Fire and Ice: Puritan and Reformed Writings
[Table of Contents]  [Fast Index]  [Site Map] 

Commentary on the Song of Songs, Chapter One Verse 1

by James Durham

Verse 1. The Song of Songs, which is Solomon's.

Before we enter upon the purpose of this chapter, or give the division of it, we would first speak to the title, which appears in verse 1.

We consider this title Scripture, it being in the original, even as other titles, prefixed to various Psalms, as to Psalm 51, 102, &c. In it three things are set down, 1. The nature of this Scripture. 2. Its excellencey. 3. Its instrumental author, who was made use of by the Spirit in penning it.

First, for the nature of this Scripture, it's a song. Songs in Scripture, are such portions, or books thereof, as were especially intended to be made use of, for the praising of God, the edifying and comforting of His People, in singing of them. Three sorts of them were in use amongst the Hebrews (as the titles of our Psalms do show, and as they are mentioned by the Apostle, Eph. 5:19.) 1. Psalms, such were used, both with voice and instruments. 2. There were hymns (so the 145th Psalm is entitled) such in the contents of them, were wholly made up of praise, and what immediately led to that. 3. There were spiritual songs, which were more extensive in their contents, taking in histories, cases, and exercises of all sorts; and might be sung with the of voice, without instruments, either publicly, or privately. This Song is of this last sort, intended to be made use of in the praises of God; and so composed, both for contents and manner, as it might best attain that end, and prove edifying and comfortable also to Believers in their singing of it.

2. The excellency of this Song is expressed in this, that it's a Song of Songs, a most excellent song, this being the manner how the Hebrews expressed their superlatives. While it is called, a Song of Songs, it's compared with, and preferred to all other Songs: And we conceive the comparison is not only betwixt this and secular Songs; but, 1. It's compared with, and preferred to all these which Solomon wrote, and is preferable to all these thousand and five mentioned, I Kings 4:32. 2. It's compared with all other scriptural songs, such as is recorded, Exod. 15. and Judges 5, &c. Of all of these songs, this one is the most excellent, as being: 1. Purposely intended to treat of the most choice and excellent subjects, to wit, Christ and His Church; which is not done upon particular occasions, as in other songs, but is the great purpose that is particularly intended, and pursued. 2. It treats of Christ and his Church, in their most glorious, lively, and lovely actions, to wit, his care of, and his love unto his Church, and that in its most eminent degree; and also, of her love to him, in its various measures and workings. 3. It's in the most excellent manner composed, by way of dialogue and sweet colloquies betwixt these two parties, having in it many excellent and various expressions. These are well interwoven with sundry cases of several sorts, to make the whole composition the more taking and excellent. 4. It's set forth in a most lovely, excellent, majestic style and strain, which exceedingly ravishes and captivates the affections, making the love contained in it, sweetly savour and relish through the beautiful garment of borrowed expressions, which is put upon it. 5. It's a most excellent song, in respect of its comprehensiveness; here is an armory and store-house of Songs in this one Song. Here there is something treasured up for every case, that may be edifying and comfortable, which will not be so found in other Song. Here there is something suitable for all sorts of believers, under all the variety of cases and dispensations wherewith they are exercised; and also, all relations under which the church stands: all which should commend this Song to us.

It is recorded of the Hebrews, that whatever Scripture was delivered in the form of poetry, they counted themselves specially bound to take notice of that, and to get it by heart. Indeed it is not for nought, that some Scriptures, and not others, are cast in that mold; and that this could be the intent of the Holy Ghost, may be gathered from Moses his putting his last words in a song, Deut. 32. that they might be the better remembered.

The third thing in the Title is the Penman made use of by the Spirit, in writing and recording this Song. Solomon was a Great Man, rich, wise, yea, an elect saint; yet one who had also fallen into manifold faults, whom the Lord allowed to die, without recording expressly any thing of his recovery, though we make no doubt of it. (look up reference here) We shall endeavor to make this clear from these considerations:

First, from the Lord's promises to him, 2 Sam. 7:14,15. where these three things are observable which the Lord undertakes concerning him, 1. That he will be to him a Father. 2. That he will correct him with the rods of men, if he shall sin: which says he would not eternally punish him. 3. That he would not do with him as he did with Saul, whom he rejected; he would not take away His mercy from Solomon, as he had done from him: and if no more were in these promises but what is temporal, there would be no great consolation in them to David (whose consolation is one chief part of the intention of that place.) Beside, these promises, Psalm 89:31,32,33. (which are the same as these, 2 Sam. 7.) are looked upon as special evidences of God's Love, and particular promises of His saving-covenant.

