The Walk in the Fields and Among the Vineyards - Part 2
3. But "the field" also may signify a place of self-examination; for it may spiritually imply retirement, abstraction, solitude, quiet, being alone with God. Persons for the most part hate solitude. They love to live in a crowd, and thus, for the most part, escape the torment of being alone. Nay, how many of those who we hope fear God seem to be afraid of self-examination! And why is this, but because they fear that self-examination may bring things to light which might cover them with shame, and they are unwilling to be humbled or put their mouth in the dust, if so be there may be hope? But how good self-examination sometimes is! Does not the apostle say, "Examine yourselves whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?" 2Co 13:5 And again, "But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread and drink of that cup." 1Co 11:28 How the Psalmist seems as it were to spread himself out before the Lord as he walked in this field of self-examination: "Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my thoughts, and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting." Ps 139:23,24
II. But let me give the words a somewhat more enlarged signification. When the Lord says to His beloved, "Let us go forth into the field," it would seem as if He invited her to go with Him hand in hand, and see what was spread before their view. In His company, and taught by His Spirit and grace, she would see what she could not, with her own unassisted vision, ever descry.
1. He would bid her, for instance, look, first, at the field of creation. What an ample field of meditation is here; and how delightful it is to leave the crowded city and look upon the calm and quiet face of nature! But how much more sweet it is to be able to do this with a spiritual mind, and to conceive from it heavenly delight! Then as you view the sun walking in his brightness, or see the moon illuminating the dark night, and the stars glittering like so many diamonds in the sky, how the glory of God shines forth as thus traced out in these beautiful heavens! Men enjoy the warmth of the sun, or the light of the moon, and look, some with careless and some with admiring eyes, upon the constellations of the heavens; but how few see that the hand of God gave to them their being, and how fewer still can say, in the language of Cowper, "My Father made them all"! But we cannot see this field of creation with believing eyes except we walk hand in hand with Christ, His grace enlightening the heart and His glory illuminating the soul.
2. But there is another field-the field of providence; and into that field, as in the preceding, we can only go forth, so as to take of it a believing view, as we can walk hand in hand with Christ. The field of providence is full of various paths, and these are often so intricate that we should soon lose our way unless we had such an unerring Guide and Companion. Now when the Lord is pleased to take us hand in hand and lead us into the field of providence, then, whichever way we look, we see that "all the paths of the Lord are mercy and truth unto such as keep His covenant and His testimonies." Ps 25:10 Look back and see the path of providence in which the Lord has hitherto led you up and down this wilderness world from your very infant days, and you will find mercy stamped upon every part of it. You could not indeed see it at the time, for the Lord "brings the blind by a way that they know not;" but you see it now, if at least you are walking in the field hand in hand with the Lord. However crooked that path once apparently was, it is now all made straight; however it seemed then to diverge from the right way, and almost to lose itself in a tangled maze, yet it is now seen all to have tended to one centre.
But, if blessed with a living faith as you are walking with the Lord in this field, you can also look forward as well as backward, and believe that as the Lord has appeared thus far as a kind God in providence, He will ever still appear in the same way on your behalf, that He will never leave nor forsake you, but be ever opening fresh fields for admiring and adoring His wondrous hand in providing for your wants. But we are not always nor often here. How often we take, as it were, our hand out of the Lord s and then we grope for the wall like the blind, and we grope as if we had no eyes! Then we feel, when we are not walking hand in hand with the Lord, the field of providence is obscured, its paths become intricate and confused, and, having lost the hand which holds the clue, we see little else but an inextricable labyrinth.
3. Then again there is the field of experience; and what a copious field is that in which to walk with Christ as your guide! But how faint our steps, unless we can walk in this field also hand in hand with the Lord! If, however, seeing light in His light, you take a view of the Lord s dealings with your soul, and look at all you have passed through in your mind from the day when the Lord the Spirit first quickened you into spiritual life, what a field is spread before you! The sighs and groans that have gone up out of your bosom; the tears which have dropped from your eyes; the convictions of sin which have pierced your conscience; the mournings after the Lord and over your sins and back-slidings-can you not see the leadings and teachings of the blessed Spirit here? Look, too, again at the first breakings in of mercy upon your soul; the dawning beams of light upon your mind; the promise applied; the Person and work, the blood and righteousness of the Lord Jesus discovered; the salvation brought home with a divine power to your heart-what a field of sweet and gracious experience the soul can sometimes see spread before its eyes which at other times is hidden from view! But O how different it is to cast one s eyes over this field without Christ and with Him! Without Him all is darkness; with Him all is light.
