That portion of the Scriptures which is so appropriately called “The Song of Songs,” abounds with a rich variety of the most clear and striking figures for the instruction, comfort and edification of all who hath an ear to hear what the Spirit saith to the churches. While from the carnal mind of man the spirituality of this inspired and inspiring sound is altogether concealed, to the saints of the Most High, when opened and appropriated by the heavenly Comforter, it discloses much of the marrow and fatness of the gospel of God our Savior. The manner of the love of God bestowed on the saints, whereby they are called his sons, and the vital and indissoluble union of Christ and his church, are presented in the strongest possible terms. In the conjugal relationship of the Beloved and the spouse, the fitness and force of the song is most pleasingly appropriate. The spouse, whose noblest theme has always been to declare what her Lord has done for her, in the immediate connection of our text, proclaims to all the daughters of Jerusalem, that as an apple tree, he had offered her a shadow from the burning heat of noon, and supplied her with the rich fruit which he bears for her comfort and support. “I sat down under his shadow with great delight, and his fruit was sweet to my taste.” While he had stayed or supported her with flagons, he had comforted her with apples, for the words of his mouth, the consolations of his words had been to her as apples of gold in pictures of silver. But he had not only seated her under his shadow, and made her to partake of the delicious fruits of the Tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God, but he had made for her a glorious entertainment, a cheering banquet, and had brought her to it. He had not merely made the provision for a banquet and sent her an invitation to attend, or offered her a chance upon condition of her willing or doing something, but she declares, “He brought me to the banqueting-house,” and thus she joyfully gives him all the praise. In connection with these testimonials of his sovereign goodness and distinguishing love to her, she adds, “And his banner over me was love.”
Every regular army, every state and civilized nation, has its peculiar banner or standard, and distinguished from all others by some peculiar device or color, by which it may be readily known by those whose honor, interest or protection, it represents. As the church of Christ is a peculiar people, she requires a peculiar banner, distinct from every other banner; as a holy nation she requires a national standard, and as a marshaled host she must be identified by the unmistakable peculiarities of her flowing ensign. Hence the inspired psalmist says, “Thou hast given a banner to them that feared thee, that it may be displayed because of the truth.” - Psalm xliv. 4, and in Psalm xx. 5, he says, “We will rejoice in thy salvation, and in the name of our God we will set up our banners.” Thus shall the church of God appear in distinction from, and defiance of all her enemies, “Terrible as an army with banners.” - Songs vi. 4. Four important considerations are presented for our instruction and comfort in the contemplation of the banner which our God has given us.
First. The distinct character and militant state of the church of God as she exists in the world.
Second. The identity and peculiarity of her banner.
Third. That it is to be displayed, and for what cause.
Fourth. That all her battles must be fought, and all her conquests achieved under it.
1. That the church of God is a distinct and separate people from all the rest of mankind, is abundantly testified throughout the Scriptures, and if this were not the case, she would not require a separate or distinct ensign or banner. To rally under any other than the legitimate banner of the government to which the citizens of any nation belongs, is treason, and subjects the offender not only to a forfeiture of the protection of such government, but to the dishonor and retribution in such cases provided for traitors. God has ordained that his church, or Israel, shall dwell safely alone, and that she shall not be reckoned with other nations; and the Captain of our salvation has declared, that his kingdom is not of this world, and by the mouth of his apostle hath told us that flesh and blood cannot inherit it. He said to the ruler of the Jews, Except a man be born again, he cannot see it, and except a man be born of the water, and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into it. The Holy Ghost, by the prophet Daniel, declares this kingdom differs from all other kingdoms, and that it shall break them in pieces, and consume them, and it shall stand forever. And that this kingdom is in a militant state, that she is in a state of warfare, is equally certain from the record of truth. Her members are chosen in a furnace of affliction, and they are called to be soldiers of the cross, to fight the good fight, until her course shall be finished, all her conflicts over, the last of which to be subdued is death. The marshaled host of sin, and death, and hell, are in the field against her; the world, the flesh and the devil are to be encountered, and although ultimate triumph awaits her, and more than conquering laurels are already treasured up for her, in Christ her Lord, her conflicts, so far as relate to the personal experience of her members, which are here in the flesh, will not cease until the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout and the voice of the Archangel shall announce their triumph, and their ransomed bodies rise in the image of Christ’s glorious and immortal body. Now she is, “As the lily among thorns.” Like the bush in the devouring element, and yet unconcerned, and like the Hebrew children in the fiery furnace. Until the war is ended, until the clash of arms, the smoke and carnage of the war shall cease, her banner must continue to wave, and all her valiant men to rally round it, having on the whole armor of God.
