Why Song of Solomon is Allegorical

Clavis Cantici:
Or, A Key of the Song,
Useful for opening up thereof.

By James Durham (1622-1658)

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Song of Songs is to be taken Figuratively, not Properly.

This Song is not to be taken properly or literally, that is, as the words do at first sound. But it is to be taken and understood spiritually, figuratively, and allegorically, as having some spiritual meaning contained under these figurative expressions, made use of throughout this Song. My meaning is that when it speaks of a Marriage, Spouse, Sister, Beloved, Daughters of Jerusalem, etc. these expressions are not to be understood properly of such, but as holding forth something of a spiritual nature under these.

The Song is to be interpreted Literally.

I grant it hath a literal meaning, but I say, that literal meaning is not immediate, and that which first looketh out, as in historical Scriptures or others which are not figurative, but that which is spiritually and especially meant by these allegorical and figurative speeches is the literal meaning of this Song. So that it’s literal sense is mediate, representing the meaning, not immediately from the words, but immediately from the scope, that is, the intention of the Spirit, which is couched under the figures and allegories here made use of. For, a literal sense (as it is defined by Rivet out of the Schoolmen) is that which floweth from such a place of Scripture as intended by the Spirit in the words, whether properly or figuratively used, and is to be gathered from the whole complex expression together, applied thereunto, as in the exposition of parables, allegories and figurative Scriptures is clear. And it were as improper and absurd to deny a figurative sense (though literal) to these, as it were to fix figurative expositions upon plain Scriptures, which are properly to be taken.

Twofold Literal Sense of Scripture: Immediate vs. Mediate.

For there is a twofold literal sense of Scripture. 1. Proper and immediate, as where it is said, Solomon married Pharaoh’s daughter. The second is figurative and mediate, as when it is said, “A certain king made a marriage to his son” (Mat. 22.2), etc. both have a literal meaning. The first immediate, fulfilled in Solomon, the second is mediate, setting out God’s calling Jews and Gentiles unto fellowship with his Son. And so that parable is to be understood in a spiritual sense. Now we say, this Song (if we would take up its true sense and meaning) is not to be understood the first way, properly and immediately, but the second way, figuratively and mediately, as holding forth some spiritual thing under borrowed expressions, which will further appear from these things:

Reasons the Song of Songs is Figurative.

1. There can be no edification in setting out human love (amongst parties properly understood) so largely and lively—and yet edification must be the end of this Song, being a part of Scripture. It must therefore have a higher meaning than the words at first will seem to bear.

2. There can be no parties mentioned beside Christ and his Bride to whom this Song can agree. Nor can any proper meaning thereof be assigned, which can make it applicable to these parties. And therefore it cannot be understood properly, but figuratively, and that not of any other, but of Christ and believers.

To Solomon it cannot agree in its application, nor to his Queen, yea, to no man, if it be taken in a proper sense. For, 1. These commendations given to the Bridegroom (ch. 5), to the Bride (4.6-7), if properly understood, would be monstrous, blasphemous, and ridiculous. Such as “to have teeth like a flock of sheep,” “an head like Carmel,” etc. and so on. 2. Some things are attributed to this Solomon, who is the subject of this Song, that were not within Solomon‘s reach, as that, his presence at the table “maketh her spikenard to smell” (1.12), which influence cannot proceed from one man more than another. And where it is said, “he made a chariot, and paved it with love” (3.11), which is no material thing, and so could be no pavement in Solomon’s chariot. 3. That Solomon being the penman of this Song, yet speaketh of Solomon in the second person, “thou, O Solomon” (8.12), makes it appear that some other was designed than himself. And many such like expressions that fill up the matter of this Song (such as spices, gardens, etc.) cannot be understood properly of these very things themselves, but of some other thing veiled under them. And so also when she is called “terrible as an army with banners” (6.4, 10), it cannot be understood of Solomon‘s Queen, and applying it to the Church, we cannot understand it of any carnal terror, which the external aspect of the Church doth beget in beholders.

