I ENTER upon my Commentary in this part of the sacred writings with more than ordinary diffidence, from a consciousness how very sublime and mysterious this book of GOD is in itself, and with what veneration it ought to be approached. And both at the door, and before that I venture to step over the threshold of perusal, I would not only put off the shoe of preparation but bend the knee of prayer, that the divine light may go before me, and guide me through every apartment of the sacred inclosure. Blessed SPIRIT of all truth, (I would say both for myself and reader) thou who searchest all things, yea the deep things of GOD; vouchsafe to take of the things of JESUS here written, and show unto us.
And here, at the first opening, of this precious book of GOD I detain the Reader to remark, both the authority of the author of it, and the proofs it brings with it of its divine authenticity.
As to the first of these in respect to the author of it, there can be no question but that Solomon, whose name it bears, wrote it under the immediate inspiration of GOD the HOLY GHOST. And the period of the Church in which it was written, must of course carry with it a correspondence to the era in which Solomon lived, namely, somewhat about a thousand years before the coming of our LORD JESUS CHRIST. I stay not to enquire whether it was written in the early or later days of Solomon's life, because in a commentary of this kind it would be leading the Reader's mind unnecessarily away from the main object of concern. As it is placed last among the writings of Solomon very probably it was written last. But it may not be improper in this place to observe, as a guard against, any unfavorable impressions to be formed in the mind of the Reader to the book itself, that the sad infirmities which marked the conduct of Solomon in his old age, have no¬thing to do by way of lessening the blessedness of those writings. It is no doubt a very painful consideration with every faithful heart, and in itself enough to humble to the dust the pride of our nature in its highest attainments, when we behold a man so eminently blessed in grace and wisdom, so sadly falling under the power of temptation. But when we have made the suitable im¬provements, which through the SPIRIT'S teaching such an example is designed to induce, let it be considered that the frailty of the man ought not to have the smallest influence in lessening the im¬portance of his ministry. It hath pleased the great head of his Church to make use of poor and sometimes unworthy instruments, for the accomplishing of the. sacred purposes of his will. And the holiness of his grace is neither lessened nor polluted, though it flows to us through unholy channels. The fall of Solomon makes no more discord in the melody of this sweet song on the ear, than the fall of Peter lessens the blessed truths given to us in his divine epistles in the heart. Nay, as both carry such decisive marks with them of the imprimatur of GOD the HOLY GHOST; while we read and recollect the unworthiness of the servant, doth not the thought minister yet more powerfully to bring home, and endear to us the infinite preciousness of the master.
As to the second consideration, of the proof the Song of Solomon brings with it of its divine authenticity; though there are several at hand which might be produced to establish the fact, yet to the poor man, (and I beg under whatever form this Com¬mentary may hereafter appear it may never be forgotten that it was undertaken, and hath been uniformly carried on with an eye to the poor man's special service), there is one evidence which this little volume eminently possesseth and which in my humble judgment becomes so decisive and satisfactory as to supersede the necessity of every other; and that is, the inward testimony it carries with it to the heart of the believer, that these are the great truths of GOD. For surely it is impossible to conceive that the LORD should have blessed as he hath done this sacred part of the divine writings in every age of the Church, and made it the sweet savor of grace to thousands, if it had not been the work of his own holy inspiration. Nothing but the most inveterate prejudice could harbour such a thought! When, therefore, the soul of an en¬lightened believer, in the perusal of this precious book of GOD, is made to feel its divine power, finds his heart warmed and animated in the contemplation of its divine truths, and is led into a partici¬pation of the many gracious impressions which the Church enjoyed in the view of her beloved; such evidences become the fullest proof of its heavenly authority, and show that it is what an Apostle calls, The engrafted word which is able to save the soul.
Reader! should it be your happy lot, while going over the Song of Solomon, to trace in your own experience similar effects to what the Church is here said to have experienced—should you dis¬cover that what she saith of JESUS, you can and do say; that what she acknowledgeth of her unworthiness you feel: her desires are your desires; her longings are the very same breathings as your soul is panting after; and the gracious answers of JESUS to her cries, are the very refreshments you covet above all that the world holds dear: will you not, from such inwrought effects upon your heart, in such a correspondence of the Church's experience to your own, accept this evidence as the strongest of all evidences, that the Song of Solomon's is, indeed, the word and work of GOD: and like the man, which the Apostle Paul speaks of upon another occasion, you will feel disposed to do as he did, when from the secrets of your heart being thus made manifest, you will fall down upon your knees and worship GOD, and confess that GOD is in this word of a truth.
But while I lay so much stress upon this evidence, and which becomes the more valuable to the humble believer, because it is always near at hand, and easy to be referred to; l do not mean to pass over in silence the other testimonies the Song of Solomon brings with it of its divine authenticity.
