George Burrowes.

A commentary on the Song of Solomon online

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Received October, 1894.
Accessions No. ~*7 . Class No.



(tamentarg on tjri $&it$ of Solomon

" It is little to say that it is the best Commentary on ' The Song :'
it is one of the best Commentaries on an Old Testament book which
it has ever been my happiness to peruse. For I have seldom found
one which so delightfully combines scholarship and sound judgment
with the devotional spirit, or one in which the results of much read-
ing are so gracefully interwoven with the author's independent
thinking. The book is especially valuable as a specimen of a kind
of Commentary much wanted in the present day, bringing out as
it does, the poetical charms of the inspired writer, and so commending
the study to men of literary tastes. Almost the very day that I re-
ceived your volume, a gentleman consulted me about a friend of his
who had been sceptical, but who had now got the length of believing
in the Bible as a divine Revelation generally, but who still stumbled
at The Song of Solomon. I advised him to go at once and get your
book, which he said he would. I do not know if I shall ever hear
the result, but I suspect there are not a few to whom, in the same
way, your work will be a word in season." Rev. James Hamilton,
/>./->., Regent's Square, Tendon, Author of Life in Earnest, <s-c.

" The Commentary of Professor Burro wes on the Song of Solomon
is a gift to the Christian community of eminent value, and contains
the rich results of a long continued investigation of this remarkable
portion of the Scriptures. Without encumbering the work with a
parade of learning, he has, nevertheless, siicceeded in presenting all
the valuable points of ripe scholarship as well as of a devout study
of the Word of God. The purity of taste and varied learning of the
eminent author are conspicuous alike in the body of the work and in
the admirable selection of matter presented in the notes. The reader,
guided by such an expounder of the Scriptures, will continually find
new beauties in the Song, and will, above all, be greatly edified, and
taught to value the privileges of the true believer, by the practical
observations found on every page. This mode of explaining and
applying the various portions of the Song, really shows it to be what
he terms it in the Introduction, ' the Manual of the advanced Christ-
ian.' The work is worthy of the highest commendation.", Rev. C.
F. Schaejfcr, D. ])., Professor of German in the Lutheran College,
, Pa.

" I am delighted with your Commentary on several accounts. It
nourishes both the intellect and the heart. When I wish to get very
near to my Saviour, and have my love to him kindled afresh or fanned
into a flame, I can get on my knees in private with your precious
volume before me, and feel greatly aided in effecting this end. You
must yo\irself have derived great spiritual benefit in writing this
work, obliged as you were to think and speak so much of the
Beloved.' " Her. I. M. Olmstcad, Author of Noah ana his Times, $c.

"You have executed a very difficult and delicate task with skill
and judgment. I think the book will serve to bring that portion of
the Word of God more into the course of practical reading of pious
people, and enable them to enter into its spirit. There is doubtless
a great falling off in the devotional exercises of Christians of our
day, as compared with those of some other periods of the Church.
We have so many societies and so much outdoor life, that the work
of the closet, and communion with God, and devout pondering on
his Word, are often sadly neglected. Your work is adapted to coun-
teract this evil ; and I hope you will have the satisfaction of finding
that it has ministered to the greater spirituality of the Church." Rev.
Charles llodgc, 7).7>., Professor, Theological Seminary, Princeton, N.J.









Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1853, by

in the Clerk's Office of the District Court of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.










CHAPTER I. ..... 91


CHAPTER III. . ... 94



CHAPTER VI. ... .99

CHAPTER VII. .... 100



CHAPTER I. . . 105


CHAPTER III. ... 116



CHAPTER VI. ..... 129

CHAPTER VII. ... 133















THE notes which have grown into the following pages
were begun amid the pious exercises and duties con-
nected with the pastoral charge of a retired congrega-
tion, and without any idea of making a volume for the
press. They have gradually taken their present form.
The Analysis now stands, with no material alteration,
as it was written some years ago ; and subsequent re-
search has brought to light no reason for changing the
views then adopted concerning the general meaning of
this portion of Scripture. To those who consider the
misapprehension that has prevailed in reference to the
Song, the Introduction may not seem unnecessarily
long, inasmuch as an answer to objections, an argu-
ment in defence of the allegorical meaning, and a
statement of the principles of interpretation, are re-
quired before proceeding to the exposition. The Sum-
mary and Analysis give the writer's idea of the mean-
ing of the Song. In the exposition, the aim has been