3. The style and expressions will bear out more than any human love, or any human object upon which men set their love. We are sure, no such love would be proponed to believers as a warranted pattern for their imitation, as if it would be commendable in them to be so much ravished and taken up, even with the most lovely creature.

4. Many things here are inconsistent with human love and that modesty that is required in it (as the Hebrews themselves (with Mercer.) observe). Such as to propone him to others, to excite them to love him, others undertaking to follow after him, her speaking to him in her sleep (5.2), running in the night through the streets, and slighting him at the door—which by no means can admit a proper, literal, immediate sense, but must aim at something figurative. Beside, what reason can there be to plead a proper sense here, more than in other figurative Scriptures of the same sort, as of those that speak of the soul’s union with Christ under the similitude of a marriage, and particularly that of Psalm 45 which is (as it were) a compend of this Song, and is looked upon by all as figurative?

Typical or Allegorical?

If it be inquired in what sense we call this Song figurative, whether as typical or allegorical? The answering and clearing of this question will further us in the interpretation of this excellent Scripture. We shall therefore shew, 1. How allegorical properly so called, differeth from typical. And 2. Why we call this Song allegorical, and not typical. 

I. The Difference between Types and Allegories.

Allegorical Scriptures, or allegories (we take allegory here as divines do, who take it not as Grammarians or Rhetoricians, for a continued discourse of many figures together) properly and strictly taken (for sometimes allegory may be taken largely, and so may comprehend whatever is figurative, whether typical, tropological, analogical, etc. As the Apostle taketh it speaking of Abraham’s two sons (Gal. 4), which is yet properly a type) differeth from types or typical Scriptures, thus:

1. Types suppose still the verity of some history, as Jonas casting in the sea, and being in the fish’s belly three days and three nights, when it is applied to Christ in the New Testament, it supposeth such a thing once to have been. Allegories again, have no such necessary supposition, but are as parables proponed for some mystical end. Thus, while it is said, “a certain king made a marriage, planted a vineyard,” etc. (Mat. 22.2), that place supposeth it not necessary—as to the being of the allegory—that ever such a thing was. It may be an allegory without that, but a type cannot be without reality in the thing or fact which is made a type.

2. Types look only to matters of fact; and compare one fact with another (as Christ’s lying in the grave for such a time, to that of Jonas, who did lie so long in the whale’s belly) but allegories take in words, sentences, doctrines both of faith and manners, as in the former examples is clear.

3. Types compare persons and facts under the Old Testament, with persons and facts under the New, and is made up of something that is present, prefiguring another to come. Allegories look especially to matters in hand, and intend the putting of some hidden spiritual sense upon words, which at first they seem not to bear. Whether the allegory be only in the Old Testament, or only in the New, or in both, it looks to the sense and meaning, being so considered in itself—as the words may best serve the scope, and teach or manifest the thing the Spirit intends—without any comparison betwixt this and that of the Old Testament and New. Yea, an allegory may be in precepts, as “muzzle not the mouth of the ox,” and “cut off the right hand,” etc. which have an allegorical sense in them.

4. Types are only historical as such, and  the truth of fact agreeing in the anti-type, make them up, it being clear in Scripture that such things are types. For we must not forge types without Scripture-warrant. But allegories are principally doctrinal, and in their scope intend not to clear, or compare facts, but to hold forth and explain doctrines, or by such similitudes to make them the better understood, and to move and affect the more, or the more forcibly to convince, as Nathan made use of a parable when he was about to convince David (2 Sam. 12.1-2). 

5. Types in the Old Testament respect only some things, persons, and events; as Christ, the Gospel, and it’s spreading, etc. and cannot be extended beyond these. But allegories take in everything, that belong either to doctrine, or instruction in faith, or to practice for ordering one’s life. Hence we may see that allegories are much more extensive and comprehensive in their meaning and application than types (which cannot be extended further than some one thing). And so are much more doctrinal, and concern both the faith and manners of God’s people much more, and may for that, more warrantably be applied and made use of for these ends.