2. The identity and peculiarity of the banner is expressed in the word of our text. It is, “Love.” This is his banner, and it differs from all other banners. No human force was ever marshaled for a deadly conflict under such an ensign as this. Hatred, which is the very opposite to this banner, is displayed in all the hostile movements of the sons of men. Hatred, instead of love, brought Cain into the field to slay his righteous brother; and hatred, instead of love, has characterized all scenes of slaughter which have drenched the earth with human gore, from the days of Cain to the present day. Hatred, instead of love, makes the feet of men swift to shed blood, because there is no fear of God before their eyes, and the way of peace they have not known. How striking then is the contrast between the banner of Christ, which waves in righteousness over the Lord’s host, and that of the enemies of the Lord. All the opposition of men and devils against God and truth, and against his people, is instigated by hatred to God, to holiness, to truth and righteousness, and therefore the banner over the church is the more clearly identified, and the more readily known by those unto whom it is given, and over whom it is unfurled. His banner over them is love.
3. This banner must be displayed. It is not to be concealed, furled, or laid aside. None but pirates on the high seas, or lawless banditti upon the land, will fight without displaying the banner under which they fight. It must be displayed, because God has authorized and commanded it; therefore we cannot, without disobeying him, conceal it. It must be displayed, because the armies of Israel can neither be identified by friends or foes, unless they display the love of God, which is over them, as well in the field of conflict, as in the banqueting festivities of the bride, the Lamb’s wife. How is an individual to be recognized as a child of God, and an heir of glory, if he gives no evidence that the love of God dwells in him, being shed abroad in his heart, as influencing his walk and conversation? How, in the absence of the love of God, which centers in Christ, fixes upon his doctrine, ordinances and the order and provisions of his house, to be distinguished from the world? How shall it be said of them, Behold how they love one another, if they display not this banner? How can they love one another with a pure heart fervently, if love, which is the banner, be unseen among them? It must be displayed because of the truth. Only by this banner can we show our relish for, or attachment to, the truth as it is in Jesus. This being his banner, or his love, it differs from the carnal passions of the flesh, human affections are fickle, wavering and transient, God’s love is immutable, eternal, and he rests in it. The creature’s love has its element in this world, and if it predominates in us, the love of the Father dwells not in us. His banner, or his love, has its origin in God, it is the banner he has given, the love which he has bestowed, the greater love wherewith he has loved us, and as it came from God, so it will center in him, and it will rest on the same objects on which it rested before it was communicated to us, it will, in us continue to “love the thing our Father loves, and hate the work he hates.” We cannot possess it and hate God, his people, his doctrine, his authority or his government, for love is of God, and he hath loveth is born of God.