The Jews, to whom, as is well known, were committed the Oracles of GOD, and as such, must be supposed to have been competent judges upon this subject, have always been forward in acknowledging, that the Song of Solomon formed a part of the sacred canon of scripture: indeed, their testimony is, if possible, more convincing, in consequence of their high veneration for it, than Christians: for in their Misnah, they distinguish this book with a more exalted title than any other of the sacred writings, calling it the holy of holies. And as a further confirmation it is remarkable, that they prohibited the reading of it to everyone under thirty years of age; to intimate thereby also, that a ripe¬ness of years and judgment, was needful for a proper apprehension of the glorious truths which were veiled under the mere letter of the word. I cannot help wishing that an equal veneration had been observed for this blessed book of Solomon, by some who called themselves Christians. For then, under grace, it would have tended to check the loose imagination of carnal readers, who from being led away by the want of chastity in their own thoughts, have put improper constructions upon what the HOLY GHOST hath said in figure and metaphor, concerning some of the most precious things which belong to salvation.
To the testimony of GOD’S ancient people, the Jews, in confirmation of the divine authenticity of Solomon's Song, might be added the very many proofs of a sacred nature, the book itself carries with it in its own bosom. For surely the subject of which it treats; the dignity, and no less simplicity of the stile in which it is written, and the correspondence it bears, in point of doctrine, with the whole of the bible, all tend to stamp its authority; and, indeed, it would be little less than blasphemy, the very title it bears, as the Song of Songs, intimating thereby a-superiority to the other songs in the word of GOD, (and there are several, it is well known, of divine inspiration) if it could for a moment be sup¬posed to have a doubt whether the work were of GOD or not.
Of the book itself, I shall not think it necessary to detain the Reader with any remarks, by way of recommending it to his perusal in these general observations. The beauties of the incomparable Song, the loveliness and sweetness of it, and the many blessed things contained in it through every part, will meet the Reader's eye as he passeth over the several chapters; and it would be only protracting his pleasure, to keep him for a moment from the work itself by any preliminary observations of mine on these things. The principal object which is held forth through the whole, (indeed it is the prominent feature,) is the love of JESUS to his church. This will meet the Reader more or less in every verse. And I hope as this love of JESUS is sweetly represented as awakening, and calling forth into exercise the love of the Church to JESUS, that the Reader, under the SPIRIT’S influence, will enter into an heartfelt enjoyment of both these divine principles, and know in himself, and in his own feelings; the truth of what the Apostle saith, We love him because he first loved us. And while the fire is thus kindled from the live coal taken by the HOLY GHOST from the sacred Altar, as the Reader passeth through the sacred part of the holy word, he will be constrained to cry out with David; How sweet are thy words unto my taste; yea, sweeter than honey unto my month!
It may be proper in this place to admonish the Reader of what he hath to meet with in this part of the sacred canon, as well as the plan the inspired writer hath adopted in the execution of it. The love of JESUS to his Church is the subject more or less of the whole; and this discourse is set forth in the type of Solomon and his bride, under the similitude of the marriage state. It is too well known to need being much insisted upon, that parable and metaphor were the general mode of conveying instruction among the Eastern nations. In the sacred volume this is so very common, that the most ordinary Reader cannot but have noticed it. From the first moment of the LORD’S forming his Church into a distinct people from the nations around, in gracious condescension he was pleased to assume the endearing character of their Husband. This tender appellation is the great outline observed through the whole of Solomon's Song. And the Reader will do well, while he keeps in view the LORD’S love to his Church, under this title, to recollect also that the HOLY GHOST closeth the scripture in the book of the Revelation, with holding forth the same token of JESUS’S affection to his redeemed, in calling the Church the Bride, the LAMB's wife. But in deed, and in truth, in this point of view, the subject ceases to be figure or parable, for it is a blessed reality. The Church of JESUS is truly his body; and his people, in every indi¬vidual, are members of his flesh, and of his bones.
I have but one thing more to add to these general observations, before that I take the Reader by the hand to lead him to the perusal of this divine Song; and that is, to beg that he will seek grace from on high, not only to qualify him for the right understanding of it, but also to preserve him from misapprehension and offence, at certain expressions here and there to be met with in the book; which, to a carnal mind, may seem to savor of indelicacy, but to a spiritual taste have no such tendency. If the Reader will himself make application of what is frequently spoken of the Person, to what is as frequently intended of the dress; great part of the objection will be done away. He may with great safety conclude, that it is the imperfection of language, and which always suffers by translation, which hath given rise, for the most part, to what in our English copies appears exceptionable. And if the translation could have conveyed precisely the images which the original meant, no such ideas would have been created. But while I say this, I beg that I may not be misunderstood. The translation of the bible, take it altogether in our mother tongue, though here and there we find defects, is in my poor esteem so great, so truly great and invaluable a blessing, that I class it among the first mercies which the LORD hath bestowed upon us as a nation. Never can it be too highly prized—never can we sufficiently bless the LORD for it: neither can the instruments, by which the LORD accomplished it, be too highly honoured.
Reader! may the LORD command the north wind and the south wind to blow upon this part of his sacred garden, that the spices thereof may flow out, while you and I go over it. And let us implore our Beloved, to come into his garden, and eat of his own pleasant fruits. Amen.