to unfold the truth, in the way supposed the most de-
sirable to a soul animated with fervent love for the
Lord Jesus, and craving the hidden manna which the
Holy Spirit has lodged in this precious portion of the
Scriptures. The heart hungering and thirsting for
righteousness, does not rest satisfied with the stalk and
husks, but is anxious for the luscious kernel, of these
fruits of eternal life. ^ As here viewed, the Song is a
continuous and coherent whole, illustrating some of the
most exalted and delightful exercises of the believing
heart. According to our exposition, there will not be
found in the book a single passage to which the most
fastidious taste can take the least exception. A cor-
rect interpretation of the book is its only proper vin-
dication. Those who engage in the work of Scrip-
ture exposition, become best aware of the difficulties of
the undertaking; and while the writer is sensible of
the difficulty attending a Commentary on the Song,
and submits this volume with diffidence to those who
love the adorable Redeemer, he shall be happy if any
thing has been done, in however humble a degree,
for enabling them to value this book, and draw here-
from truth for nourishing a more vigorous affection
for their Beloved and their Friend.

EASTON, May 1, 1853.


THE effect of sin has been to destroy in the human
heart the love of God, and substitute for it the love
of unworthy things. The object of redemption
is the restoration of man from his condition of en-
mity against God, and from all the consequences of
sin, to the possession and enjoyment of perfect love to
God. Hence, as hatred of God is the spirit of sin,
love is represented as the essential grace, as the ful-
filling of the law. The growth of the soul in holiness
must be estimated, not by deep excitement, whether
of ecstasy or of overwhelming sorrow, not by burning
zeal or untiring activity, not by acquaintance with
all mysteries and all knowledge, not by giving our
goods to feed the poor and our body to be burned;
but by the love which beareth all things, believeth all
things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Long
before the time of the apostle Paul, Plato had cele-
brated the excellence of this affection, though exer-
cised in an inferior sphere. "It is proper to exhort
every man to behave in all things piously towards
the gods, that we may escape from the ills and obtain
the good to which Love is our guide and commander ;


who confers on us the greatest benefits for the present,
and for the future gives us the strongest hopes that if
we pay the debt of piety to heaven, he will restore us
to our original nature, and make us happy by healing
our ills. Love appears to be himself the most beauti-
ful and best ; and to be the cause of such like beautiful
things in other beings. He it is who produces

Peace amongst men, upon the sea a calm ;
Stillness on winds, on beds of sorrow sleep.

It is he who divests us of all feelings of alienation, and with those of friendship ; gracious to the good ;
looked up to by the wise ; admired by the inhabitants
of heaven ; the parent of refinement, of tenderness, of
elegance, and of grace; in labour, in fear, in wishes
and in discourse, the pilot, the encourager, the assist-
ant and best protector ; of gods and men, taken alto-
gether, the ornament; a leader the most beautiful and
best, in whose train it is the duty of every one to fol-
low, bearing a part in that sweet song which he sings
himself when soothing the mind of every one among
divinities and men."*

To this love, exercised towards God first, then
towards man, by the healing power of grace, are we
restored in sanctification. Perfect sanctification car-
ries with it perfect love. The death of Christ, the

* Banquet, Stallbaum's ed., p. 156.

"Love is the leading passion of the soul; all the rest con-
form themselves to it, desire and hope and fear, joy and sor-
row." Leighton.

