to Christ, and the entire movement of the powers of darkness against the Church was interrupted by the remarkable providence of God in turning this furious zealot, in a moment, into a humble penitent, and ultimately into the greatest evangelist of all time, and the architect of the Church’s theology.
The way to Christ, whether for the first time or the thousandth time, must ever be the way of trial and suffering. It must needs be this way, for only so can the Church and her members be separated from the world. It is the way of self denial, the way of the Cross, the way of repudiation of all earthly values. The goal of theology is the denial of self, that Christ may be all in all. Paul spoke for the Church when he declared – “I count al I things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of al I things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ”. (Philippians 3:8) Again Paul writes to the Roman believers – “...heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.” (Romans 8:17)
The great apostle writes finally in that grandest of perorations:
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, For thy sake we are killed al I the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Nay in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. (Romans 8:35-37)
In the Hebrews epistle Paul reminds us that Moses chose rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt. (Hebrews 11:25-26)
Peter also exhorts believers:
Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy. If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you: on their part he is evil spoken of, but on your part he is glorified. (1 Peter 4:12-14)
And was not the Book of Revelation written by John under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, to describe how the journey of the Church down the ages, from the days of the apostles to the final coming of the Lord in power and in glory, should be a story of trial and testing, of suffering and oppression?
The “blackness” of which the Bride speaks in the Song of Songs, is therefore the blackness of trial - the loss of all things that she may win Christ.
The final triumph of Christ through His Church is wonderfully told in the vision of John – “These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more, neither shall the sun light on them nor any heat. For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters, and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes”. (Revelation 7:14- 17)
Paul magnificently concludes:
For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)
Crowning all are the Saviour’s words of warning to such as would lightly, and without due searching of heart,become His disciples – “Whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me cannot be my disciple”. (Luke 14:27) Again – “If a man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me”. (Matthew 16:24)
GOD PROVES HIMSELF
The great Creator is working something out which has to do with the problem of Creation - Aye! the problem too of the divine Being, in love, holiness and truth. God puts Himself to the test to prove that He is worthy to be the Creator and Lord of all being. He crowns His Creatorship by making Himself the victim of all the evil that ever was or ever can be, in heaven or in earth. “This is your hour and the power of darkness” (Luke 22 53), said the Saviour as the mysterious agony of Gethsemane was followed by the arrival of the traitor and the posse which carried out the arrest. The deep meaning of the agony and bloody sweat eludes us all, as in vain we try to probe its mystery. It has to do with the purpose of Creation and the bending of all evil to make way for a new Creation which, because God has now made Himself part of it - indeed, the Victim of it - can never again fall or fail, seeing it is part of the very throne of God. He, who became the Victim of all evil, has triumphed over it, not by strength but by weakness, and has in consequence inaugurated a new order in which redeemed man becomes the partner of His throne. He became Man in our nature, and we through Him become partakers of the divine nature, so that creation is rectified, and achieves the glorious purpose for which God has given His own great life.
Yet so long as the earth stands, the same principles of the overcoming of evil through the blood of the Lamb must run their course. Our human nature is proven by suffering (for His dear sake) as we confront the Power of Darkness and learn from Christ, how to overcome the world and the prince of this world, Satan, the Adversary. None are spared. Abel must be slain by his brother; David must be hunted down through the envy of Saul; Joseph must be unjustly slandered and cast into prison; Job must enter into the mystery of the divine and holy permission of evil. The frightful persecutions of the Church, first by the Roman power, then by the Papal antichristian system, must continue to prove that God and His Church have an adversary who never sleeps and never relents, yet who knows by now that he has but a short time.
… BUT COMELY
We may not bring the study of this verse to a conclusion, until we have proceeded to an understanding of the Bride’s claim to her own great beauty – “I am black but comely.” Suffering had not diminished in her the consciousness of her own excellence. The beauty of the Lord God is reflected in His Church, and she can with the utmost propriety bear witness to her own excellence, because she is not toiling in the imperfection so patently felt by the individual believer. Rather does she speak in the full awareness of that dazzling beauty which she bears as the chosen partner of the King of Kings. Her destiny is assured, for against her Beloved there is no power or might which can prevail. All that He is, He bestows upon her. The beauty of the Lord her God is upon her (Psalm 90: 7). She may be ‘black’ with trial, adversity, and the malice of her foes, but her inward comeliness none can touch. It remains in her untouchable unity with Christ, and even the gates of hell cannot prevail against her.