II. Why Song of Songs is Allegorical and not Typical.

We say, that this Song is not typical, as being made up of two histories, to wit, Solomon’s marriage, and Christ’s, nor doth it any way intend the comparing of these two together in the events, as to their facts or deeds. But it is allegorical, not respecting Solomon, or his marriage, but aiming to set out spiritual mysteries in figurative expressions, in such a manner as may most effectuate that end, for enlightening the judgement, and moving of the affections, without any respect to that story or fact of Solomon’s. For,

1. The strain and series of it is clearly allegorical, as the reading and considering of it will clear.

2. There can be no history to which it can relate, unto which the things spoken in this Song can be properly applied, as is said.

3. Solomon’s marriage was at least twenty years before this Song was written (see on Song 7 concerning the “Tower of Lebanon,” and compare it with 1 Kings 7.1-2 and ch. 6 ult). Therefore it cannot be thought so much as to be penned on thatcher occasion, as an epithalamium which was to be sung that night on which he was married, (and although occasion of penning of it, were taken from that, yet would it not prove it typical, and to respect that as it’s type).

4. What more is this allegory of a marriage to be accounted typical than other places of Scripture, where this same manner of expression is used?

5. If it be partly typical, how is this type to be made up? For Christ’s love unto, and marriage with, his Church, is not only set out here as peculiar to the New Testament, but is applicable to believers under the Old. There can therefore be here no comparing of facts of the Old Testament with anything answering to them in the New.

If it be said, Solomon‘s marriage typified Christ’s marrying of the Gentiles. I answer, beside that there is no Scripture for this conjecture (and it’s hard to coin types without Scripture authority, otherwise we might make Solomon a type in his many wives, possibly, and in many other such things, also that of his marrying Pharaoh’s daughter was against a law as well as this) it cannot be said that this Song setteth out only Christ’s love to the Gentiles, or the believing Gentiles, their carriage and love to him. For, was it not fulfilled (in that which they would make it’s anti-type) before Christ came in the flesh, in the believing Jews? Yea, before ever that marriage was, and therefore, there can be no typical respect had to that marriage here. Beside, it would much darken the spiritualness and divineness of this Song, to make it in such a way typical, as having any proper fulfilling or meaning, that were possibly verified in the deed of any man. We conclude then that this Song is simply allegorical.

The Scope of the Song is the Spiritual Union between Christ and the Church.

…The divine mystery intended and set forth here is the mutual love and spiritual union and communion that is between Christ and his Church, and their mutual carriage towards one another, in several conditions and dispensations. The comprehensive sum of this is contained in this Song, and compended by the Spirit, for the comfort and edification of the Church, under these figurative expressions. This, we say, is the scope and subject matter of this Song. For,

1. If the intent of this Song be to set out the spiritual carriage amongst spiritual parties, and the spiritual love which each hath to other, then it must set out Christ’s love to his Church, and her’s to him. The reason is because there are no other spiritual marriage-parties known, but Christ and his Church. There is no other spiritual marriage, or spiritual marriage-love but this. But this Song in it’s scope is to set out a spiritual marriage, of spiritual parties, and their spiritual love. Therefore it must set out this.

2. The scope of this Song must be agreeable to the matter contained in it. Now the matter contained in it can agree to no other parties, and be approved in no other love. Therefore these descriptions given to the Bridegroom, can be given to no other but Christ. And these given to the Bride by him, can be given to no other but the Church, and must speak out no less love, than that love of Christ’s, the expressions being far beyond the love of all others. This will more fully appear in the opening up of the Song.

3. What is the scope of these allegories in other Scriptures, as that of: Psalm 45 that of planting a vineyard, Mat. 21 that of marriage, Mat. 22 (which none can deny) is meant of espousing spiritually. (See this same allegory of marriage: Jer. 3; Hos. 2.3; Ezek. 16; Mat. 22; Luk. 14; 2 Cor. 11.1; Rev. 19.8) that must be the scope of this also. For, 1. There cannot be two spiritual marriages, to which these Scriptures and this can be applied. 2. Scripture must agree with Scripture, and one more obscure place must be expounded by others more clear. And therefore seeing this scope is clear in other Scriptures of this nature, we may conclude it’s the scope here also. That Psalm 45 doth agree with the expressions and strain of this Song is clear by comparing them—and that it speaketh of that spiritual marriage betwixt Christ and his Church is clear by the citations drawn from it and applied to that, and by the Apostle (Heb. 1.8-9). 