4. Under the banner of his love we are to fight the good fight, finish our course, and keep the faith. Paul says, “And if a man also strives for masteries, yet he is not crowned, except he strive lawfully.” - 2 Tim. ii. 5. Although the saints are not to strive for mastery over each other, or to be lords over God’s heritage, yet they are to strive against sin, and for mastery over all the lusts of their flesh, and to keep their bodies under, and to contend earnestly for the faith and order of the gospel. In all this strife they are required not only to strive, but to strive lawfully, or they fight as one that beateth the air. - 1 Cor. ix. 26. The law of the kingdom to which we belong, as the disciples of our Redeemer, is written, not on tables of stone, but on the tables of the heart, and in the inward parts of his subjects, and this law directs that all our fightings shall be performed under his banner, which is love. We have already hinted that to fight in any case, without a display of the love of God in and over us, is piracy, consequently unlawful and ineffectual. If called to resist unto blood, striving against sin, let it be clearly seen that the love of God, of truth and righteousness, instead of vain ambition, or the gratification of our carnal lusts, is what stimulates us. They who hold the truth in unrighteousness, may feel a vain ambition to carry their points, when their own fame and selfish pride, rather than a zeal for the honor of God, and a regard for the banner of his love, predominates in them. The truth of God requires no unlawful defense; better by far, that the ark of the Lord jostle on the new cart, than that we attempt to steady it by unlawful interference. When the disciples proposed to call for the fire from heaven to consume their enemies, Jesus rebuked them. Their impatience and contemplated vengeance, made no display of the banner of God’s love. And when Peter proposed to shield his Lord from the assaults of his enemies, by the use of carnal weapons, he savored of the things which be of men, and not the things which be of God; and he was sharply rebuked, and informed that he that shall resort to the force of arms, even in defense of Christ and his cause, shall perish by the sword. When we stand up to preach Christ, and him crucified, all our orthodoxy, eloquence and zeal, will be ineffectual, if the banner of the love of God be not displayed as that which moves us to action. A selfish ambition to carry our points, that we may exult over a vanquished opposer, that we may be regarded as the more expert or talented, is an unworthy and unlawful motive, and offers an insult to our glorious banner. Love, which is the lawful standard, worketh no ill to our neighbors, hence we cannot, under the banner of love, call for fire to burn them, nor for fines, or imprisonments, to punish them for their assaults on us, or on the cause; for vengeance belongs to God, and not to us; he will administer it at the proper time and in a righteous manner. Proscription, persecution, the infliction of personal injuries, are the armor of the powers of darkness, but they cannot be under the banner of God’s love. The love of God will constrain all the soldiers of the cross to fight manfully, and to die rather than sacrifice one principle of truth, or make any liege with the common enemy; but it will never lead us to fight for personal renown, or self-agrandizement. It being then unlawful for us to fight the powers of earth and hell, from any other impulse than that inspired by the banner of love, how much more unbecoming for us to contend with our brethren, who are of the household of God. Can we love God supremely, and hate our brother? What if we have seen in our brother, defection, infirmity or departure from the gospel, should this enkindle our wrath, or be made a pretext for violence? Truly we are called on to protest against this sin, and to strive to reclaim him, but it must be in love, or it cannot display our banner. If we can know what spirit we are of, it will be easy to determine whether we are prompted by the love of God, or by some fleshly feeling, when we labor with an offending brother or sister. When they offend, or trespass against us, if we ourselves be under the banner of his love, we shall be grieved, and feel disposed to labor to restore the offender, in the spirit of meekness; but if not actuated by love, our carnal passions will be aroused, the old man offended, or made angry, and we shall feel inclined to deal in retribution, for the injury which we suppose we have received. In our pilgrimage of more than forty years, we have witnessed cases where brethren have labored most perseveringly to prove the guilt of an offending brother, and with a seeming diligence to fortify themselves with scriptural authority for every movement, and yet instead of displaying the banner of love, in a kind brotherly desire for the recovery of the brother, a settled determination to head him off at every point, and to lower him in the estimation of all his brethren, and finally to have him excluded from the fellowship and society of the church, is far more prominently displayed, than is the banner of God’s love. Can this be strivingly lawful? Can such as strive in this manner, be crowned? Brethren in the ministry have sometimes become disaffected towards each other, sometimes having a just cause, and sometimes from jealousy, or envy, and instead of displaying the banner of love, a disposition to bite and