Here, if anywhere, we are compelled to recognise that the primary sense in which the Bride of the Song must be regarded is her unity with Christ, as one dedicated to be the partner of His throne for all eternity. For the individual believer to arrogate to himself the right to proclaim his own beauty or comeliness, would be an intolerable liberty. But what would be an unthinkable impropriety for the individual, would be perfectly proper as a description of the Church, the Bride, when she instructs her members (described elsewhere as ‘the daughters of Jerusalem’) in the nature of that relationship which they enjoy through their oneness with her in the ever blessed and adorable Son of God, the heavenly Solomon.
Christ looks upon His Bride and as in a mirror sees the reflection of His own beauty and holiness. “Thou art all fair, my love, there is no spot in thee” is His declaration (Song 4:7).
Let believers therefore know how they stand with Christ in the glorious company of all the redeemed, most of whom have already ‘crossed the flood’ - and part are crossing now. In themselves they find no good thing, but when Christ as the Bridegroom addresses His Bride, they are included – “O my dove that art in the clefts of the rock .... let me see thy countenance, let me hear thy voice; for sweet is thy voice, and thy countenance is comely” (Song 2:4). The whole church is thus being addressed in tones of that love which in Him is the goal of Deity.
The address of the heavenly Bridegroom in chapter 4 of the Song is a surpassing description of her beauty in his eyes, as He sees in her the completion and the perfection of His own great purpose in Creation. The individual believer cannot be properly addressed in such terms. Yet, as Christ’s love for the Church is the same love which He bears toward all who come to Him in penitence and faith there can be no limit to the awe and wonder and gratitude which the soul must feel in the presence of so great a love. Paul could say in truth – “The Son of God loved me and gave Himself for me”. (Galatians 2:20)
Contemplating that love, begets an answering love in hearts which are given to Him in the full and glad surrender of love. Let that love be nourished by humble prayer and meditation, in the fellowship of all the Lord’s true people. Let it be enlarged till it loses itself in the utter consecration and dedication of the whole being to Him, even as the apostle has written:
The love of Christ constraineth us, because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead: and that He died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto Him which died for them and rose again. (2 Corinthians 5: 14-15)
THE THEOLOGY OF TRIAL
V. 6: Look not upon me because I am black, because the sun hath looked upon me: my mother’s children were angry with me; they made me the keeper of the vineyards, but mine own vineyard have I not kept.
Time and trial alone can produce a true theology. It is not enough that we study the doctrinal works of excellent men who have gone before us, essential though that exercise may be. True theology can never be divorced from faith and experience, and this is surely borne out in the history of theology from the earliest days. Learning line upon line, and precept upon precept, here a little and there a little (Isaiah 28:10-13) the Church slowly unfolds her theology, and through patience and suffering, trial and seeking, arrives not only at just views concerning the divine revelation, but learns the submissiveness of love, the faithful endurance of sorrow and pain, and - the goal: yielding to God and to Christ, resting in Him, renouncing the world, looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of final triumph.
It is a mistake to suppose that a few years in college (however well founded and distinguished) furnish a young man with all that is needed for a successful ministry. David refused Saul’s armour, not because of any defect in that panoply, but because he had not proved the same. Theology may be perfect as to the letter, but it can only be truly used in the experience of it, wrought by suffering, trial, patience, and humble submission. Knowledge is dearly bought, whether by the Church or by the individual. “Master, I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest” said one enthusiastic scribe to the Saviour, but the Lord cautioned him, “Foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man hath not where to lay His head”. (Matthew 8:20)
Paul the apostle reminds us that though we may have the gift of prophecy and understand all mysteries, and have not love, we are nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:2)
The Church, like the individual (for she is composed of individuals) learns her theology by suffering. She is consumed by the burning sun of trial, and scorched by exposure in the shelterless deserts of adversity and persecution, but shines forth with an ever greater beauty as she learns the lessons of faith and trust, and sees the hand of God in all her sufferings. Wherever the Church is, there is also the adversary.
We cannot escape the ominous picture - the warning - here drawn before our eyes, the apparition of the persecuting false Church which down the ages has oppressed, hated, and sought to destroy the true Bride of Christ. Cain slew his brother Abel because the younger brother was accepted and Cain was rejected. The significance of Abel’s offering - the slain lamb - must be set against the Cainitic offering of the products of his own labours. The distinction between grace and mercy on the one hand, and human merit on the other, is very plain, and has been recognised from the beginning. This episode of the two brothers has regulated the religious processes right down the ages. The distinction is between the everlasting mercy of God and the boastful works of man.