4. Either this must be its scope, or it must have some other scope, or none at all. To say none at all is blasphemous. If it be said another scope than this, then it must either be such a scope as agreeth with these other Scriptures, or which differeth from them. But not such as differeth from them, that cannot be said, therefore it must be the same. And so it setteth out Christ’s way with his Church, and her’s with him, drawing them, as it were, in a map together.

Song of Songs is not a Prophecy.

Objection. If any would argue that it might better be prophetically applied, as foretelling events in the Church, as some do, we answer:

Answer. 1. We suppose, it would be hard to make that out to be the scope and intention of the Spirit.

2. It would be more hard to get help from other Scriptures in the application of it to such events, and such times. And so this would leave it wholly to uncertainty, or men’s pleasure, as their invention and groundless conjectures would lead them to apply it (as we fear some good men have taken too much liberty, without any ground but mere conjectures, to wrest the scope of this Song). And beside, such an interpretation would exceedingly spoil believers of that instruction and consolation which the true scope giveth them. For then they were not to apply it to themselves, or to the Church, but at such a time and in such an age. Because, if it shall be once fulfilled in others, or, if it be not applicable to them because they live not in such a time, it will certainly mar their confidence in making any comfortable application of it to themselves.

The Song is Dogmatic and Practical for believers in all times.

Besides, these considerations may clear, that, in its scope, it cannot be properly prophetical of such, and such times, and events, but dogmatical and practical, for believers use, in all times and events.

1. If the scope and matter of this Song will agree to any one time, or if all of it will agree to believers at any time, then it cannot be prophetical. For, prophecy supposeth a diversity of time for diverse events, and cannot be said at any one time alike to be fulfilled. But all the subject of this Song may be fulfilled in one believer or other, at any one time. There are still some enjoying Christ, some deserted, some praying, some suffering, etc. and so of whatever part of it we can think upon, it may be said of one time, as well as of another, that it hath its accomplishment in one believer or other. And therefore, it is not properly prophetical.

2. If all of it may now be applied to believers, yea, and at any time before the end of the world, may be as well applied as being then fulfilled, as well as when it was written, then it is not prophetical, seeing prophecies have their particular accomplishments. But all parts of this Song, even the first parts, may now be applied, and will still agree to believers as properly as it did in Solomon’s time. Therefore, etc.

3. If all the parts of it were in the same way applicable to, and true in, the cases of believers, then when it was written, even as now, or will be before the end, then it was not intended to be prophetical, but doctrinal, narrative, and consolatory. But the first is true. Was there any believer in Solomon’s days, but these commendations, properties, promises, practices, etc. did agree to them, as they do to us? And was not Christ’s way such to them also, as it is to us? 

4. Consider further, if the scope of it be to set out Christ’s way to his Church, and her’s to him, as is said; and if according to this scope, it should be made use of by a believer in any time, then it is not prophetical, but doctrinal, as hath been said. But the former is true, as is cleared. Therefore, etc.

5. If it be applicable to believers according to their several cases, and if it be the case agreeing with any part of this Song, which grounds the application of it to any party, and not the time when that case is not; then it is not prophetical, deducing cases by times, but doctrinal, etc. applying directions, warnings, and comforts to believers cases, in whatsoever time.

6. The matter of it is the ordinary cases which are incident to believers in all times, and what may make it look prophetical-like, may be considered in the exposition.

7. If its scope be one and the same with other allegories of this kind, then it is not prophetical, but doctrinal. But the former is true. Therefore, etc. The truth of both which may appear by what is said, and will further appear in that which followeth.

Five Interpretive Keys to Song of Songs.

We leave this then, and come again to the proposition, to wit, that the great scope of this Song is to set out that mutual love and carriage that is between Christ and his Church. That this proposition—which is a main one—may be the more clear, we shall take it in five distinct branches. 

