THE LILY AND THE APPLE TREE
Notes of a sermon written by Robert Murray McCheyne (1813-1843) when he was but twenty four years old.
“As the lily among thorns, so is my love among the daughters. As the apple tree among the trees of the wood, so is my beloved among the sons. I sat down under his shadow with great delight, and his fruit was sweet to my taste.” Â— Song of Solomon 2, 2-3.
If an unconverted man were taken away into heaven, where Christ sits in glory, and if he overheard Christ’s words of admiring love towards the believer, he could not understand them; he could not comprehend how Christ should see a loveliness in poor religious people whom he in the bottom of his heart despised. Or again, if an unconverted man were to overhear a Christian at his devotions when he is really within the veil, and were to listen to his words of admiring, adoring love towards Christ, he could not possibly understand them; he could not comprehend how the believer should have such a burning affection toward One unseen, in whom he himself saw no form nor comeliness. So true it is that “the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness unto him.”
There may be some hearing me who have a rooted dislike to religious people Â— they are so stiff, so precise, so gloomy, you cannot endure their company! Well, then, see here what Christ thinks of them: “As the lily among thorns, so is my love among the daughters.” How different you are from Christ! There may be some hearing me who have no desires after Jesus Christ, who never think of Him with pleasure; you see no form nor comeliness in Him, no beauty that you should desire Him; you do not love the melody of
His name; you do not pray to Him continually. Well, then, see here what the believer thinks of Him Â— how different from you Â— “As the apple tree among the trees of the wood, so is my beloved among the sons. I sat down under his shadow with great delight, and his fruit was sweet to my taste.” Oh, that you would be awakened by this very thing Â— that you are so different from Christ, and so different from the believer Â— to think that you must be in a natural condition, you must be under wrath!
The doctrine of our text is that the believer is unspeakably precious in the eyes of Christ, and Christ is unspeakably precious in the eyes of the believer.
I. Let us inquire what Christ thinks of the believer. Â— “As
the lily among the thorns, so is my love among the daughters.”
Christ sees nothing so fair in all this world as the believer. All
the rest of the world is like thorns, but the believer is like a beautiful lily in His eyes. When you are walking in a wilderness all overgrown with briars and thorns, if your eye falls upon some lonely flower, tall and white, pure and graceful, growing in the midst of the thorns, it looks peculiarly beautiful. If it were in the midst of some rich garden among many other flowers, then it would not be so remarkable; but when it is encompassed with thorns on every side, then it engages the eye. Such is the believer in the eyes of Christ. “As the lily among thorns, so is my love among the daughters.”
1. See what Christ thinks of the unconverted world. It is like a field full of briars and thorns in His eyes. First, Because fruitless. “Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?” So Christ gets no fruit from the unconverted world. It is all one wide, thorny waste;
Second, Because, when the Word is preached among them, it is like sowing among thorns. “Break up your fallow ground and sow not among thorns.” When the sower sowed, some fell among thorns,
and the thorns sprang up and choked them; so is preaching to the unconverted.
Third, Because their end will be like that of thorns Â— they are dry, and fit only for the burning. “As thorns cut up shall they be burned in the fire.” For the earth, which is often rained upon and only bears “thorns and briars is rejected, and nigh unto cursing; whose end is to be burned.”
My friends, if you are in a Christless state, see what you are in the eyes of Christ Â— thorns. You think that you have many admirable qualities, that you are valuable members of society, and you have a hope that it shall be well with you in eternity. See what Christ says, “You are thorns and briars, useless in this world, and fit only for the burning.”
2. See what Christ thinks of the believer: “As the lily among thorns, so is my love among the daughters.” The believer is like a lovely flower in the eyes of Christ, washed in His blood, as pure and white as a lily. Christ can see no spot in His own righteousness, and therefore He sees no spot on the believer. Thou art all fair, my love, as a lily among thorns, so is my love.
Second, A believer’s nature is changed. Once he was like the barren, prickly thorn, fit only for burning; now Christ has put a new spirit in him; the dew has been given to him, and he grows up like the lily. Christ loves the new creature. “All my delight is in them.” “As the lily among thorns, so is my love among the daughters.” Are you a Christian? then never mind though the world despise you, though they call you names; remember Christ loves you; He calls you “my
love.” Abide in Him, and you shall abide in His love. “If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed.”