In essence all religions are divided on this rock. Either Christ is all, in His peerless life and atoning death, or human merit and human invention must prevail. The latter-day apostasy is surely upon us now, when the historic churches have for the most part signed their own death warrant, for sure it is that they have little or no room for the Word of God, while they flaunt themselves in their own righteousness. We thank God for notable exceptions.
For the second time the persecuted Church complains of those who, because she bears the marks and the burdens of trial, would add to her sufferings by the impositions they lay upon her. “Look not upon me because I am black, because the sun hath looked upon me.” Her sufferings under persecution brought her no relief at the hands of those from whom kindness ought to have been expected. “My mother’s children were angry with me,” she complains. Now who were these who so troubled her and laid even heavier burdens upon her? These were her own kith and kin, those from whom she had the right to expect help and comfort and mercy. On the contrary, they only added to her burdens – “They made me the keeper of the vineyards; but mine own vineyard have I not kept.”
What the Bride is saying is that her tribulations came not only from her exposure to the persecutions of those who might be regarded as the enemies of the Church, but from the Church itself. Here we must recognise that alongside the true Church there is always to be found the false Church. The sufferings of our fathers at the hands of the Papacy need no enlargement here. Down the ages, ever since the days of Cain, Satan has raised up the false Church to trouble and if need be to destroy, the true people of the Lord. In the days of Israel, when the nation was still united under the sceptre of Solomon, there was this distinct ion between the true and the false. Solomon had the Psalms of David in his hand to remind himself of those days when David was hunted by King Saul. “Lord, remember David and all his afflictions” we find in one of the Psalms of Degrees (Psalm 132:1). David’s afflictions were always at the hands of those who should have been his friends, but he was able to write in Psalm 34:19 – “Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivereth him out of them all”.
THE MYSTERY OF THE VINE
The Bride is now on the brink of the discovery of her Lord. It is the darkest hour before the dawn, but before we can proceed to that delectable meeting of the Bride with her divine lover, there is yet another mystery to be explained - perhaps the greatest of all mysteries, the mystery of the vine, which forms so formidable a part of the original prophecy of Shiloh. Dying Jacob, seeing much further and more clearly in the hour of death than ever anyone could see in normal life, proclaimed that the promised Shiloh would “bind his foal unto the vine, and his ass’s colt to the choice vine; he washed his garments in wine, and his clothes in the blood of the grapes: his eyes shall be red with wine, and his teeth white with milk”.
We are in the region of inspired poetry. We are aware of the record which tells us how Christ rode into Jerusalem (as the cross loomed ever nearer before Him) on a colt, the foal of an ass, upon whom man never sat before. The foal had not been broken in. Normally it would have fought with teeth and hoof at this first attempt to ride him - but the Lord of heaven and earth had need of him. The wild instinct of the animal was quelled (Luke 19:30), and he bore with dignity the Lord of heaven and earth, through the gate into the city. And whither would the obedient animal carry his Lord? Not far perhaps, but far enough for all Jerusalem to know (if they would have given heed) - that Shiloh was come. Thus He came, not as human loftiness would have chosen, perhaps on a royal charger or in a chariot of gold; but meek, and having salvation (see Matthew 21, and Zechariah 9:9).
It is beyond dispute that the original of this prophecy and its fulfillment is found in the Shiloh prophecy of dying Jacob. That prophecy was developed in Zechariah, and filled out and accomplished in Christ’s entry into Jerusalem.
But there is obviously much more in the circumstance than the entry into Jerusalem. That should have alarmed the authorities, and if they had pursued the matter in the prophecies they would have looked for the clue in Jacob’s great prophecy. They would have been confronted by an enigma which their view of prophecy could not have contained. Why should the foal be bound to the vine, even to “the choice vine”; how should the eyes of the rider be red with wine, and his clothes washed in the blood of grapes? They would have inquired further and asked whose was the vine (in Isaiah’s prophecy) which instead of bringing forth grapes, brought forth wild grapes as a consequence of which it was laid waste and its place overrun by briers and thorns ( Isaiah 5).
We could have asked them to go further, and beg to be allowed to listen at the door of a certain Upper Room in Jerusalem at the time of the Passover, and hear the colt’s rider solemnly declare that He was the true vine, the eternal Father was the husbandman, and that unfruitful branches must be cut off, while the fruitful ones would be purged (by affliction and trial) so as to bring forth more fruit. (See John 15)
So was Israel’s vine destroyed, and its place taken by heaven’s vine, the only begotten Son, whose branches are those who believe on Him and who follow the Lamb whithersoever He leads, and who in heaven are known as they who have come out of great tribulation and have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb (Revelation 7:14, etc.).