I. The Church in all her conditions and dispensations.

First, it holdeth out (we say) the Church’s case, and Christ’s care of her, in all her several conditions and under all dispensations. Such as, 1. Her sinful infirmities, and failings in duties (1.6; 5.2-3), and also, under liveliness in duties (1.2-4 and 5.5), and almost throughout. 2. Under crosses (1.6), as being a “lily among thorns,” and hated of the World (2.2), and also in prosperity, wherein she is commended as terrible (6.10). 3. As deserted and sick of love (3.1-2 and 5.4-5), and again, as enjoying her Beloved (1.4; chs. 3-5). 4. As under faithful shepherds, and lively ordinances (1.4; 3.4-5), and also as under carnal watchmen (5.7). And in all these, her various conditions, in all ages, are painted forth, before Christ’s incarnation, as well as now, without respect to any particular time or age. For, ceremonial things are not here meddled with, but what was spiritual. Beside, the Church then and now is one, as in the next consideration will be cleared. 5. As in private, dealing with Christ, and longing after him, and praying for him (4.16; 8.1, etc.), almost throughout, and also what she was in public duties, going to the watchmen (5.7; 3.3), and what she was in fellowship with others (5.8-9; 6.1-2). 6. It sets out believers as more strong and furnished with a greater measure of grace and knowledge, and also, as more weak in gifts and grace. 7. And lastly, It holds forth the same believers as more and less lively in their conditions.

This Book in it’s matter, is a comprehensive sum of all these particulars formed in a Song, put together and drawn as on a board for the believer’s edification. To shew, 1. What should be, and will be their carriage when it is right with them, as to their frame. 2. What are their infirmities, and what they use often to fall into, even they who are believers, that they may be the more watchful. 3. To shew what they may meet with, that they may make for sufferings, and not stumble at them when they come. 4. That the care and love of Christ to them, in reference to all these, may appear, that they may know upon what grounds to comfort themselves in every condition, and may have this Song—as a little magazine—for direction, and consolation in every condition.

Therefore this Song is not to be astricted to any particular case or time, and is (even by Bernard, Serm. 1) therefore observed to differ from other spiritual Songs, in three things: 1. That it’s penned upon no particular occasion, as others are, such as that of Moses (Exod. 15 and Judges 5 etc.). 2. That it is composed by way of conference between several parties. 3. That there are in this conference more parties than two: Christ, the Bride, Watchmen, Daughters of Jerusalem, etc. all which do shew it’s extensiveness and comprehensiveness in respect of its subject and use. 

II. The Church is Considered in Four Ways.

This Song holdeth forth the Church’s or Bride’s conditions under all her several considerations. We may consider the Bride, or Church, four ways, all of which we will find here.

1. As visible, and visibly professing Christ, and worshiping him in ordinances. In this respect there are “Watchmen” spoken of, a “Mother’s house,” “Gardens” of many believers together, and a “Vineyard” let out to keepers, and a Mother having Children (called also “Daughters of Jerusalem”) who are professing believers, and such like—which agree only to the Church as visible.

2. Consider her as invisible, having true faith in Christ, spiritual union with him, love to him, and real exercise of graces, etc. Thus Christ is her’s, and she his [2.16]. She is drawn by him, and brought into the chambers of lively sense and communion [1.4]. Thus she is near him, or absent from him, and such like, which only agree to the Church, or saints as members of the invisible Church, having real (and not only professed) union with Christ. And thus she is distinguished from the mother’s children [1.6], which are outward professors of the visible Church. And thus the most of the commendations she gets throughout this Song, agree unto her as invisible.

Neither can it be thought strange that both these considerations take place in one and the same Song. For,

1. That distinction of the Church in visible and invisible, is not a distribution of a whole into distinct parts, as, suppose one would divide a heap of chaff and corn, into corn and chaff. But this is a distinct uptaking of the same whole (to wit, the Church) under two distinct considerations. As, suppose one would consider the foresaid heap, as it is a heap comprehending both corn and chaff, or, as it is only comprehensive of corn. So the Church thus distinguished, is but one, considered in whole, as having both renewed and unrenewed in it, and as having renewed only. Yet so, as the renewed are a part of the whole, under one consideration, to wit, as they are visible professors, and also are the invisible Church, being distinctly considered, as they have more than a visible profession. Therefore, the sibness [i.e. relationship] being so great and near, it is no marvel they be frequently conjoined in this Song, so as they must be distinguished in respect of these distinct considerations, seeing the visible Church in its consideration as such, comprehends the invisible militant Church under it, but not contrarily.

