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Chapters 6, 7
The subject of the book — the heart's affections
It is to be observed, that there is no question in this book of the purification of the conscience. That question is not touched upon. But it speaks of those affections of the heart which cannot be too ardent when the Lord is their object Consequently the faults, that manifest forgetfulness of Him and of His grace, serve only to produce such exercises of heart with respect to Him as recall all the attractions of His Person, and the consciousness of belonging entirely to Him — exercises that form the heart to a much deeper appreciation of Himself, because guilt before a judge is not the question, but a fault of the heart towards a friend — a fault which, meeting with a love too strong to be turned away from its object, only deepens her own affection, and infinitely exalts in her eyes the affection of her Beloved (thus forming her heart, by inward exercise, to the appreciation of His love, and to the capability of loving and estimating all that He is). It is all-important to form our heart in this portion of the christian life. It is thus that Christ is truly known; for, with respect to divine persons, he who loves not knows not. The heart indeed is imperfect; it cannot love as it ought; and therefore all these exercises are necessary. I do not say that faults are necessary. But, as has been said, it is love that causes the fault to be felt when it exists, and the strength of the love that exposes to the watchman's blows, whose business it is, not to measure love, but to maintain moral order. He takes away the veil — sad and painful discipline, which proves that, even while loving much, there was not love enough; or, at least, that this love was deposited in a weak vessel which, if listened to, is a traitor to itself.
The moral application of the book to the Church
I have said that in its interpretation this book does not apply to the assembly. Nevertheless I have spoken of ourselves and of our hearts, and with reason; because, although the interpretation of the book presents Israel as its object, it is the heart and the feelings that are in question; so that morally it can be applied to us. But, then, the modification already noticed must be introduced. We have the full knowledge of accomplished redemption, we know that we are sitting in the heavenly places in Christ. Our conscience is for ever purged. God will remember our sins and our iniquities no more. But the effect of this work is, that we are entirely His, according to the love that is shewn in the sacrifice that accomplished it. Morally therefore Christ is the all of our souls. It is evident that, if He loved us, if He gave Himself for us, when in us there was no good thing, it is in having absolutely done with ourselves that we have life, happiness, and the knowledge of God. It is in Him alone that we find the source, the strength, and the perfection of this. Now, as to justification, this truth makes our position perfect. In us there is no good thing. We are accepted in the Beloved — perfectly accepted in His acceptance, our sins being entirely put away by His death. But, then, as to life, Jesus becomes the one object, the all of our souls. In Him alone the heart finds that which can be its object — in Him who has so loved us and given Himself for us — in Him who is entire perfection for the heart. As to conscience, the question is settled in peace through His blood: we are righteous in Him before God, while exercised daily on that ground. But the heart needs to love such an object, and in principle will have none but Him, in whom all grace, devotedness to us, and every grace, according to God's own heart, is found. It is here that the Christian is in unison with the Song of Songs.
The assembly — loved, redeemed, and belonging to Him — having by the Spirit understood His perfections, having known Him in the work of His love, does not yet possess Him as she knows Him. She sighs for the day when she will see Him as He is. Meanwhile He manifests Himself to her, awakens her affections, and seeks to possess her love, by testifying all His delight in her. She learns also that which is in herself — that slothfulness of heart which loses opportunities of communion with Him. But this teaches her to judge all that in herself which weakens the effect on her heart of the perfections of her Beloved. Thus she is morally prepared, and has capacity for the full enjoyment of communion with Him; when she shall see Him as He is, she will be like Him. It is not the effort to obtain Him; but we seek to apprehend that for which we have been apprehended by Christ. We have an object that we do not yet fully possess, which alone can satisfy all our desires — an object whose affection we need to realise in our hearts — an end which He in grace pursues, by the testimony of His perfect love towards us, thereby cultivating our love to Him, comforting us even by the sense of our weakness, and by the revelation of His own perfection, and thus shewing us all that in our own hearts prevents our enjoying it. He delivers us from it, in that we discover it in the presence of His love.
The love of Christ learned and known makes us know Him Himself
It is not my object to trace here in detail the working of these affections in the heart, because I am interpreting and not exhorting. But it was necessary to speak a little on the subject, that the Book may be understood. Moreover, it is impossible to exaggerate the importance of cultivating these holy affections which attach us to Christ, and cause us to know His love, and to know Himself. For, I repeat, when God is in question, and His dealings with respect to us, he who loves not knows not.
Only remark with what earnestness, with what tenderness, He tells His loved one of all her preciousness in His sight, and of the perfection which He beholds in her. If Jesus sees perfection in us, we need nothing more. He reassures her heart by speaking to her of this, when she had been justly rebuked and disciplined by the watchmen, and her heart compelled to seek relief by declaring to others, to her friends, all that He was to her. He reproaches her with nothing, but makes her feel that she is perfect in His eyes.
Practically, what deep perfection of love was in that look which the Lord gave Peter when he had denied Him! What a moment was that when, without reproach, although instructing him, He testified His confidence in Peter by committing to him, who had thus denied Him, the sheep and the lambs so dear to His heart, for whom He had just given His life!
Now this love of Christ's, in its superiority to evil — a superiority that proves it divine — reproduces itself as a new creation in the heart of every one who receives its testimony, uniting him to the Lord who has so loved him.
Is the Lord anything else than this for us? No, my brethren, we learn His love; we learn in these exercises of heart to know Him Himself.