The greatest persecutor of the “Invisible” Church has always been the Church Visible. The forty years of probation granted to the Jewish nation after the Crucifixion, ended with the Roman War and the destruction of the Jews as a nation. During those forty years the Jewish people and their leaders persecuted the Church which sprang out of the bosom of the nation. Stephen was martyred, James the brother of John was slain, Peter was cast into prison, Saul of Tarsus made havoc of the Church (still largely Jewish) but the sudden and miraculous conversion of Saul brought to an end, for the time being, the Jewish persecutions. At the end of the nation’s forty years of probation, the Jews were given up to destruction (as a nation) and henceforth the Church faced a new and dreadful foe - Caesar, the master of the world. From within the Church, after the apostolic era, heresy began to arise and the Church passed through troublous times until the accession of Constantine, when a new and formidable foe gradually emerged - a foe known as the Antichrist, who had been waiting in the wings till the way was prepared (through the fall of the Roman empire) for the full revelation of himself in accordance with prophecy, though truth to tell he was already active in the concluding days of John, the last of the apostles (see 1 John 2:3 and refs).
We return to our main theme. The worst foes of the church have always been those who have arisen from her own bosom, and claimed her name. Hence the complaint of the Bride in the Song, that she was suffering grievously at the hands of her own mother’s children. Hence too, the searing words of Stephen, the first Christian martyr
Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did so do ye. Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? And they have slain them which showed before of the coming of the Just One, of whom ye have been now the betrayers and murderers: who have received the law by the disposition of angels and have not kept it. (Acts 7:51-53)
The special nature of the oppression suffered by the Bride in the Song is mystically described in the words – “My mother’s children were angry with me. They made me the keeper of the vineyards, but mine own vineyard have I not kept”. (Verse 6)
The vineyards, in which she was compelled to labour, represent the Law in which Israel made its boast. The vineyard is symbolic in prophetic language, of the nation of Israel. “Mine own vineyard” whichthe afflicted Bride was hindered from cultivating, is that spiritual reality of which Israel’s vineyards (plural) were but the type. It is the difference between the two covenants, that of mount Sinai and that of Calvary - the one where the Law was given but never kept; the other where the reality of the Law in its demands was fully met and the debt fully paid by Christ on the Cross.
“THE TWO COVENANTS ARE ONE”
It will be said no doubt that the two covenants can only be seen in sequence: that until the Law of Moses had run its course there could be no “New” Covenant of grace, and therefore we must look elsewhere for the Bride’s own vineyard. The objection arises from a common misconception that the two covenants are in opposition and could not co-exist. On the contrary, as one of our great men cried out on his deathbed - was it not 0liver Cromwell? – “The two covenants are one!” There is only one righteousness and it was demanded but never paid under the Mosaic economy but it was perfectly kept by Christ on behalf of a redeemed race, and its demands fully met on the Cross. “What the Law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God, sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteousness of the Law might be fulfilled in us who walk not after the flesh but after the Spirit”. (Romans 8:3-4) What was death to Christ (Who fully paid our debt to the Law) is life to us, who believe on Him who was dead, but is alive again for evermore, death having no more dominion over Him or claim upon Him.
The two covenants are one - but only in Christ.
We have not yet fully resolved the Bride’s dilemma, however. “Mine own vineyard have I not kept ...” Until the legal dispensation, i.e. the Old Testament, had run its course the Bride’s dilemma remained. Only the coming of the heavenly Bridegroom could relieve her from the hard bondage of the Law, but in the great Song of Songs the inspired poet presented in mystic form the same promise which was vested in the human race in the beginning, namely, the seed of the woman must bruise the head of the Serpent (Genesis 3: 15). And it is the Woman in the Song of Songs whose complaint rises up to the throne of the Majesty on High, and in a moment she is transported across the ages and finds herself in the arms of her King. By-passing the chorus of virgins who are her companions in the Song, she cries out as though the Beloved stood beside her:
“Tell me, O thou whom my soul loveth, where thou feedest, where thou makest thy flock to rest at noon: for why should I be as one that turneth aside by the flocks of thy companions?” (Verse 7)
The Bride receives at once her instruction from her spiritual companions: “If thou know not, O thou fairest among women, go thy way forth by the footsteps of the flock, and feed thy kids beside the shepherds’ tents.” (Verse 8)
The cry of the Bride spans the ages. The longing of the Church from the beginning was for the moment of meeting her King. The advice (or instruction) of the virgin chorus was that she should follow the footsteps of the flock, and as the flock here is the Church of the Old Testament, the figure can only mean that the business of the Church in the Old Testament was to follow the prophetic Word, in age after age treading in the footsteps of those who had gone before, as the time drew ever nearer to the coming of the Good Shepherd who gives His life for the sheep. Immediately upon following the advice of the chorus, the Church finds herself at last in the arms of the Beloved. The ages pass away in a moment, and Christ appears.