4. Then, again, look at the Scriptures; what a field there is spread before our eyes in the inspired Word! What holy truths, what encouraging invitations, what comforting promises, what gracious precepts, what a field of richest, choicest treasure does the inspired Word contain for the soul to walk in hand in hand with the blessed Lord! As He guides it through the sacred page, illuminating the whole with heavenly light, how it testifies of Him both in Old Testament and New! Of Him all the prophets speak; to Him all the rites and ceremonies point, for the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy; and as He is the Word incarnate, so is He the sum and substance of the Word written. But He must walk with us in this sacred field, and do to us as He did to His disciples: "Then opened He their understanding that they might understand the Scriptures." Lu 24:45 What is all doctrine without him? Separate from Christ, from His power and presence, doctrine is but notion, speculation and mere opinion. What again are the promises separate from Christ? Unmeaning declarations. For "all the promises of God in Him are yea and in Him Amen unto the glory of God by us" 2Co 1:20; and therefore out of Him they are neither "yea" nor "Amen," that is, they have no affirmation and no confirmation. And again, what are the precepts distinct from Christ? Burdensome commands, without end or motive for their performance. We see, then, how needful it is to possess the power and presence of Christ in the whole field of heavenly truth and in every portion of it.
III. But we will now advance to another invitation from the same gracious lips and addressed in a similar manner to the church: "Let us lodge in the villages." It is as if the Lord said to her, "Now we have spent the day together in the field, seeing the beauty and glory of God in these various departments of providence and grace. Night is coming on; where shall we tarry during the night season? We will not go back to the noisy town. Tomorrow will bring us fresh employment in the calm, quiet country; but we cannot stay all night in the field. Let us lodge in the village."
1. Of course there is spiritual instruction communicated here. Let us see, then, if we can gather up the divine meaning of the words.
These villages, taking a spiritual view of them, seem to represent gospel churches. Villages are naturally distinct from the great metropolis, and yet they are different from solitary houses. We may view them, then, as little clusters of habitations gathered out of the world, not town houses situated in all the smoke and din and noise of the thronged streets, but quiet abodes in the country, far, far away from the bustling city. As, then, the Lord invites His bride to lodge with Him in the villages, they seem to be places in which she could lay her head down and sweetly enjoy the rest to which He invites her. But how does this agree with the other part of the invitation to go forth into the field? In this way: there is not only enjoying sweet communion with the Lord in the field, but there is enjoying sweet communion with His people in the church.
As, then, we are brought into spiritual union and communion with those who fear God, and especially by being members of a gospel church, there is a lodging of the soul in the village; there is a finding rest and repose, not only in the enjoyment of the Lord s presence, but in the love and affection which Christians mutually bear to each other. And though this mutual love and affection amongst the members of the mystical body of Christ be not frequent in our day, yet still there is a measure of it enjoyed by every quickened soul; for love to the brethren is the first evidence of the work of grace upon the heart, according to God s own testimony: "We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death." 1Jo 3:14
2. Yet it is after all but lodging in the villages, merely tarrying for a night, enjoying just a short space of refreshment in the company of those who fear God, but no long permanence of Christian communion, through the various circumstances which often disturb Christian harmony and peace. How few churches really walk in mutual love and affection! What strife and division, what jealousies and suspicious coldness, if not unkindness, often divide the churches of Christ! But when Christ and the bride are together in the enjoyment of each other s company, then it is well with the villages; then does union prevail in the churches; and in that peace and union Christ and His bride can lie down together in the silent watches of the night.
III.-But their morning s work is already decided upon. If they repose for the night in the village, it is only that they may in the morning examine the village crops and see for themselves what fruit is to be borne by them. "Let us get up early to the vineyards: let us see if the vine flourish, whether the tender grape appear, and the pomegranates bud forth." There was work to be done which could best be done in company. They had had a season of mutual communion in the field; they had spent the night in the villages in communion with the churches that fear God, obey His precepts, walk in His ways, and keep His ordinances. But there was work to be done in the early morning.
1. "Let us get up early to the vineyards." I have observed in Scripture how much is said of getting up early in the morning. We have in Abraham s remarkable history three several intimations of his rising early in the morning; and they were three very important occasions in Abraham s life.