2. It’s ordinary upon this ground, thus to conjoin them in other Scriptures, as when an epistle is written to a Church, somethings are said of it, and to it, as visible, somethings again are peculiarly applicable to believers, who are members of the invisible Church in it. As by looking to these epistles, Rev. 2 and 3 is clear, all are comprehended in every epistle, yet is the matter diversely to be applied, and these who have ears to hear (that is, are real members of the invisible Church also) are particularly spoken unto, although indefinitely. And why then may not the Church in both these considerations be spoken of here in this Song?

3. If we consider either the visible or invisible Church, as whole or catholic, something is spoken to her under that consideration, namely as catholic. So she is said to be one made up of many (6.9), the Mother having many Daughters, a Vineyard entrusted to all the Keepers, having some Children beloved, others hated, etc. which must be applicable to her as so considered. 

4. If we look to particular members, either, 1. As professors of the visible Church, such as the “Daughters of Jerusalem,” seeking the Beloved with the Bride, and one of them are distinct from another, and from the Watchmen; such are the “threescore queens” and “fourscore concubines” [6.8], as distinct from the Church, considered as one. Or, 2. As members in particular of the invisible Church; so the Bride is distinguished from other professors and believers. She speaks to them and they to her (ch. 2). So is one Queen and Concubine, distinguished from another. Thus also is the Church considered in general, and in individuals, in their carriage. Yea, it serveth much to the scope of edifying believers, that the Church in these respects, be thus distinctly considered and looked upon.

Neither will this be thought strange, if we consider, that the Church however understood, and the particular and individual members thereof (especially of this invisible Church) are of an homogeneous nature; so that what may be said of the whole, may be said of all it’s parts, and what may be predicated concerning the whole essentially, may be predicated of every part, etc. As when we consider the whole element of water, it’s water, so when we consider a drop, it’s also water, and what essential properties do agree to the whole, as such, agrees to every drop of the whole. So is it in the Church. All saints, members of the invisible Church, have the same Spirit, faith, and privileges, the same Covenant, Husband, etc. and what thus essentially agrees to one, agrees to all, and what may be said of all, may be said of one. I say in essentials, because, though there may be many circumstantial, and gradual differences, as one believer may be stronger than another, etc. yet that will not mar this oneness, and agreement in essentials.

III. Everything is not to be applied to each consideration of the Church in the same manner.

Yet we say, everything in this Song is not to be applied to all within the Church, or to the Church under every consideration in the same manner. What agreeth to the Church as visible, will not, at least in the same manner, agree to her considered as invisible, & contra. Nor will everything which agrees to a believer in one case, agree to all. Nay, not to that same believer always. Therefore, there is great need of wariness in application, that the Word may be rightly divided, and the diverse cases of the Church and particular believers would be rightly taken up for that end. Every place is not to be applied to all (though sometimes a place may be taken up under diverse considerations, as from other Scriptures, and the formerly cited Epistles, is clear) but what agrees to everyone, would be so applied, and solely upon that consideration, and under that notion, as it agrees unto such a person or such a case. 

For helping us in this distinct application, it is necessary that we lay down these following rules:

Firstly, we must weigh the particular scope of such a place of Scripture: If it speak something concerning a believer in particular, or the Church in general. If it set out some outward, or some inward thing concerning them.

Secondly, we would consider the matter spoken to, and see how it agreeth, whether to the Church under one consideration, or under another. And if the matter predicated of her, or attributed to her, will agree to her as visible, or as invisible only, for so it is to be applied. If to the whole Church, or if also to all its members, and every particular believer, for so it is to be understood.