Nothing can be plainer than that the Lord claims the great Shiloh prophecy for Himself. The great prophetic statements take their rise throughout the Old Testament from that generic source. It is not the nature of prophecy to be always verbally specific; else there would be no room for faith. Conversant though the Jewish scholars were, with the Old Testament prophecies, they remained blind so far as true interpretation was concerned, because of the divine rule that only those who truly seek will find, even those who are persistent in their knocking and their humble, eager asking.
Ready views on prophetic matters today, as for instance the immediate future of the world, betray all the faults of the Jewish literalists and their follies. Prophecy is very deep. So much is made plain (to those who truly and humbly seek) as will keep them clear of extravagances, and call forth awe and worship. But those who make profit out of their exaggerated claims to be able to interpret the immediate future should learn before it is too late, to “tremble at the Word”.
THE LAST BETRAYAL NIGHT
Who at first sight would join Jacob’s Shiloh prophecy with the events of that last betrayal night when the Son of God distributed the bread and the wine to the apostles and declared – “This is my body which is given for you...this is my blood of the New Covenant which is shed for many for the remission of sins'”?
Are we not startled? Be not startled, but consider that one of the identification marks of Shiloh was that he would wash his garments in wine, and his clothes in the blood of grapes. Consider how the beloved John somehow does not record the institution of the memorial feast, though Matthew does (as do also Mark and Luke, neither of whom was there). Why is John so silent? He gives the longest of all accounts of the Saviour's words and parting counsels and mysterious prayer and warnings - yet altogether fails to say one word about the institution of the memorial feast.
Let it be known therefore that the spiritual John, one of the two Sons of Thunder, left it to Matthew to be the historian of the great mystery, and Mark and Luke to relate what was told to them by other of the apostles, though they themselves were not apostles.
But let it be seen, and noted, and shouted from the housetops that John’s business was not to relate the event of the Memorial Ordination, but to tell us in spiritual terms what the others relate as to the earthly event of the feast. For did not John give in the greatest detail that which no-one else could give in such fulness - the inner meaning of that feast which he does not relate? Hence...
I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman. Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it that it may bring forth more fruit. Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you. Abide in me and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself except it abide in vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me…. (John 15)
What a blow is here for the Ritualists and the Romanist! John, of all the disciples (who laid his head in the Lord’s bosom), does not relate the account of the institution of the feast at all, but gives us the spiritual meaning of it, to the confusion of all ritualism and Romanism. The bread and the wine have no virtue in themselves (is what he is declaring). They are only signs pointing to Jacob’s vision of the Shiloh, whose garments are said to have been washed in wine, and his clothes in the blood of grapes. What is this but (in prophetic style) a picture of that which Christ is to sinful man? He whose garments are red with wine as also his eyes and teeth (as in the Shiloh Prophecy) comes into the world with the specific intention and commission - to purchase with His own blood, even His own life, the release and deliverance of His Church. Let sinners behold Him, and those who have found redemption in His blood so worship Him, for this is the glory of Shiloh, this the secret of His life, that by blood - His own blood - He should redeem His Church and be acclaimed by that great multitude which no man can number, of every kindred, and nation, and people, and tongue, who have '”washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb”. (Revelation 7:9-17)
Throughout all eternity He will bear the marks of that sacrifice of Himself (see Revelation 5:6 - the Lamb “as it had been slain” appears in the midst of the Throne of God).
“With what rapture gaze we on those glorious scars.”
Now we can perceive why John did not write about the institution of the memorial feast. It was his intention (under the impulse of the Holy Spirit) to warn and encourage the Church down the ages, concerning that of which the order of the bread and wine testified. There is no saving virtue in the bread and wine, or John would have been the first to relate it to us. The table bears only the earthly elements which speak to us, and hold forth spiritual realities, namely that our heavenly Shiloh is to us the source of life eternal. Though free to us is that mercy, it comes at the fearful cost of His own glorious life, whose death meant the end and the overthrow of all evil, while His rising again from the dead unites us with Him in the power of His endless life. John’s silence concerning the “institution” warns us against substituting a rite for that which is designed only as a symbol of eternal realities. They who truly partake are they who, in Christ’s language in John 15, verse 4, live in Him:
“Abide in me and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself except it abide in the vine, no more can ye except ye abide in me”.