The first instance of his getting up early was after the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, when he rose up early to see whether God had heard his prayer for the deliverance of Lot; and he saw from afar, almost with the dawning light, that the smoke of the accursed cities of the plain rose up as the smoke of a mighty furnace. Ge 19:27,28
The next was when he had to send away Hagar: "And Abraham rose up early in the morning, and took bread and a bottle of water and gave it unto Hagar, putting it on her shoulder and the child, and sent her away." Ge 21:14 Being obliged by Sarah s indignation at Ishmael s mockery to remove that thorn out of her side, and assured by God s own word that he should hearken unto her voice, he no longer delayed obedience. He felt deeply the stroke, yet he rose up early in the morning to show that he would no longer harbour in his house one that was an enemy to his wife s repose, and that in doing so he was doing the will of God from the heart.
The third time he rose up early in the morning was the most painful act in the whole history of Abraham s life, when he took his son Isaac to offer him as a burnt offering upon the very spot on which the temple was afterwards built.
But we do not understand the expression here in its literal sense; we give it a spiritual meaning, as implying activity and diligence. I have, however, observed there is very little good to be expected from persons who accustom themselves to lie in bed in a morning; it argues an indolent body and an indolent mind. But of course the Lord here speaks figuratively as implying that diligence of soul which is manifested by a diligent body in getting up early, and not losing precious moments on a bed of sloth.
2. But where did the Lord invite His bride to go with Him in the early morning? To the vineyards. Now this spiritually and experimentally describes a searching examination into the state of the churches as they lie naked and open before that holy and heart-searching God with whom we have do. Christ and His bride had been walking in holy communion with each other; they had been lodging in the villages in sweet communion with the churches, and now they were to go together upon a tour of examination. They were to direct their steps towards the vineyards, to see what was going on there, how the vines looked, whether they were healthy, whether the canes had been well ripened, whether the foliage was strong and verdant, and what prospects they generally presented of fruit for that year. The figure, of course, was adapted to that country and clime. As in our country, farmers get up early in the morning to inspect the state of their flocks and herds, and to look over their fields so as to form some judgment of their present and future state, so in Palestine, where vineyards were the chief productions of the country, their owners and cultivators would naturally rise up early in the morning to examine the state of their vines. In the Scripture the vineyard is a standing figure of the church of God. "My wellbeloved hath a vineyard in a very fruitful hill" Isa 5:1; and so our Lord speaks. "A certain man planted a vineyard, and let it forth to husbandmen." Lu 20:9 So in the very Song before us we read, "My vineyard which is Mine is before Me." So 8:12
Now, as a vineyard is a collection of vines and thus typifies a church, so each vine may be considered as typifying an individual believer as one of the church, When, then, the Lord had said to His beloved, "Let us get up early to the vineyards," He adds, "Let us see if the vine flourish," that is, let us look at individual cases. Thus, every believer should examine the state of his soul before God, and that with all that diligence, earnestness, and activity which are shadowed forth by getting up early for the work. Do not you think that it would be good sometimes thus to examine the state of your soul before God? Might you not sometimes well ask yourself, "Is my soul flourishing? Does it wear a healthy aspect? How does it look, viewed by a spiritual eye?" When the farmer goes into his field, he can see in a moment whether the crop is healthy or not, whether there is wireworm at the root, or mildew on the stem, or blight in the ear. When an experienced gardener goes into a vinery, he can see at a glance the exact state of the vines. The appearance of the foliage and the general aspect of the vines betray in a moment to his experienced eye whether the red spider, or scale, or mealy bug, is infesting the house. It requires no minute examination; as disease in the human body betrays itself at once to the experienced physician, so a skilful eye detects at a glance disease in the vinery.
So it is, or should be, in grace. If I have a spiritual eye, directly I look into my soul, I can see whether it is healthy or unhealthy, whether the leaves of my profession be curled and mildewed, or whether they be green and verdant and give promise of a good crop. Think of the farmer who never goes into his fold-yard to examine the state of his flocks and herds, and who is too idle even to walk the breadth of his farm to see the state of his crops! Is such a man fit to be a farmer? What can such a man expect as his end but the workhouse? So the Christian, who has a crop of far more importance than all the wheat that grows in the farmer s fields, and of more value than all the sheep folded upon the farm, should look into the state of his soul to see whether it be flourishing or not. If prayer, if praise, if reading the Scriptures, if self-examination, if meditation, if faith, hope and love, and other graces of the Spirit are all active, lively and vigourous, then the vine is flourishing. If prayer is cold, formal and dead; if the Scriptures are little read or with a careless eye; if there be no self-examination, no meditation, no spirituality of mind, no going forth of faith and affection-then the vine is not flourishing. There is something wrong at the root. To use gardening language, the grapes sometimes "shank off," that is, become wizened and sour. The cause of this generally is, I believe, that there is something wrong at the root; that they have been chilled with the cold rains, and therefore what is called "root-action" is become unhealthy. In almost every plant it is at the root that disease begins. If ever you see even a plant in a flower-pot unhealthy, depend upon it there is something wrong at the root. It is over-watered or under-watered, or from some other cause the root has become diseased, and root-action is suspended or unhealthy.
