“Who is she that looketh forth as the morning, fair as the moon, clear as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners.”
Dear Brethren Beebe: - Several months have passed since I received a request from a member of the Maple Creek Church, Washington County, Pennsylvania, to write through the SIGNS upon the Song of Solomon 6:10. In the midst of much care and travel in different and distant places, I have had but little opportunity to write, yet I have ever remembered the request with a desire, if possible, to comply. There have been times when the unspeakable beauty of the King and the unsearchable riches of His kingdom have been unveiled in grandeur before me, impressing a desire to write or speak of them; but frequently, after such attempts, I have seen such imperfections in what I have spoken or written, that I have become discouraged. Yet the thought comes to encourage me that it is only as Jesus speaks through us, or dips our pen in the living fire of Gospel truth, that we can speak to the comfort of His dear people; and that all such messages, no matter in what light we may regard them, must ever be confirmed by the great King as messages from the immortal throne in the accomplishment of His purposes.
The verse in question reads as follows, “Who is she that looketh forth as the morning, fair as the moon, clear as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners?” I understand it to be a presentation of the triumph of the church in her Lord, of her exceeding majesty and beauty, and of the fall of all her enemies before this all-conquering reign. I will not occupy time in writing even briefly of its connections, although of exceeding preciousness to me, for it is the Song of songs. All the songs of Zion spring from its overflowing fountain, and unite in its one ascription of praise unto the Redeemer, who stands as the central figure of all its beauty, and His church the object of His tender care.
The introductory clause of the text does not express a doubt upon the mind of the writer regarding what he sees, but it is an exclamation of rapture, as the church of the living God arises before him in the splendor of her triumph. She looks forth, he says, “as the morning.” This is a declaration of triumph, as the morning triumphs over the night. A similar figure is used in Revelation 12:1: “And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars.” There is not, I think, in all the realms of nature a figure illustrative of complete triumph more than this. The night cannot stand before the coming of the day. Darkness must always flee when light cometh. That light, pouring its golden rays into the darkest caverns, penetrating into every dark corner, illustrates the splendor of Gospel triumphs. What folly to talk of “resisting the progress of the Gospel!” As well might the night talk of baffling the day, of preventing the rise of the morning sun. This was tried at the crucifixion of the Redeemer. The powers of darkness then and there used their utmost, marshaled their dark legions in bloody array, in an endeavor to extinguish the light of the Gospel. The fiendish spirits of hell in human form were gathered in council about the cross and at the tomb; but they were there “by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God,” “to do,” continues the inspired record, “whatsoever Thy hand and Thy counsel determined before to be done” (Acts 4:28). The powers of darkness were gathered at the “new tomb” of Joseph to prevent the resurrection of the dead. What availed all these when “the appointed” moment arrived? Blooming with immortal vigor, the Lord of life and glory arose a mighty Conqueror over death, hell and the grave.
“ ‘Tis the Savior! Angels raise
Fame’s eternal trump of praise.”
The long shadowy way, the Jewish evening or night, was at an end. The church arose in that glorious resurrection from under the law and its dreadful curse in vital oneness with Christ, her living Head. Destroy this great foundation principle, and all is confusion and despair. No ray of hope brightens the dreary scene; but faith reveals the foundation upon which all our hopes of salvation rest, the vital relationship of Christ and His church. Upon this principle, and upon none other, He could bear their grief and carry their sorrow; “wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon Him; and with His stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53: 5). Thus,
“In all that Jesus did on earth
His church an interest has;
And when He breathed His dying breath
His saints with Him o’ercame.”
Have our eyes been opened to see this vital Truth? If so, we know something of the principle upon which the eternal Truth of the text rests. “Thy people,” says the psalmist, “shall be willing in the day of Thy power, in the beauties of holiness from the womb of the morning.” Here, then, is the “day of His power.” The sun had arisen, the morning had dawned upon Israel’s hitherto benighted tribes. What a glorious morning, and what a splendid triumph! And from the womb of that morning in the experience of the trembling child of grace, from the dawn of that wonderful day, Jesus the “chiefest among ten thousand,” the lovely Redeemer to him. This trembling child knows the Savior by precious experience and hope. Jesus had come to him when “darkness was upon the face of the deep” of his own depraved heart, and spread the glory of His triumph there. The King had rode by in the wonderful chariot of His love. “God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness,” had shined in his heart, “to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” That face, beaming with the brightness of the glory which He had with the Father “before the world was,” and with everlasting love, is known by the child of God. When turned upon him in his wayward walk, it calls in his wandering feet. When waves of fierce temptations roll around him, and dark storms of doubt and fear obscure his sky, it is this blessed Jesus who looks through the storm and calms its angry powers. Does not the redeemed child know Him? Does not the music of His name touch the most tender chords of his being? Of this the poet sang,
“How sweet the name of Jesus sounds
In a believers ear.”