" The entire economy of salvation is constructed on the prin-
ciple of restoring to the world the lost spirit of love." Harris.


agency of the Holy Spirit, all the means of grace, all
the dealings of Providence with the saints, converge
on this one point, the forming anew in man of this
lost love. As the sanctification of the soul is through
the truth, we might therefore suppose, that in giving
us the Scriptures, God would give full elucidations of
this very important principle or affection. This he
has been careful to do. He has shown love to be not
only important but essential, 1 Cor. xiii. 1 3; has
given a full and excellent definition of it as the foot
of our best and holy feelings, 1 Cor. xiii. 4 7; has
shown its perpetuity, its superiority to knowledge,
faith, and hope, and its inseparable connection with
the happiness and existence of the soul of man, 1 Cor.
xiii. 8 13; he has embodied it for our benefit in the
living example of Jesus Christ; has shown that God,
to whose image we must be restored, is love, 1 John
iv. 8 ; has given the blood of his Son for removing
the difficulty in the way of establishing in us this
principle ; and has sent his Spirit for forming it with-
in us by a new creation, and for opening channels in
the heart, through which its influence may reach and
control all our other powers. All this has been
necessary, because divine love is so perfectly opposite
to our natural disposition. Its presence makes us
new creatures, gives us new workings of the affec-
tions,, and prompts to new language from the lips.

Now, it is not unreasonable to suppose that he who
has given us such means for cherishing this heavenly
affection would go farther, and add a description of
the actual operations of a heart in which this love is


found, and would give us language such as these emo-
tions would naturally adopt in using the words of
men; so that in giving utterance to this love, the
saints should not be left to the uncertainty and dan-
ger of adopting such words as human error might
suggest; but have readily furnished language of pre-
cision and beauty made ready to our hands by the
same Spirit who is working within us this aifection.
Much of the difficulty and uncertainty of metaphysi-
cal disquisitions arises from the imperfection of lan-
guage, and the want of precision in its use. Words
are the signs of ideas, and if the language in which
we hear or speak on any subject, be imperfect, our
apprehension, as thus got on that subject, must be
incorrect. It is important that those who have re-
ceived a spiritual discernment of the things which are
freely given to us of God, should be able to speak of
them, not in words which man's wisdom teacheth, but
in words which the Holy Ghost teacheth, 1 Cor. ii.
13, that the Spirit who prompts the emotion should
furnish the language in which such emotion may find
suitable utterance for showing forth the praise of the
Redeemer. This has been done for us in a beautiful
manner in the Song of Solomon. This book is re-
ceived as canonical for the following reasons.

1. We have seen that there is every ground for the
presumption that the Divine Author of the Scriptures
would give us a book on the subject with which this
is occupied. 2. There can be no presumption against
it from the nature of the book, for there are other
parts of Scripture containing the same kind of illus-


trations. 3. " Ezra wrote, and, we may believe, acted
by the inspiration of the Most High, amid the last
blaze indeed, yet in the full lustre of expiring prophe-
cy. And such a man would not have placed any
book that was not sacred in the same volume with
the law and the prophets."* 4. The Song of Songs
has always been a canonical book in the Jewish
church. 5. Our Saviour and his apostles gave their
sanction to the canon of the Scriptures received by
the Jewish church ; in that canon this book had then
a place ; and therefore, though not quoted by Christ
and the apostles, it clearly received their sanction as
canonical. 6. In his Antiquities, (viii. 2, 5,) Josephus
speaks of Solomon as inspired; and in his work
against Apion, gives the number of their canonical
books as thirty-nine: the Song is necessary to make
up this number. 7. According to Eusebius, (iv. 26,)
Melito, Bishop of Sardis, in the second century of the
Christian era, went to Palestine for the purpose of
ascertaining the sacred books of the Jewish canon,
and found the Song of Solomon among the number.
8. Origen in the third century, Jerome, Augustine,
and Theodoret in the fifth century, not to mention
various others, all testify to the same point. The
testimony of the Christian Church on this subject is
uniform. This book, illustrating that love which is
the very core of the believer's spiritual life, is there-
fore a part of the Scriptures given by inspiration.
The services of the Jewish ritual point out the way