2. When he is born, the Lord gives him his name, yea, sends Nathan, 2 Sam. 12. with this warrant, to name him Jedidiah, because the Lord loved him; which cannot be a love arising from any thing in him, as if he had been well pleased with his behavior, (Solomon had not yet done anything good or evil) but it must be a love prior to his works, and so not arising from his good deeds, and therefore not cut off by his sins. This is similar to the love God had to Jacob, before he had done good or evil, Rom. 9:11. and must speak out electing-love, as it doth in that place.

3. He is made use of by the Spirit to be a Penman of Holy Writ, and a prophet of the Lord; all which are by our Lord, Luke 13:28. said, to 'sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and the kingdom of heaven.' There is no reason to exclude him, seeing that universal assertion (all the prophets, &c.) would not be a truth, unless he were there. Although some wicked men have prophesied, as Balaam did, yet are they never accounted prophets of the Lord, as Solomon was, but false prophets and enchanters; neither were they Penman of Holy Writ; who were, as Peter calleth them, 2 Peter 1:21, 'Holy men of God, speaking as they were inspired by the Holy Ghost.'

4. Neither are the particular privileges and he was admitted unto to be forgotten; by him the Lord built the Temple, by him the covenant was explicitly renewed with God, I Kings 8:9. And his prayers are often particularly mentioned, to be heard; yea after his death, some testimonies are recorded of him, which cannot agree with his rejection: see 2 Chr. 11:17. There the ways of Solomon are put in, as commendable with David's, though there were defects in both; and this being immediately after Solomon's death, it would seem he left the worship of God pure, and so had returned from his idolatry, though all the monuments of it were not abolished. And especially in this, he was singularly privileged, that, in a most lively way, he was the Type of our blessed Lord Jesus, in his intercession, reign, and peaceable government: beside, that by a particular covenant, the kingdom of Christ, and his descent from him, was established to him.

5. It's of weight also, that it seems more than probable, that Solomon wrote Ecclesiastes after his recovery; it being neither amongst the Proverbs, nor Songs which are mentioned, I Kings 4:32. And in it, he speaks out of experiences he had both of folly and madness, and the vanity he had found in all created things, even when he had finished his experiment of all the possible ways of attaining, either the knowledge of their perfections, or satisfaction in the enjoyment of them.

The Scriptures therefore, hath not left his recovery altogether dark; yet, as to any historical evidence thereof, the Lord hath so ordered that he passeth away under a cloud, for these good ends:

First, thereby, Solomon is chastened with the rods of men (even after death) upon his name; for his failures are set down expressly, but his recovery (as to any direct testimony thereof) is passed over.

2. By this, the Lord makes his displeasure with Solomon's failures always known; though he had favour to his person, and gave him his soul for a prey.

3. And thus the Lord would warn others from declining, and hereby teach his people, to be afraid to rest upon gifts; yea, or upon graces, seeing he hath left this matter so far in the dark, as might yield an occasion (as it were) to question the eternal condition of Solomon.

4. It may be also, that Solomon after his recovery, did never recover his former lustre, nor attain to such a profitable way of appearing in God's public matters, for which formally he had been so observable: for so it is taken notice of David, after his fall, that his following life is stained, as different from what went before; therefore it is the accommodation of Jehosaphat, 1 Chr. 17:3. that he walked in the first ways of his father David, which certainly, it is not done to condemn David's state after that time, but to leave that mark (as a chastisement) on his failings: and seeing Solomon's were greater, therefore may this silence of his recovery, be more universal as to him.

Before we draw any thing from this, by way of application, I shall answer a doubt, and it is this, how can all these thousand and five Songs mentioned, I Kings 4:32. be lost, without wronging the perfection of canonical Scripture? Or, what is, of them? Or, what is to be accounted of the loss of them?

Answer. we say, 1. The Scriptures may be full in the articles of faith, even though some portions thereof, which once were extant, were now missing; except it could be made out, that some points of faith were in these books, which are not to be found in other Scriptures. 2. Yet, seeing it is not safe, and it has many inconveniences, to assert that any book once intended of God to his Church, as a canon, or rule of faith and manners, should be lost.