So it is in religion; if there is anything wrong with a man, it is almost sure to be something wrong at the root. "The root of the matter," Job said, "is found in me." Job could appeal unto God that the root of his religion was right. If "the root" had been wrong, "the matter" would not have been right; but as long as the root was sound, like "the teil tree" of which the prophet speaks, though "it cast its leaves, the substance would still be in it," to put forth in due time boughs like a plant. Isa 6:13 If a man s religion has no root, or if the root be injured by disease, it will be sure to discover itself in his profession. He cannot have a prosperous soul-prosperous inwardly and prosperous outwardly-unless the root be deep in the soil, and unless it be full of active fibres, drawing up secret nourishment from that river, the streams whereof make glad the city of God. Then he shall be "as a tree planted by the waters and that spreadeth out her roots by the river, and shall not see when heat cometh, but her leaf shall be green; and shall not be careful in the year of drought, neither shall cease from yielding fruit." Jer 17:8
3. Connected with this, therefore, comes the next question, whether "the tender grape appear." The first look was at the general aspect of the vine. Was the wood well ripened; were the leaves well and fully grown; was there any appearance of mildew, blight, caterpillar, or any other noxious thing in operation to destroy the prospect of the crop? Well, if the first view were satisfactory, if the general aspect of the vine were favourable, now comes a closer examination to see whether "the tender grape" is appearing. Where is the opening blossom? If there be no blossom, there will be no fruit; and if there are no buddings of the tender grape, we shall look in vain when autumn comes for ripe clusters.
This "tender grape," spiritually viewed, seems to signify the tender graces of the soul. Depend upon it, nothing is more opposed to vital godliness than hardness of heart in the things of God. The tender conscience, the humble mind, the broken heart, the contrite spirit: these are true and scriptural marks and evidences of the grace of God. In fact you will find that every grace of the Spirit partakes of this tenderness. Grace is an exotic; it is not a native plant. It cannot stand the frost, nor the cold east winds. It comes from the warm climate of heaven, and needs careful cherishing that it may live and grow. Thus the tender grape may represent that fear of God in the heart which makes the conscience tender; those inward actings of faith, whereby, as with so many tendrils, the Person and work of Christ are laid hold of; the first tender sensations of opening love toward the Lord, when, by some discovery of Himself, He for the first time makes Himself precious to the believing heart; the tender claspings of a good hope through grace, which lay hold of the finished work of the Son of God.
The tender grape may also spiritually represent the tender sensations of the soul under divine teaching, whereby it mourns over sin, laments its shortcomings and looks to the Lord with weeping eyes and sorrowful heart for pardon and peace. If we see no tender grapes in the spring, there will certainly be no rich, ripe clusters in the autumn. Full fruit indeed was not yet come; but this is what the Lord was looking for-whether the tender grape was budding out of the stem or opening its bloom. To me there is nothing more sickening than the hardness which one sees in so many of our preachers and professors. The dry, hard way in which they preach the most solemn doctrinal truths of the gospel is most repulsive to a spiritual mind, and makes one greatly fear whether such men ever knew anything of the power of truth for themselves in a tender conscience.
4. But there was also something else which the Lord in company with his bride was to look for: "And the pomegranates bud forth." The pomegranate is a fruit not peculiar to, but very common in the Holy Land, and is distinguished by a bright green leaf and a beautiful crimson flower, succeeded by a rich, ripe, red fruit, of which the juice is peculiarly luscious and sweet. The Holy Spirit therefore seems to have taken the pomegranate throughout Scripture as an emblem of choice gospel fruit. The high priest wore upon his robe pomegranates interchanged with golden bells. The golden bells sounded his approach in the tabernacle and loudly proclaimed his coming; but the pomegranates silently proclaimed that he was to bear fruit unto God as well as sound forth his praise. It would seem from the Scripture that there was something peculiarly delicious in the juice of the pomegranate, and that it was mingled with wine to give the latter more flavour. Thus, the spouse says, "I would cause Thee to drink of spiced wine of the juice of my pomegranates." So 8:2 As a delicious fruit they were therefore planted in oriental gardens: "Thy plants are an orchard of pomegranates with pleasant fruits." So 4:13
Thus the pomegranate, as a spiritual emblem, signifies gospel fruit. The Lord and His church went forth therefore hand in hand to examine whether these pomegranates were budding forth-whether, in other words, there was promise of fruit in the churches. They were not looking in the expectation of finding pomegranates fit to be gathered; they did not go so far as that. Being the time of spring when they took their morning walk, fruit was not yet to be found upon the bough. Their examination was directed rather to see whether there was any appearance of a future crop. By this is intimated that the Lord deals very tenderly and gently with the soul, not expecting ripe fruit in the spring, but examining what marks there were of divine teaching in the early bud. Do you ever look into your soul to see whether these pomegranates are budding forth; to search and examine what you can find of the graces of the Spirit; what buddings forth of hope and love you can trace out; what marks of heavenly teaching, what tokens or testimonies of interest in the blood and love of the Lamb, and what prospects for eternity?