Third, Because so lonely in the world. Observe, there is only one lily, but many thorns. There is a great wilderness all full of thorns and only one lonely flower. So there is a world lying in wickedness, and a little flock that believe in Jesus. Some believers are cast down because they feel solitary and alone. If I be in the right way, surely I would not be so lonely. Surely the wise, and the amiable, and the kind people I see round about me Â— surely, if there were any truth in religion, they would know it. Be not cast down. It is one of the marks of Christ’s people that they are alone in the world, and yet they are not alone. It is one of the very beauties which Christ sees in His people, that they are solitary among a world of thorns. “As a lily among thorns, so is my love among the daughters.”
Do not be discouraged. This world is the world of loneliness. When you are transplanted to yon garden of God, then you shall be no more lonely, then you shall be away from all the thorns. As flowers in a rich garden blend together their thousand odours to enrich the passing breeze, so, in the paradise above, you shall join the thousands of the redeemed, blending with theirs the odour of your praise; you shall join with the redeemed to form a garland for the Redeemer’s brow.
II. Let us inquire what the believer thinks of Christ. Â— “As the apple tree among the trees of the wood, so is my beloved among the sons. I sat down under his shadow with great delight, and his fruit was sweet to my taste.”
1. Christ is more precious than all other saviours in the eye of the believer. As a traveller prefers an apple tree to every other tree of the wood, because he finds both shelter and nourishing food under it, so the believer prefers Christ to all other saviours. When a man is travelling in eastern countries, he is often about to drop down under the burning rays of the sun. It is a great relief when he comes to a wood. When the Israelites were travelling in the wilderness, they came to Elim, where were twelve wells of water and seventy palm trees, and they encamped there by the water. They were glad of the shelter of the trees. So Micah says that God’s people “dwell solitarily in the wood”; and Ezekiel promises, “they shall sleep in the woods.”
But if the traveller be hungry and faint for lack of food, then he will not be content with any tree of the wood, but he will choose out a fruit tree, under which he may sit down and find nourishment as well as shade. He sees a fair apple tree; he chooses it out of all the trees of the wood, because he can both sit under its shadow and eat its pleasant fruits. So is it with the soul awakened by God. He feels under the heat of God’s anger; he is in a weary land; he is brought into the wilderness; he is about to perish; he comes to a wood; many
trees offer their shade; where shall he sit down? Under the fir tree? Alas! what fruit has it to give? he may die there. Under the cedar tree, with its mighty branches? Alas! he may perish there, for it has no fruit to give. The soul that is taught of God seeks for a complete Saviour. The apple tree is revealed to the soul. The hungry soul chooses that evermore. He needs to be saved from hell and nourished for heaven. “As the apple tree among the trees of the wood, so is my beloved among the sons.”
Awakened souls, remember you must not sit down under every tree that offers itself. Take heed that no one deceive you; for many shall come in Christ’s name, saying, I am Christ, and deceive many. There are many ways of saying, “Peace, peace; when there is no peace.” You will be tempted to find peace in the world, in self-repentance, in self-reformation. Remember, choose you a tree that will yield fruit as well as shade. “As the apple tree among the trees of the wood, so is my beloved among the sons.” Pray for a choosing faith. Pray for an eye to discern the apple tree. O! there is no rest for the soul except under that Branch which God has made strong. My heart’s desire and prayer for you is, that you may all find rest there.
2. Why has the believer so high an esteem of Christ? First, Because he has made trial of Christ. “I sat down under his shadow with great delight.” All true believers have sat down under the shadow of Christ. Some people think that they shall be saved because they have a head-knowledge of Christ. They read of Christ in the Bible, they hear of Christ in the house of God, and they think that is to be a Christian. Alas! my friends, what good would you get from an apple tree, if I were only to describe it to you Â— tell you how beautiful it was, how heavily laden with delicious apples? Or, if I were only to show you a picture of the tree, or if I were to show you the tree itself at a distance, what the better would you be? You would not get the good of its shade or its pleasant fruit.