* Bishop Warburton.


in which this newness of heart, this divine love may-
be attained by sinners. The Epistle to the Hebrews,
as well as the general language of piety, shows how
impossible it is to understand the work of Christ and
the office of the Holy Spirit, without those typical
allusions. The leprosy is the emblem of our spiritual
state of nature ; the sacrifices show the ground of
pardon; the sacred anointing oil, and the water of
the laver, illustrate the excellency of the Holy Spirit,
and his cleansing power, in developing those fruits,
the first of which is love. In the same mode, by
allegorical language and emblems, the Song shows
what this affection is as already formed and in opera-
tion. The heart on which the work of the Spirit has
been felt to the greatest extent can best tell how
much at a loss we must be in speaking of spiritual
exercises and love to Jesus, were we cut off from the
language of this Song. Should the soul be influenced
to these feelings by the Holy Spirit, and inclined to
use such expressions of devoted love, without having
at the same time a knowledge of this book as given
by inspiration, we would hesitate, would feel our-
selves guilty of presumption, and could not answer
those who might upbraid us with irreverence or fana-
ticism. There are persons of undoubted piety, in the
early stages of the Christian life, though having long
borne the profession, who are as reluctant to believe
the reality of the exercises of the most advanced
Christians, as is the impenitent to admit the reality
of the first emotions attending a change of heart;
the error in both instances arises from unwillingness


to believe what has not been personally experienced.
If, in consequence of having never felt such deep
emotions, persons of certain attainments in piety may
object to this book as using language too strong, the
unrenewed heart may, with the same propriety, doubt
the reality of all the exercises of religion. Beyond
controversy, there are spiritual exercises which can be
better and more naturally expressed in the language
of this Song, than in any other portion of the Scrip-
tures. And the Holy Spirit has put into our hands
this precious scroll, written full of the characters of
love, and whispers to us that we can never do wrong
in speaking of Jesus in these terms ; and that we may
judge of the nature of our love to him by our disposi-
tion to speak of him in such language, and by finding
in our hearts emotions corresponding with these ex-

The several books of the word of God have some
particular aim and some leading topic. The Gospels
furnish the life of God manifest in flesh ; the Epistle
to the Hebrews opens the doctrine of atonement as
vicarious and possessing infinite value from the di-
vine nature of Him who suffered ; Proverbs embody
the practical duties of daily life ; the Psalms are the
pious heart's language of devotion ; the Song is its
language of love. Devotion being the utterance of
the different feelings of the soul in combination and
resting with reverence on the majesty and goodness
of God, and love being the bond which brings us into
union with God and gives all our other powers their
proper exercise, we find in the Psalms expressions


in which to embody our general feelings of repent-
ance, contrition, trust, veneration and praise; in the
Song, the expressions are restricted to the various
operations of the one exercise of love. These deepest
spiritual emotions of the human soul are here exhib-
ited in a way best adapted to the comprehension and
wants of man. In the portraits of Shakspeare we
have veins of a profound metaphysics, never sur-
passed, yet so ' arrayed in flesh and blood, that we
overlook the mental abstractions, in the beauty and
attractiveness of their guise. And no metaphysical
disquisition however laboured, no didactic statement
however clear, could give as intelligibly as does this
Song, the nature of those exalted exercises of the
human soul which constitute love to our redeeming

