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The Song of Songs

by Rev. Alfred Hewlett

The author was the incumbent of St. Stephen's Church, Astley, Lancashire and editor of the monthlyChristian Cottager's Magazine. An article by the same author on "Christian Experience" was carried in issue 15 of thePresbyterian Standard. This piece is taken from the August 1847 edition and was the first in a series of expositions of this neglected portion of Scripture, done at the request of the Lord's people who attended his ministry. His treatment of the first verse of the Song helps us to understand the whole.

This article was published in thePresbyterian Standard, Issue No. 19, July-September 2000.

"The song of songs, which is Solomon's."

V ERSE 1st contains the preface of the book, a book but little read, seldom expounded, and rarely understood; the reason of which as it appears to me, is not merely the allegorical expressions, but the depth of feeling, the ardour and warmth of those raptures, which enchant and attract the bridegroom and bride, with the humble acknowledgement of her real state and condition expressed by the bride – all these are so foreign to the present sickly state of religion that its very earnestness seals the book to a great many persons. It is doubtless an allegorical book, abounding in such figurative expressions representing the relationship of Christ to his Church under the figure of bridegroom and bride, husband and wife. The glorious bridegroom is set forth in his infinite fulness, as contrasted with the coldness, dullness, deadness, faintings, and wanderings of his bride; she laments her emptiness, but rejoices in him, and tasting of his grace and love praises him. Expressions used in ordinary life are here used by the Holy Ghost to shew forth the greatness of the love of Christ towards his Church, and the greatness of her love towards him, when feeling as the blessed poet saith

"Loved of my God, for him again
With love intense I'd burn,
Chosen of him ere time began
I choose him in return."

To read this book profitably, I conceive that four things are necessary.First – An acquaintance with God, and in some degree with the whole of the sacred Scriptures.Secondly – An acquaintance with the experiences of the people of God.Thirdly A measure of watchfulness over the heart and spirit.Fourthly Very frequent intercourse and communion with the heavenly bridegroom; you must carry all, cares and joys, to him who is King of kings and Lord of lords; "a greater than Solomon is here."

Many people take some parts of Scripture, those particularly that are, or seem, suited to their own state and case, and do not seek to understand "all scripture." Many are satisfied with a mere formal religion; if they come to church they have satisfied their conscience, and whatever the preaching may be, all is to them equally good. Unitarianism,Socinianism,Arminianism,Legalism, and any other of the thousand and one isms are received, or listened to without the slightest difficulty or objection. If a man speak with a tongue like the pen of a ready writer, they are delighted to hear him without weighing his words in the balances of the sanctuary they lack sound judgment, and cannot, therefore, enjoy the word of God; but "doth not the ear discern words, even as the palate doth meat?" Again, how little acquaintance is there with the experiences of others how prone Christians are to try each other by their own puny standard; but if it were asked, do they know the business of other Christians? are they busybodies in other men's matter? how ready would the answer be; how prone are men to magnify the faults of their brethren, to impute motives to an indifferent action, making it sinful; to be jealous of others' success, yea, even of God's goodness to some of his people. Well might John Bunyan say, "when religion walks in silver slippers, Christ will have many followers." Such is the case now, there is nothing to suffer for the profession of religion, but it is in the time of trial and temptation that we appear as we really are. How do we act in the time of temptation? Do we swallow it down as a fish does the first bait that is presented to it, or as Eve ate of the forbidden fruit? Or do we look to God to preserve and keep us, and pray that he may give us a spirit of watchfulness? Do we cry to him, "Search me, O God, and know my heart, try me and know my thoughts, and see if there be any wicked way in me"? It is commonly said, "All men think all men mortal but themselves." So we may assuredly say, all men think all men should be perfect but themselves: they speak of their own imperfections, yet they think their brethren should be perfect.

This book is sometimes called Canticles, sometimes the Song of Solomon. Canticles meanssongs, for the book is, as it were, a cluster of small songs composing a larger one, all written under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost. There are three things to be noticed in this verse: first, it is a song;secondly, the song of songs;thirdly, whose it is, Solomon's.

In thefirst place, there are various parts of scripture which are songs; that is, they were written or composed in order that they might be sung either with, or without an instrument. In Ephesians 5:19, and in Colossians 3:16, we are exhorted to sing praises and to make melody with the heart unto the Lord. It was customary to sing songs after any victory gained. Thus Deborah and Barak sang after their triumph over Sisera (Judges 5); Moses, and Aaron, and Miriam after the destruction of the Egyptians (Exodus 15). David's psalms are songs written in the same manner, in the same spirit, and with the same intent. Gladness of heart has always been expressed by singing, and will be throughout all eternity. In the 96th Psalm we read of singing a new song, which does not mean as though it contained something new or unheard of, but some new effusion, for some new deliverance vouchsafed, or mercy granted. All these songs are written to shew the thankfulness of the heart for the lovingkindness of Christ to his Church, which is remarkable for its faithfulness, and for being everlasting, and for its strength and fervour; for many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it; if a man would give all the substance of his house for love it would be utterly despised.

Secondly, It is THE song of songs. In this way the Hebrews expressed the superlative degree; we have three degrees of comparison, the Hebrews had two. Thus they say, "the heaven of heavens," meaning the highest heaven. So this means the chief or best song. No others are comparable to this, or can vie with it; the subject matter of it is superior to all others; nor can any songs composed by men be compared to it, seeing that it is written by the inspiration of the Holy Ghost; and of all those written by inspiration, this is the best, the most complete, powerful, and sublime; for it speaks of Christ, the heavenly bridegroom, and declares that nothing can subdue or change his love, abate the ardour of his affections, or overturn the purpose of his eternal love, it is above all conception, and far eclipses our highest estimation. It sets forth the love of Christ to lost sinners, and uses the warmest expressions of loving-kindness that can possibly be used.

Thirdly, It is "Solomon's". The expression may be understood as pointing to the composer, it is written by Solomon king of Israel; or to the subject and hero of it, – the spiritual Solomon, the Lord Jesus; it is of, or concerning, a greater than Solomon. Now it was doubtless written by Solomon, King of Israel, a man remarkable for his wisdom (1 Kings 4:29 to end). Many have said that it is merely an Epithalmum, or bridal song, composed on his marriage with Pharaoh's daughter; but the fact is, that the date shows it to have been written eighteen years afterwards. Others affirm that Solomon was not permitted to write any part of scripture, for he turned away from God and lived and died a reprobate; but in 2 Samuel 7:12, God promises David that his son, if a transgressor, shall be chastised with the rod of men, but that he should not be put away as Saul was. Solomon was a type of Christ, though the book itself is not a typical book – a type, though a matter of real history, refers to and represents something future and further. The paschal lamb – Abraham offering his son Isaac the journeying of the children of Israel, though historical facts, were typical of some of the Lord's dealings with his spiritual Israel. This book is allegorical or figurative, describing under the names of Solomon and his bride, the Lord Jesus Christ and his chosen people. We have many allegorical passages in scripture, as "a certain king made a marriage for his son," etc. Solomon, as I said, was a strong type of Christ; both were sons promised, both of David, both called Jedidiah, beloved of the Lord, kings in Israel, both remarkable for the peacefulness and plentifulness of their respective reigns. No character comes up to the glowing description of the bridegroom, given of him by the Church, but Christ, the King of kings and Lord of lords, and Husband of his Church (Isa. 54:6), and none knows the feelings pressed by the spouse or bride, but those who are amongst the number of the redeemed.