But how true it is that we cannot see these fruits in ourselves, whatever measure there be of them, except in company with Christ! Christ does not invite the bride to look into her own heart except in His company; but when favoured with His presence and smile, she may look and see whether the pomegranates are budding forth. And they will always bud forth when she is in company with the Lord, for then His grace is in operation; and when His grace is in operation, then the tender grape gives a good smell and the pomegranate richly blooms, if we look into our heart in seasons of darkness, desertion and desolation, we shall see no fruit there. These tender blossoms shut up their leaves in the cold north wind; they are afraid to come forth except when the sun shines. But when the sun shines, the tender grape appears and the pomegranate buds forth; for in the presence of the Lord there is a springing up of every Christian grace. Thus you see that the Lord does not invite us to be poring over our heart to find what good there is in the dark night of cold desertion. Does He not say, "Let us get up early to the vineyards," as if to see them under the beams of the rising sun, and as favoured with His company? If the bride had gone forth into the vineyard without Him or in the dark night, what would she have seen of the appearing of the tender grape, or of the budding forth of the early pomegranates?
IV.-But this brings us to our fourth and last point; the entertainment which He has promised to give His beloved bride when the tender grape appears and the pomegranate buds forth: "There will I give thee My loves." If we are all in darkness and confusion, doubting and fearing as to the reality of the work of grace upon our soul, there is no seeing anything of the tender grape, no viewing anything of the budding of the pomegranate. They may be there blooming and budding, but we cannot see them. But when the Lord is pleased to cheer us with His presence and company, then we see light in His light, and behold, in the teaching of His Spirit, what is hidden from us when in a state of darkness and desertion. It is for this reason He says, "There will I give thee My loves." Observe the expression, "loves," in the plural number. And may we not well ask what "loves" are these? They are many.
1. There is first His everlasting love; for He says, "I have loved thee with an everlasting love; therefore with loving-kindness have I drawn thee." It is a sense of Christ s everlasting love which rejoices the soul when shed abroad in the heart by the Holy Ghost. For if this love had beginning, it might have ending; but being from eternity, it reaches to eternity.
2. Then there is dying love-the love our Lord displayed in dying upon the cross for such poor miserable wretches as we feel ourselves to be. If we can but view His dying love upon the cross, and have a sweet testimony that He loved us and gave Himself for us, then, under the constraint of this dying love, we can give Him all our heart, hate sin with a perfect hatred, desire to be conformed to His suffering image and be found walking in His blessed footsteps.
3. Then there is pardoning love, when He is pleased to bless the soul with a sight and sense of His atoning blood, and reveals that love which was stronger than death and triumphed over death and hell.
4. Then there is His forbearing love, bearing with all our misbehaviour, backslidings, wanderings and transgressions, which is never provoked to give us utterly up, though we deserve to be abandoned for our sins and crimes for ever and ever.
5. Then there is His restoring love-"He restoreth my soul"-whereby He restores us out of a state of carnality, darkness, and death, lifts up once more the light of His countenance and enables us once more to love Him with a pure heart fervently.
All these and other flowings forth of His love are spoken of here as His "loves." And these He gives to the soul of His own free grace, uncalled for, unmerited, undeserved, the spontaneous effusion of His own heart, which is full of the tenderest affection to all that love and fear His great name.
Was it not well worth going forth to enjoy all this? Was it not a blessed journey for His spouse and bride, when she could leave the world and sin and self behind, and go forth in such sweet company? O that we might be thus blessed! What is there worth living for or dying for but this? But how rare for the soul to be thus favoured! And yet, say what men will, there is no real happiness anywhere else but in this knowledge and enjoyment of the love of Christ; no real separation from the world by any other power than this; no other real meetness for the inheritance of the saints in light but what this union and communion with the Lord reveals and seals.
The Lord of His infinite mercy establish these truths in our heart, favour us from time to time with the sweet experimental enjoyment of them, and give us to live and die in His most blessed embrace!