devour has been betrayed. Carnal nature has shown its teeth, and claws; hard speeches, sly hints, cruel and ungenerous insinuations, have been thrown out, the brother’s character assailed, his reputation stained, much private and confidential whispering, but not to the accused, and with great seeming cautiousness, for the ostensible object of having counsel and advice on the subject, but in reality to get brethren committed, while a settled determination is fixed, to make the suffering brother appear in the worst possible light. His words are scrutinized, perverted, and made to imply what we all know he never intended, and all this to gratify some carnal propensity, or passion of the old man. How dwells the love of God in such, while thus proceeding? Where is the banner of divine love under which they have enlisted? The banner under which the great Captain of salvation grappled with the powers of darkness, encountered sin, death and hell, for our redemption, was the banner of his love. Are we his followers? Does his love dwell in our hearts, and wave over our heads? Then let us display this banner in all our conflicts. The little personal injuries we sustain, are but for a short season, the storm will soon be over, and they shall only ripen us for that glory which God has laid up in heaven for us, and for that crown which the righteous Judge shall put upon us in that day. Unto us it is given, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake. If then we be reviled, let us remember that we are not to revile again. If we would win the misguided brother, who has injured us in our persons, property, reputation or feelings, let us display to him the banner of love. If anything will reclaim him; if anything is calculated to subdue his heart, and lead him to reflect profitably on the error of his cause, it will be a sight of the banner; a conviction that his blows are leveled against one who sincerely and tenderly loves him. If under this banner we cannot reclaim him by a first, and second step, of faithful labor, we must tell the matter to the church, and submit quietly to its righteous decision.
Having considered the love of God, as the true banner under which the saints are to rally for the defense of the truth, under which all their battles must be fought, and by which they are destined to triumph over all the powers of the darkness of this world, the corruptions of the flesh, and the temptations of Satan, and the certainty of victory through him that had loved them, and spread this glorious banner over them, and also of the delightful privilege allowed them, while in their militant state, from time to time, of banqueting with their Lord under the protection of this banner of love, we will now offer a few remarks by way of admonition to the children of God, to beware of all other standards, especially of the counterfeits of this banner of our Redeemer.
It is important that soldiers should be well acquainted with their own banner, in order that they may easily distinguish it from all others; otherwise in the time of battle, they may haply be found fighting against their brethren, and weakening the hands of those whom they in reality love, and in whose defense they would cheerfully lay down their lives. One of the wily tricks of the adversary has often been to decoy the inexperienced soldier of the cross, by exhibiting a counterfeit banner of love; which, although easily detected by the practiced eye of the veteran soldier, who is not ignorant of Satan’s devices, is calculated to deceive some of the new recruits; for, although the false standard is composed of love, yet it is not the love of God. How often have even christians been temporarily deceived by a display of human, instead of divine love. The Captain of salvation has pointed out to his soldiers the difference; and to his admonitions we would do well to take heed, lest at any time we should let them slip. “He that loveth the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” The affections, as well as all the other lusts of the old man, are to be crucified; for we cannot possibly retain them, and enjoy the love of God dwelling in us.
Men who profess to be ministers of Jesus, and soldiers of the cross, often tell how much they love souls; how ardently they desire the salvation of every body. They love all the various orders, sects and denominations of religionists, with perhaps the single exception of that sect which is everywhere spoken against. They love all kinds of doctrine that will gain proselytes, and produce excitement of the natural or fleshly passions of the multitude; they love all the humanly invented religious societies of the age, and consider them eminently calculated to save sinners; and they love the wages of unrighteousness, and, like Balaam, they run greedily after it. A banner of this kind of love has strong attractions, not only to the unregenerated of mankind, but the carnal sympathies of the flesh in christians are strongly attracted by it. They are too prone to forget that the love of the creature is only a stream from a corrupt fountain, which is poisoned with the corruption of the fountain from which it proceeds; while the love of God is pure and holy, and as far transcending all earthly love, as the heavens are higher than the earth. A standard, or banner, composed of human love, may be splendidly painted, with very many attractive devices; and such is truly the case with all the false ensigns, which the enemy has set up