But let us notice the next clause of the text: “Fair as the moon.” This, I presume, is designed to express the radiant beauty of the church as seen by an eye of faith. There is nothing in that sight calculated to terrify or trouble a child of grace. He can say, “How amiable are Thy tabernacles, O Lord of hosts! My soul longeth, yea, even fainteth for the courts of the Lord” (Psalm 84:1). The church reflects the glory of her God. There the brightest displays of His power are seen. She echoes back His praise, and the glory that she had in Him before the world began. “The morning stars sang together, and the sons of God shouted for joy” (Job 38:7). This is not the view which the ungodly world have of the church, hating as they do her doctrine, her antiquity, her order, and all that pertains to her glorious travel. She is not “fair” to them. “Away with this people,” they say; “we cannot bear such doctrine, such order.” This world has never beheld the church as the text presents her! No polluted eye can gaze upon her glory, any more than they can look upon the glory of her King, “who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, nor can see: to whom be honor and glory everlasting. Amen” (I Tim. 6:16). It is folly to talk of conforming the church to the world, or uniting it with their orders. It is utterly impossible to show them one of her beauties. As they knew not the Master, so they know not His children. “But he that is spiritual judgeth (discern) all things, yet he himself is judged (discerned) of no man” – (I Cor. 2:15). But this beautiful church is beheld by the redeemed child, who can clearly see a distinction between her and all other religious bodies. It is a church adorned with heavenly raiment, and who shows in all her faith and order the stately steppings of the Lamb of God.
“Clear as the sun.” John speaks of the Gospel as “a pure river of water of life, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb.” It is this Gospel clearness that adorns the church in the language of the text. There is emphatically but one “Gospel” system of redemption. This is not made up of the various creeds and theories of this or any other polluted age. It comes from heaven, and not from man. Salvation does not in a single instance proceed from Sunday schools, mission boards, distracted meetings, or any such polluted sources. The religious denominations of this world love and practice these things. They are but the mists and fogs of human reasoning and inventions that arise from these dark places. They arise from and belong to the social systems of this world, and the slimy feet of the Antichristian serpent can always be traced in those dark doings. These denominations form no part of the church of the living God. Human reason is not her guide; popular approval is not the tribunal whose decisions she regards. “And the city,” says John, “had no need of the sun, neither of the moon to shine in it: for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the Light thereof.” “I came down from heaven,” the Master distinctly asserts; and all that pertains to the way of salvation bears this heavenly seal. “Out of Zion,” says the psalmist, “the perfection of beauty, God hath shined.” It is in the light falling from the “great white throne” that we see the church, those floods of living splendor falling from her Gospel altar. In that brilliant light we behold her in the text. It is in her standing in Jesus from eternity that we now see her. It can well be said of her here, “Thou art all fair, My love; there is no spot in thee.” No earthly conditions hang about her. No creeds or theories of men’s invention mar her perfect beauty. Her wonderful and glorious travel rests not upon earthly contingencies. It could not be said that she was clear, if there were such earthly spots upon her.
Remember that I am referring now to her standing in Jesus. She must be clear as the sun. No darkness is concealed in its rays. Clouds and fogs arising from the earth may obscure for a time its beauty from those who are upon the earth, but they do not mingle with its light above. It is this “Gospel of the kingdom” in its purity that we need. The slightest deviation in the preaching of it from its doctrine or its order can never result in the least possible good to the church. We may make bungling work sometimes in preaching this Gospel, but that does not interfere with its clear, steady light. That light is in and of itself. And as it shines out of and falls upon this glorious church, it shows her redeemed out of every nation, tribe and kindred, standing upright in her living Head, “clothed with the sun.” It was thus the psalmist saw her in the language, “Walk about Zion, and go round about her: tell the towers thereof.” There are times in our earthly pilgrimage when these things are clearly seen, when the church appears before us in the splendor of her triumph. How beautiful is the sight! How lovely are her palaces! How great and holy is her King, and what wisdom shines in the ways of her God. Moses must have seen her thus in the enraptured language, “Happy art thou, O Israel: who is like unto thee, O people saved by the Lord, the shield of thy help, and who is the sword of thy excellency! And thine enemies shall be found liars unto thee; and thou shalt tread upon their high places” (Deut. 33:29).
But we will pass to the consideration of the closing clause of the text, “Terrible as an army with banners.” There is an awful majesty surrounding the church as she rises before us in the exaltation of her God. “How dreadful is this place!” says Jacob, “This is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” – Genesis 28:17. But how different among her foes? An Old School Baptist Church, in a good, healthy travel, is a terror to the enemies of the cross about her. But she is certainly not in a good, healthy travel when there is an inclination to mix with the nations around her. As she furls the old banner and lies down in the belly of the lion, she ceases to be a terror to the enemies of the cross. “They are not so selfish as other Old School Baptists,” or, “or as they used to be,” is now heard among those whose whole lives are spent in blaspheming the name of the most high God. “We like you so well,” “You preach exactly what we believe,” our enemies say to the minister of the old church, as they would reach him with her poisonous tongue, pouring into his ear their disgusting flattery.