And seeing, it is not consistent with that wise providence of his, whereby he hath still carefully preserved the treasure of his oracles in his Church. We rather incline to say, that though these songs were possibly useful, and might be written by the Spirit's direction; yet, that they were not intended for the universal edification of the Church, nor enrolled as a part of his word, appointed for that end. Neither can it be thought strange, that it should so be; for, that a thing be Scripture, it's not only needful, that it be inspired, but also that it be appointed of God for public use. It's not improbable, but Isaiah, Moses, David, Paul, and others, might have written many more writings, upon particular occasions, or to particular persons, which were useful in themselves for edification; and yet were never appointed of God to be looked upon, or received as Scriptures for public use in His Church: so do we account of these Songs mentioned in the objection, and other writings of Solomon, not now extant: and it may be the Spirit hath pitched on this Song, to be recorded, as the sum and chief of all the rest; and he did pitch upon some particular prayers of David and Moses, &c. passing by others.

And lastly, we are rather to be thankful, for the great in advantage we have by this, then anxiously to inquire, what hath become of the rest.

There are four things, we would propose for application, from the title of this Song.

First, that singing of believers cases, even their several cases, is allowable: or, that singing of divers and different cases, yea, even their saddest cases, is not inconsistent with, but very agreeable unto the work of praise: ye see, this is a song for the nature of it, which Song is to be sung, yet for matter, exceeding comprehensive of all sorts of cases, and these various.

There are (amongst others) five cases, in which to sing, doth sometimes stumble, at least, cause hesitation with those who are weak and tender; all which, we will find cleared in the Bride's practice of singing this Song.

First, it's doubted if sad cases should be sung, seeing, James 5:13. it's said, 'is any man merry, let him sing psalms?' Answer. It's true, those who are merry should sing, but not only they, no more than only they who are afflicted, should pray. It's not our case, nor our cheerful disposition, but the duty that should be respected in this work of praise; yea, we should sing, for cheering our disposition, and mitigating and sweetening our crosses. So doth the Bride here sing her sufferings, chap. 1:6, chap. 5:7 when she was smitten; yea, her desertions, she putteth these also in a Song.

2. It's stumbled at some times, to sing complaints of our own sinfulness, and to turn our failings into songs; what matter of cheerfulness is there in these may one think? But we say here, she doth so, 'Mine own Vineyard have I not kept' (saith she) Chap. 1:6. 'I sleep,' &c. chap. 5:2. It's a ground of cheerfulness, that we may sing over these unto God, with expectation to be pardoned and delivered from them, as Psalm 65.3.

3. When the subject is different from our case, some think it's hard to sing such Psalms. Answer. Certainly in this Song, there are different, yea, contrary cases; yet none can think, but a believer may sing it all at one time. Yea, 2. there had never then been a Psalm sung in public; for in no congregation, can all the members ever being in one case. 3. The same might be objected against public prayers also, seeing there may be many petitions that are not suitable to all joiners; yet hath the Lord commanded both public praying and praising.

4. When the subject which is sung, is above us; being a thing we have not yet reached, and so cannot assert it in our particular condition as truth, as these words, Psalm 18:20,21. 'I have kept his ways,' &c. Answer. By this Song, all, at least most part of believers, are made to sing many things, beyond their own attainments possibly; yea, chap. 8:12. That phrase, 'My vineyard which is mine, is before me,' is of that same extent with that, Psalm 18:20. Yet will not any think that the Spirit proposing this Song, and that Psalm, as a subject for public praise, did ever intend that none should sing it, but such as were holy as David. Yea, it would seem that if either David, or Solomon, had stuck to the absolute perfection which these words seem to hold forth (if they be expounded according to the strict rule of the law, and not taken in an evangelical sense) that neither of them would, or could have sung them. Yea, it's observable, that in this Song, there are spots mentioned, and not keeping the of the vineyard, chap. 1.6. is one part of the Song, as well as keeping of it, chap. 8. is another.

How then may we join in these? Answer. 1. We sing not our own understanding and experience only, but what may attain the end of praise, which is attained in our acknowledging what others have reached, though we ourselves comes short. 2. Not only our own case, as particular members, is to be sung; but in public we take in the praises of the whole body. 3. That expression, chap. 1.6. 'Mine own vineyard,' &c. holds forth the sense she had of her negligence, not as if she had no way done her duty, but she confesseth her failings in it; which she sings to the praise of that free-grace, that had pardoned her. Again, the other expression, chap. 8.12. 'My vineyard which is mine, is before me,' expresseth her sense of her sincerity, blessing God for it, and refreshing herself in the acknowledging of it. Both these may agree, as to some measure, in the believer's experience, at one and the same time; though when the believer sinneth more grossly, they do not so well agree to him, except in respect of different times and cases.