Love to Jesus Christ becomes through sanctifica-
tion, the strongest passion that can take possession of
the human heart. Ambition, avarice, and passion
may have more of the unnatural vigour attending
fever; this carries with it the quiet, enduring energy
of health, with sufficient power to consume those
unhallowed principles, and bring into captivity every
thought to the obedience of Jesus. The power of
this love cannot be known without being felt; and
none but those who have experienced the greatest
intensity of it possible on earth, can be capable
judges whether any language used in expressing it
may be exaggerated. The love of the pious heart to
God being thus strong, and indeed not utterable even
by the strongest terms; the love of God towards us


is as incomprehensible as his eternity, omnipresence,
or Almighty power. If, therefore, he condescends to
illustrate to our comprehension the nature of this
reciprocal love, the Holy Spirit must be expected to
draw his comparisons from the strongest and tender-
est instances of aifection known among men, and use,
in so doing, all the colouring that can be supplied
even from the domains of poetry. Hence, in this
Song, the relation of husband and bride is selected.
Nor is this comparison peculiar to the Song. It is
used throughout the New no less than the Old Testa-
ment, and at the close of Revelation the Church is
spoken of as the bride, the wife of the Lamb. The
relation of father and son, imperfect though it be, is
nevertheless the best that language can furnish for
setting forth the union between the first and second
persons of the Trinity; and the relation between
husband and wife is the best known to us, for illus-
trating the union between Jesus and his redeemed.
This union must be far more intimate and far more
tender than the marriage relation. The attachment
of two persons, strangers perhaps to each other pre-
viously during almost their whole life, must, even in its
greatest purity, ripeness, and strength, fall very far
below the love of Jesus for a soul he has formed for
the end of loving him ; whose constitution has been
framed by sanctification of the Holy Ghost accord-
ing to what he can love and desires to love ; whom
he has allured to himself by overpowering manifesta-
tions of love; whom he loved not merely from the
first moments of its being, but even before the origin


of its being; and who owes its being to his loving it
before it was called into existence, even before the
world began ; over whose course he has watched from
its first breath ; for whose rescue from misery he did
himself submit to death. Besides all this, he has the
tender and incomprehensible love of the infinite God.
Such love on his part, demands corresponding affec-
tion on ours. And how can any earthly comparison
reach the measure of this love, when it is such, that if
any man hate not his father, and mother, and wife,
and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his
own life also, he cannot be worthy of the love of his
Lord. The comparison of father and son is not more
imperfect in expressing the relation of the first and
second persons of the Trinity, than is the love of the
husband and wife, even when taken in the strongest
terms, imperfect in unfolding the love of Christ for
his people. This illustration of that love is the best
we can now have; but like all human comparisons
applied to God, falls very far short of the truth.
The expressions in the Song, however hyperbolical
they may seem to some minds, give therefore
nothing more than a shadow of this love. The lan-
guage appears strong, not because it is exaggerated,
but because we are not capable of appreciating the
love of God. Now we see the love of Christ through
a glass darkly, even in our brightest hours. Angels,
who have a better understanding of the subject, see
that this language, instead of being exaggerated, is,
as every thing heavenly expressed in human lan-
guage must be, very imperfect. Though the Holy


Spirit has selected the most endearing relation on
earth, the marriage state, and set forth the reciprocal
affections of that relation in the glowing terms, ardent
language, and richly coloured imagery of oriental
poetry ; the whole is not sufficient for enabling us to
comprehend, in any other than an indistinct manner,
the wondrous love of Christ which passeth knowledge.
Beset with the inseparable infirmity of human
nature, an over estimate of ourselves, and forgetting
that the difficulty in understanding it may lie mainly
with us, we act as though capable judges of the
extent of God's love, and of the way it should be
expressed ; and we censure the language of the Holy
Spirit as improper and extravagant, because we know
so little of this love as to be unable to see how
incomprehensible its nature.* All the objections
brought against the Song, arise from this source.
Those who would reject it from the canon of Scrip-
ture, or, if retaining it, would pass it over in silence
as unfit for use in the present age, do this, not be-
cause it has less direct testimony than the other
books in favour of its inspiration, but because its
general character is not what they would expect to
find in writing coming from God. No part of the
Scriptures *can show more uninterruptedly than this,

* "Would it not then be a sad thing, if, when there is true
and sound reasoning, one should not blame himself and his

Online LibraryGeorge BurrowesA commentary on the Song of Solomon → online text (page 1 of 35)