for signs; but through all their coloring, those who are taught of God, will be enabled to see that they savor of the things which be of men, and not the things which be of God. Not only in the general conflict with the consolidated powers of darkness, are the children of God called to guard against this universal charity, but also in their intercourse with those who are of the household of faith, and even in their communion with their own hearts. The fellowship of the saints, one with another, is not to be regulated by carnal feelings of personal attachment; but by the infallible rule laid down for their government in the New Testament of our Lord Jesus Christ. If under the banner of our Savior, whatever may be our fleshly predilection in favor of brethren, we will not suffer sin to rest on them. The influence of that banner on us will inspire faithfulness in laboring according to the rule, to reclaim offenders, in the spirit of meekness; and if not successful, from every brother that walketh disorderly, it will dictate to us to turn away. But if we set about the work while we are ourselves under the wrong banner, we shall make wretched work. We would be poorly qualified to pull the mote from a brother’s eye, while a beam is in our own eye. If we are not governed by the love of God dwelling in, and waving over us, all our efforts at discipline will be worse than nothing. If in our labor to reclaim our offending brother, we are influenced by the banner of God’s love, the honor of God, the peace and purity of the church, and the good of the brother with whom we are called to labor, will predominate in our hearts. But if under a banner of fleshly feelings, we will be apt to lose sight of these incentives, and strive for the mastery, with vain ambition to secure some credit to ourselves, or at least to lay our plans so as to carry them out, and head off the brother at every point. Or, on the other hand, if swayed by an undue fleshly attachment to the offending party, we may flatter ourselves that we are exercising a christian virtue, by saying to our Lord’s debtor, who owes an hundred measures of oil, take the bill and write fourscore. A fleshly feeling in us predominating, disqualifies us for the faithful discharge of our duty to our brethren; it will either lead us to exact more, or to be satisfied with less, than the word dictates. One brother is made an offender for a word; that is, for not using the same word or form of expression to express a similar idea, when there is no essential difference involved, and another is held in fellowship, who has departed from the faith and order of the gospel of Christ, because of some personal attachment.
In communion with our own hearts, let us not be deceived. We have within us, as it were the company of two armies. Each of these has its own banner; the one has the banner of God’s love, the other the vile affections and lusts of the flesh, which war against the spirit. And these are contrary the one to the other. Hence we are admonished to deny ourselves, and take our cross and follow our Lord and Master. Human love is always on the alert to supplant the new man. The old man becomes wounded, and we think the new man is grieved. The old man meditates revenge, and we mistake it for christian diligence in contending against sin. Thus we sometimes think the new man is grieved, when only the old man is mad.
The minister of the gospel of the Lord Jesus, is in trouble, his mind is shrouded in darkness, he is called to preach; an assembly is before him; but he has no subject; he feels depressed and in bitterness. He worries, frets and murmurs. He says, “My Lord is requiring me to preach without affording his presence, gathers where he has not strewed, and reaps where he has not sown.” He concludes like Jonah, that he does well to be angry even unto death. What is the matter now? Poor man, his carnal pride and vain ambition is on the rack, and must be crucified with its affections and lusts, and in the end he is astonished to find that his deep anxiety to preach well, was more for the gratification of his own fleshly ambition, than from a desire to glorify God, and edify the saints. We essay to bow in prayer before the throne of God, and we have certain desires which we wish to present in prayer and supplication; but by what spirit are these desires inspired within us? If they are fleshly desires, we may detect something selfish in them, inclining us to ask for something to consume upon our carnal lusts. How gracious is our God in withholding these things from us. But when his banner over us is love, the preacher is as ready to stand in silence before his congregation, if God wills it, as to speak with the tongues of men or of angels; and the humble christian in his closet, inspired by the flowing banner of his Redeemer’s love, is all submission to the will of God. His language is copied from his Savior’s lips, “Not my will, but thy will be done.”
Finally, may it be our happy privilege to fight all our battles under the triumphant banner of the love of God, and may it be spread over us when we are permitted to enjoy our banqueting seasons with the King. And may he preserve us by his grace, from dishonoring, deserting, or failing to display the banner of his love, in all our walk and conversation. Then shall we look forth as the morning, fair as the moon, clear as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners.
Elder Gilbert Beebe
Editorials Volume 3
Pages 170 - 181