In praising then, we would neither simply look to our attitude nor to the subject in it self, which is to be sung, nor to the cases we are in, as if these were the warrant of our singing, or the rule to regulate us in it: but unto these three things. 1. The purpose wherefore singing is appointed. 2. The command. 3. The notion, or consideration, in respect of which, the believer to joineth in the duty of praise.

The purposes are principally three. 1. Glorifying God, and making his praise glorious. Thus histories of the Lord's dealing with his People of old, and thus the cases of others, in our singing of them, serve to that end, that he did such works, that such a case was once sung to him, and such a saint was so dealt with. Otherwise, we might scruple to sing, Psalm 44:1. 'We have heard with our ears, our fathers have told us,' and other Scriptures, as well as many cases. In this way, the most part of the subject of praise, and the book of the Psalms, would be laid aside as useless, and not so much as to be read; for we ought not to read, or say an untruth, any more than to sing it.

A second purpose is, edifying of others with whom we join, as well as studying edification ourselves: So, Col. 3:16. The end to be proposed in singing, is, 'teaching and admonishing one another, in Psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs.' And suppose, some found themselves unsuitable in their own case, to the purpose that is to be sung, yet will it not teach them what they should be, and admonish them, because they are not such?

A third purpose we are to aim at in singing, is our own cheering and refreshing, 'Making melody in our hearts to the Lord,' Eph. 5:19. Which ariseth not always from the subject simply considered, as it holds true in our own experience: but, 1. From our conscientious going about it, as a piece of worship to God, and so doing, we are accepted in that. 2. From the heartsomeness of that soul-refreshing exercise of praise. Thus the Scripture which might be more saddening in meditation to us, yet should be cheering in praise, because it's then used in that ordinance. 3. From the possibility that is herein revealed of attaining such a blessing, attitude, or experience, because once a saint did attain it. Since they were men of like passions, and infirmities with us, why may not we aim at, and hope to be made saints of the like graces with them, since they were, what they were, by the grace of God? 4. From this, that it was once made good in another, which mercy should be a motive for us, to mention that to the Lord's praise. 5. From its being a part of Scripture, appointed for his praise, whether it agree with our case, or not: that being the end where for it was designed to be sung, is a sufficient warrant, for our joining in the singing thereof.

Secondly, we would consider the command we have, not only to praise, but to praise in these words of David, and other Penman of Holy psalms; for which cause, God hath furnished his Church with Songs (but not so with forms of prayers, to which he would have us restrict us) and that for preventing doubt concerning the matter: For, 1. If God did propose these songs to be sung, then they are fit to praise him. 2. If he did allow none to sing them, but such as had no hesitation, or scruple to assert them, with application to themselves; then, either never should they be sung, or never in public: but, 3. Did he not appoint them to be used in David's time? And joiners in then were not all of one size. Surely they had never been committed to public use, if none might have joined in singing them, but these who could sing them from their own experience. Will a believer be challenged for praising God, in the rule and words laid down by him? Certainly not: however he may be challenged, if he be not suitably affected in the singing of them.

Thirdly, we would consider the notion, or capacity under which believers join in this duty; for they join either as parts of the whole church, and so they go about their part of the duty of praise (as the matter holdeth true in any member indefinitely, even as they join in prayers) so being that which is sung, be considered simply material for that end. Or, they join as true believers, and then what points out infirmity, they look on it as agreeing to their flesh; what points out sincerity, they as spiritual, though not perfect, join on that account in the thankful acknowledging of it. What confesseth a sin, if guilty, they acknowledge it, if not, they bless God they are preserved by grace, yet they are made to see their corruption, which hath the seed of that sin in it, and take warning, as in singing the 51st Psalm is requisite, when all are not under that guilt, which David their confesseth.

A fifth case in singing, which hath been matter of doubting to some, is, when they are put to sing with others, who possibly are strangers to God. Answer. Such may be cleared from this, that the Bride joineth with the daughters of Jerusalem, often they have a share in holding up this Song; so doth she go out to the Watchmen, being willing to join with them who smote her. Certainly this and other songs, being to be sung in public in the congregation, and such a congregation, as none will plead that it ought to have been separate from, it's clear they joined, and that upon the account of the former grounds.