“Come, walk into my parlor,’
Says the spider to the fly.”
“Let us bait our hook,” they say, “with the applause of the world, and such earthly inducements and entertainments. Put them on thick, for we have plenty to spare.” Are the war-worn veterans of the cross to be gulled by such vanities? Is this fair church to bow her head and receive the favor of a polluted world, to wear the yoke of bondages to the decrees of popular applause? This can never be. Yet such is undoubtedly the present inclination where there is a disposition to temporize or shrink from plain Gospel doctrine or order. The faithful servant of Jesus is not even to inquire what would be popular with his brethren in this respect. “Study to shew thyself approved unto God,” says Paul to Timothy. We cannot expect to cleave unto the cross without making enemies of its enemies. The very word “army,” in the text, implies this warfare. There would be no use for armies if there could be no ememies to fight. It is not a struggle for eternal life that we are writing about. It is the life in the Christian’s heart that begets a warfare; “the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh.” This warfare is not the cause, but the evidence of life eternal. So in the church of the living God, these conflicts for the truth are not the cause, but the evidences of life from on high, unmistakable evidence of the victory of the Lamb. “His name is called The Word of God. And the armies which were in heaven followed Him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean. And out of His mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it He should smite the nations; and He shall rule them with a rod of iron: and He treadeth the wine-press of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. And He hath on His vesture and on His thigh a name written, King of kings, and Lord of lords.” (Rev. 19:15). Here is our mighty Conqueror, the source from whence all our victories come. And that army, clothed with His presence, must ever remain victorious over all the powers of darkness.
But let us notice, in the next place, the banners which wave in the eternal sunshine of its presence. Says the psalmist, “Thou hast given a banner to them that fear Thee, that it may be displayed because of the Truth” (Psalm 60:4). This banner is a declaration of the glory of the kingdom and of her exalted King. Engravened upon it are the wonders of His love and the victories of His grace. The doctrine of God our Savior is seen here. Notice that this banner is to be displayed, not hidden. “Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel,” says the Savior. Cleave to this glorious banner more closely in the thickest of the fight. Hold it firmly, ye standard-bearers of eternal Truth, as the enemies of the cross gather around you. It is the sure emblem of your victory, and the brightness of your Father’s love. “And His banner over you,” says Solomon, “was love.” This love is the banner of the church, it is exceedingly great for her, the ensign of her standard and emblem of her glorious vital union to Him. Encircling her on either side, and underneath the lowest place of refugee in her travel, rising above to the mighty canopy of everlasting love, it speaks in thunder tones of almighty power, of infinite wisdom, of sovereign grace, and of the unsearchable treasures of wisdom and knowledge in that great fountain of eternal love. It must rise above the towering heights of time to give lasting comfort to the trembling child of God. This world is but a land of desert and drought, a wilderness of woe to the trembling child. There is no abiding comfort upon its sin-cursed shores for him. There is within him a yearning for something above and beyond it all. “O for rest from toil and pain in the holy mountain of our God,” is his constant cry. Heaven is the only panacea for his woe, and earth has no sorrow that it cannot heal. Thus onward and upward moves this bannered host of the most high God in the triumphs of her living Lord, until the ages of time shall have been gathered, and the blazing glories of immortality shall dawn forever upon her.
“There the saints of all ages in harmony meet,
Their Savior and brethren transported to greet;
While the anthems of rapture unceasingly roll,
And the smile of the Lord is the feast of the soul.”
Not one is to be left out in this glorious triumph; all are to reach its unbroken rest, and join in the exalted song of victory unto God and the Lamb forever. In the fervent hope of this blessed Gospel we press on to the bright realization of its “eternal weight of glory.” And as this vessel of mercy is tossed upon the storm-covered way of time, we realize continually that this hope is as an anchor of the soul, “both sure and steadfast.” It reaches above the angry crest of every billow of trouble that rolls in upon our soul, and takes hold of the great white throne, “whither the forerunner is for us entered, even Jesus, made an High Priest forever after the order of Melchisedec.” – Hebrews 6:20. Through this blessed hope we look up in a bright path to the cloudless realms of eternity, and see this victorious army clothed in heavenly raiment, shining in the glory of her exalted King, bathing in the boundless ocean of everlasting love, while heaven’s eternal arches ring with shouts of sovereign grace.
In the bright assurance of this blessed Gospel, I remain, as ever, yours in its holy fellowship,
William M. Smoot, Occoquan, Va.,
November 6, 1882