Just so, dear brethren, what good would you get from Christ, if you only hear of Him in books and sermons, or if you see Him pictured forth in the sacrament, or if you were to see Him with your bodily eye? What good would all this do, if you do not sit down under His shadow? Oh, my friends, there must be a personal sitting down under the shadow of Christ if you would be saved! Christ is the bush that has been burned, yet not consumed. Oh! it is a safe place for a hell-deserving sinner to rest.
Some may be hearing me who can say, “I sat down under His shadow.” And yet you have forsaken Him. Ah! have you gone after your lovers, and away from Christ? Well, then, may God hedge up your way with thorns. “Return, return, O Shulamite”! There is no other refuge for your soul. Come and sit down again under the shadow of the Saviour.
Second, Because he sat down with great delight.
Some people think there is no joy in religion, that it is a gloomy thing. When a young person becomes a Christian, they would say, Alas! he must bid farewell to pleasure, farewell to the joys of youth, Farewell to a merry heart. He must exchange these pleasures for reading of the Bible and dry sermon books, for a life of gravity and preciseness. This is what the world says.
What does the Bible say? “I sat down under his shadow with great delight.” Ah! let God be true, and every man a liar. Yet no one can believe this except those who have tried it. Ah! be not deceived, my young friends; the world has many sensual and many sinful delights, the delights of eating and drinking, and wearing gay clothes, the delights of revelry and the dance. No man of wisdom will deny that these things are delightful to the natural heart; but oh! they perish in the using, and they end in an eternal hell. But to sit down under the shadow of Christ, wearied with God’s burning anger, wearied with seeking after vain saviours, at last to find rest under the shadow of Christ, ah! this is great delight. Lord, evermore may I sit under this shadow!
Some people are afraid of anything like joy in religion. They have none themselves, and they do not love to see it in others. Their religion is something like the stars, very high, and very clear, but very cold. When they see tears of anxiety, or tears of joy, they cry out, Enthusiasm, enthusiasm! Well, then, to the law, and to the testimony. “I sat down under his shadow with great delight.” Is this enthusiasm? O Lord, evermore give us this enthusiasm! May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing! If it be really in sitting under the shadow of Christ, let there be no bounds to your joy. Oh, if God would but open your eyes, and give you simple, childlike faith, to look to Jesus, to sit under His shadow, then would songs of joy rise from all our dwellings. “Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say. Rejoice.”
Third, Because the fruit of Christ is sweet to the taste. All true believers not only sit under the shadow, but partake of His pleasant fruits. Just as when you sit under an apple tree, the fruit hangs above you and around you, and invites you to put out the hand and taste; so when you come to submit to the rightousness of God, bow your head, and sit down under Christ’s shadow, all other things are added unto you. Temporal mercies are sweet to the taste. None but those of you who are Christians know this, when you sit under the shadow of Christ’s temporal mercies, because covenant mercies. Bread shall be given you; your water shall be sure. These are sweet apples from the tree Christ. O Christian! tell me, is not bread sweeter when eaten thus? Is not water richer than wine, and Daniel’s pulse better than the dainties of the king’s table?
Afflictions are sweet to the taste. Every good apple has some sourness in it. So is it with the apples of the tree of Christ. He gives afflictions as well as mercies; He sets the teeth on edge; but even these are blessings in disguise, they are covenant gifts. Oh! affliction is a dismal thing when you are not under His shadow. But are you Christians? look on your sorrows as apples from that blessed tree. If you knew how wholesome they are, you would not wish to be without them. Several of you know it is no contradiction to say, These apples, though sour, are sweet to my taste.
The gifts of the Spirit are sweet to the taste. Ah! here is the best fruit that grows on the tree; here are the ripest apples from the topmost branch. You who are Christians know how often your soul is fainting. Well, here is nourishment to your fainting soul. Everything you need is in Christ. “My grace is sufficient for thee.” Dear Christian, sit much under that tree, feed much upon that fruit. “Stay me with flagons, comfort me with apples, for I am sick of love.”
Promises of glory are sweet to the taste. Some of the apples have a taste of heaven in them. Feed upon these, dear Christians. Some of Christ’s apples give you a relish for the fruit of Canaan Â— for the clusters of Eshcol. Lord, evermore give me these apples; for they are sweet to my taste.