The second thing we are to observe for application, it is from the commendation of this Song, being for its excellency, a Song of Songs: And it is this, that the believer hath the choicest Song, and most excellent mirth in the World; not such songs, or joy as the world hath, or giveth, John 14.27. Yea, their songs, are such songs, as none can learn but themselves, Rev. 14.13. Oh how happy and cheerful a life might a believer have, if he did not sometime mar his own comfort! All is most excellent which he hath, his songs are so, for they have the most excellent subject, to wit, Christ, Psalm 45, and the most excellent grounds of rejoicing, and most solid; the largest, sweetest, and most comfortable allowance in the world. Considering all this Song together, though it hath sundry sad and perplexing cases, yet it is most excellent. Right thoughts of Christ, will make every condition sweet, and a Song; nothing will come wrong to a believer. Christ, Christ maketh up all, and maketh all excellent: every condition with him is excellent; whoso covets him, coveteth what is best; whoso neglects him neglects what is only worth the seeking, and what can only afford a song to the owner: and it is clearness in Christ's worth, and an interest in him, that turns all conditions into a song.

Thirdly, from the author (I mean the Penman) consider, that piety and tenderness is not unbecoming, but is rather an ornament to the most noble, most rich, and most wise men in the world. It's a greater glory to Solomon, and a greater evidence of his eternal good condition, that he was acquainted with, and taken up in holy exercises, then that he was a king. Yea, places, parts, riches, &c. are beautiful, when made subservient to piety; piety makest these to shine in Solomon: and the Spirit also make its use of natural and moral wisdom, which the Lord had bestowed upon him, to set out deep mysteries in these writings. Which shews, that the Lord would have any measure of these gifts he hath bestowed on us, adorned with the exercise of grace, and made subservient to his glory. Also we may see here, that much business in men's common affairs, and a tender walk, are not inconsistent; if men would prudently manage their time, they might be engaged in their employment, and keep a spiritual frame also, as Solomon, David, and others did. It's our corruption, and not the multitude of lawful employments, that distracts us: David went home to bless his own family, in the midst of public affairs, II Samuel 6.20.

Fourthly, from the consideration of the Penman (stained with such faults) made use of by God in the composition of this Song; we may observe, 1. That neither place, parts, nay, nor Graces, will exempt any man from falling. O Believers, what need is there to be watchful and humble! May not these examples of David, Solomon, Peter, &c. lay your pride low, and put you to your arms, and necessitate you to be upon your watch? Who of you will claim to Solomon's knowledge, experience, or privileges? Yet even he, the Penman of this sweet Scripture, had His affections to God cooled, and became an offense even to this day. What is spoken of his fearful backsliding and fall, being still a rock of offense, upon which many still break their necks. 2. There may be much corruption dwelling beside much light and grace, and yet, the one not fully put out, or extinguish the other. 3. Grace hath fitted and made use of many a knotty tree for the Lord's work. For what Solomon naturally hath been, may appear in his carriage (seeing men's sinful carriage and way, is but the product of the natural corruption that is in their heart) notwithstanding he is thus made use of. 4. Corruption may live long under grace's fear, and grace may attain to a great height, and that corruption may again strangely break out, and grace be brought very low. What knowledge had Solomon? What preference and clearness had he gotten by the Lord's appearing to him? What hearing of prayer? How useful was he in GOD's work, and building the temple, ordering all the Levites, &c.? And continued thus eminent for many years, even till he was well stricken in years, and then fell so foully? How may this strike us with fear? It's much to win fair off the stage, without a spot. Be humble, and he that standeth, let him take heed lest he fall. 5. Grace can wash foul spots out of believers garments, seeing without question Solomon's was washed; and as he was recovered. So grace is able to recover the saints from their most dangerous and fearful backslidings. 6. Sometimes the spirit will honor the Penman of Holy Writ, by mentioning and recording their names, other times not; as is clear from some books, unknown by whom they are written, the Lord doth in this according to his pleasure, and as he seeth it may tend to edification.



Return to Song of Songs Index


Table of Contents Main Page Quote of the Week
History & Biography Poetry If You're Looking For...
New & Favourite Reformed Links Fast Index
Site Map Frivolous Search
About the Puritans Our Church