The Song of Solomon

by J. C. Philpot

There is a great variety which God has seen fit to stamp on his holy word. We now purpose, with his blessing, to offer a few remarks on the Song of Solomon, which we have ventured to call a Sacred Drama.

The Song of Solomon differs from every other book in the sacred volume, by introducing not merely dialogue, but the people themselves before our eyes by whom it is uttered. This puts, as it were, new life into the subject, and not only sets it in the strongest light, but invests it with the sweetest influence. Nothing can be more beautiful than to introduce the church herself upon the scene, under her scriptural character as a bride, and as such to hear her expressing the tenderest feelings of her heart to her heavenly Bridegroom; and on the other hand, no representation of Christ's love to his church could be more vivid or beautiful than personally to introduce him as addressing himself in language of the purest, tenderest affection to his bride. To hear their mutual expressions of love carried on in a dialogue would of itself be most sweet and expressive; but beyond this, to bring before our eyes various scenes and a course of action by which the alternations of feeling on the part of the bride are brought out in the most varied and experimental manner, must invest the whole with additional beauty.

It is as though we were actually present, and heard from their own lips their mutual declarations of love and affection; rejoiced with the Bride in Christ's presence and mourned with her in Christ's absence. It is as though she spoke for us, and in giving vent to the feelings of her heart, gave vent to ours. Thus her expressions of love and affection become her own, and her admiration of the beauty and blessedness, grace and glory of the Redeemer, is but what we feel, but are unable as vividly and warmly to express. If unable to enter into the fullness of her love and admiration, the deficiency is ours. The experience of the church is here revealed and represented in its fullest and most vivid form. If to us mystical, unintelligible, or fanciful, the lack and the loss are alike our own. It is thus, therefore, one of the most experimental books in the whole Scripture, though there are few, comparatively, and they only in favored moments, who can enter into the experience contained in it. But we may lay it down as a most certain truth that the more the love of Christ is felt and realized in the soul, the more will this holy book be understood and enjoyed.

But let us now consider a few points which distinguish the Song of Solomon from every other book of Scripture, and see how far they justify us in calling it a Sacred Drama. Every drama has a subject; so has the Song of Solomon. This subject is the mutual love of Christ and his church. Every drama has a course of action which distinguishes it from mere dialogue, that being merely the expression of thought or feeling between two parties; so has this divine song its course of action. This consists in the varied changes produced in the feelings, words, and actions of the Bride, according to the presence or absence of the Bridegroom. A drama has also usually an audience; and this is another feature which distinguishes it from a dialogue. The Song of Solomon has therefore its audience; but the audience here is not, as in theatrical representations, of which the Spirit of God knows nothing, an assemblage of casual spectators external to the drama, but an audience internal to it; in other words, forming a part of the drama itself. This audience consists of the female attendants of the bride, called in the song itself "Virgins," or "Daughters of Jerusalem"; and we are also inclined to think that, as the bride had her female attendants, so the Bridegroom had his male "companions," as they are termed (1:7; 8:13.)

If this view be correct, we may thus lay out the structure of this Sacred Drama:

1. Subject, the Love of Christ and his Church.

2. The Drama itself, or course of action, the Vicissitudes of that love as experienced by the bride.

3. The Speakers, the Bridegroom and the Bride.

4. The Audience, the male and female Attendants of the Bride and Bridegroom.

5. The Scene, sometimes the Street of the city, sometimes the Private Gardens belonging to the Bridegroom, and sometimes the King's Palace, situated in or near these gardens.

6. Besides these constituent parts of the drama, we have to consider the Language, which, as suitable to that species of composition, is highly poetical and metaphorical, and from the nature of its subject peculiarly tender and impassioned.

But we have called it a Sacred Drama; and so indeed it is eminently and peculiarly, for it sets forth a subject above all others holy and heavenly, namely, the mutual love of Christ and the church. Would we then draw near this heavenly book, we must put our shoes of carnal sense and reason from off our feet, for it is eminently holy ground; and indeed we here need a double caution, for as the language is much borrowed from the expressions of human love—that tender, we may say inflammable spot of our heart—our corrupt nature may soon turn food into poison.

Two things are, therefore, indispensable to a right understanding of and spiritual entrance into this holy book:

1. To have experienced some measure of divine love, so as to understand and feel the sweetness of the tender and impassioned language made use of.

2. To approach it in that holy, heavenly, and spiritual frame of mind whereby carnal thoughts and suggestions are for a while subdued, and divine realities alone enthroned in the soul. Read spiritually, felt experimentally, enjoyed unctuously, this holy book affords a "feast of fat things full of marrow; of wines on the lees well refined." Read carnally, interpreted rationally, felt sensually, it may become poison and death.

The best Commentator on this Sacred Drama is the Holy Spirit, and the love of God shed abroad by him in the heart, the best Commentary.