In short, John’s great chapters 14, 15, 16, and 17 when properly understood, are the spiritual realities of which the Communion of His body and blood is the symbol. The wine remains wine and the bread still is bread. The object of the rite is to call to remembrance, and to spur us on to that true abiding in Him without which there is no fruit borne, and we only drink and eat condemnation to our own souls.
John’s silence as touching the historic inauguration of the feast is therefore explained by the fact that the REALITY lay in the Lord’s words, not in the rite. The life of the Church is the life of Christ Himself. As the branch is to the vine, so are we to Christ. His is the life which becomes ours by union with Him. The Supper is the symbol. The reality is our union with the Vine (Christ). John envisages the flow of life from the stem to the branch, and this is symbolised at the Last Supper, which John deliberately refrains from recording, as a caution against superstitious worship. The symbol is to be observed, but only as the symbol. The reality is the mystic union of the soul with Christ, through faith, and by that union His life flows through our soul. But let all take heed. If our union with Christ is not real; if there is no fruition of His life in us - we are cast forth as a branch which is useless and barren, and so we wither away.
HOW DID PAUL KNOW?
This study can only be complete if we bring in the marvelous and mysterious words of Paul - that apostle ‘after the event’ who was not present at the Lord’s Passover supper in Jerusalem, but who on the contrary became the principal enemy of Christ and His Church after the martyrdom of Stephen. He was remarkably converted when smitten down on the Damascus road on his way to destroy the Church in that city. Paul was not of course present at the great events which inaugurated the Christian Church. He was not a Jerusalem Jew, and seems never to have met Christ in the days of His flesh.
Yet he gives his own account of the inauguration of the Lord’s Supper, as though he had been present. “I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, that the Lord Jesus, the same night in which He was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks he brake it and said, Take, eat: this is my body which is broken for you....” (See 1 Corinthians 11, verses 23-26). Sufficient attention has not been given to the fact that Paul received the revelation of Christ’s action not from man, but directly from the Lord Himself.
When did this extraordinary experience take place? We are not directly informed, but there seems every reason to believe that it was when, as recorded in his second epistle to the Corinthians, Paul had that mysterious transport to heaven itself and that personal interview with the Risen and Glorified Lord (2 Cor. 12:1-9). There he speaks of himself in the third person – “I knew a man in Christ ...” There surely it was that he received of the Lord that account of the Last Supper and its meaning, described in the first letter (1 Cor 11:23) . Put together the account of Paul’s revelation and John’s record of the Words of the Lord Jesus at the Last Supper, and we get a full and true picture of the Shiloh prophecy. We see the significance of the Vine and the solemn warning of John’s quotation of the Saviour’s words in the Upper Room against those who do not abide in Christ. The spiritual nature of Christ’s kingdom is thus established, and also the spiritual nature of all prophecy. The relationship between the Bride and the Heavenly Solomon is also established as the spiritual union of Christ and the Church, and thereby we hold the key to the understanding of the Song of Songs and the longing of the Old Testament Church for the full revealing of Christ in heavenly union with His people - not with Israel as such, but with the true Church, the ISRAEL OF GOD.
Let this therefore be clear, that the beloved John shows us that there is no virtue in the rite, but only in that which the rite portrays - the soul’s- unity with Christ as the branch to the vine. The life which is in the rooted stem flows through the branch bringing forth the heavenly fruition. The abiding in the vine lays upon the individual soul a solemn responsibility, of prayerful seeking, of watchfulness, of daily renewal. There is growth of love and of desire, exemplified in the Bride’s cry – “Tell me, O thou whom my soul loveth, where thou feedest, where thou makest thy flock to rest at noon: for why should I be as one that turneth aside by the flocks of thy companions?” Thus she turns from the Old Testament to the New, from the shadow to the reality.
Only in seeking and abiding, is the life of Christ communicated to the branch, and the fruition of divine life is made manifest. The error of sacramentalism substitutes the sign for the reality. John goes beyond the sign, and mentions it not, that the believer might know that the life eternal rises only in Christ, and is communicated only in spiritual union with Himself.
“I am the vine, ye are the branches. He that abideth in me and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.” (John 15:5)