Thirdly, we would see how the same matter is applied in other songs and Scriptures, and it will be safe for us to follow the same way of application here. 

Fourthly, we would consider what the particular circumstances, that may be observed in such a particular Scripture, will help in finding out the sense. As who speaketh, to whom, in what frame, on what occasion, etc.

IV. The Song especially speaks to the cases of particular believers.

Yet we say that this Song doth most generally agree, and is especially applicable to the cases of particular believers, because:

1. The scope is not so much to speak to all collectively, as distributively to hold forth the several cases, that all of them, at all times are subject unto. For although every place do not point out the case of the Church in general, or her duty, yet we conceive it is still in every part, pertinent to some one believer or other. Such places must therefore be understood distributively. 

2. The nature and strain of most of those things mentioned in this Song generally will agree best (if not only) to particular believers. As to love Christ, to seek him, to be commended so by him, to be out of one case into another, pursuing after him from one duty to another, etc. Which indeed shews the way of the Church in general, but so as considered in the exercises of her individual members, and in the intercourse of communion, which useth to be betwixt Christ and them, and so agreeth to the Church, only in respect of particular believers.

3. There is a plurality of parties speaking, differenced not only from carnal professors, but from one another, who are commending the Bride, and so loving her and Christ also. Which says that the several parts of this Song must especially be distributively considered of believers severally. 

4. There is no time we can conceive all believers to be in the like case, so that one case or word will not suit them all. As to be “sick of love,” to have “his right hand under her head,” etc. Something then must agree to one, something to another, and both also at different times to the same person. And therefore we must consider this Song, as speaking distributively the Church’s condition, to be applied according to the several cases of the saints, and according to their several conditions. Something as spoken to one, and something to another.

5. The putting of these exercises in a Song, as it were to be learned and sung by particular believers (as a little compend, both of what concerns their faith and manners) was certainly for helping their memories, and furthering their consolation. Which would be much impaired, if in singing of it, particular believers might not suck their own consolation in particular from Christ’s words unto them. And what can hinder, but a believer may say, “I am his, and he is mine,” and that these and other places applicable to them, may not be so applied, seeing their comfort and edification is the scope of this Song? 

V. The Song’s subject matter is the same as many other plain and literal Scriptures.

The last branch of the proposition is that this Song holdeth forth the same love, and care in Christ to his Church, and the same exercises and duties of believers, under figurative terms, which are plainly and properly holden forth in other Scriptures, which are not figurative, such as are in the Gospel, in the Psalms, etc. There are no new, strange, or uncouth cases here; but believers’ ordinary cases, there is no uncouth way of Christ’s here, but what he useth to his Church. It’s often the folly and vanity of men’s minds that when expressions of Scripture look somewhat strange like, they suppose still some uncouth, and strange thing to be there, and therefore loathes that which is plain.

It’s true, the cases mentioned here are most spiritual, having love often drawn in its most bright and lively colors, yet, for substance, the exercises are the same which in other plain Scriptures are otherwise expressed. For, it must express the same cases, or, we must say, it expresseth something different from them, not incident ordinarily to believers, and not mentioned anywhere in Scripture, which to affirm, were both dangerous and absurd. Beside, Christ being still the same in his way with believers, and they having still the same Spirit, and being still under the same Covenant, etc. we can conceive no other thing here, but what he hath expressed concerning himself and them, other-where in Scripture. And certainly, the scope of this Song is, rather in a sweet way, to compact together the ordinary cases of believers, and their consolations, for their edification, than to pitch on strange things, or make new cases, which would not be so profitable unto them, and would wrong, and enervate the great intent of this Song.

We proceed now, and shall draw some conclusions from these propositions….

Doctrine and Practice must be drawn from the Song.

We gather from what hath been said, that seeing this Song may be expounded, then doctrines for grounding our faith, and directing our practice, may warrantably be drawn from it, for the edification of God’s people—seeing it is Scripture. And although it be allegorical, it is in a special way useful for edification, and may as bread be broken to the children. It’s not only consistent with the nature of plain Scriptures, but also of allegories, that they be thus extended in their use. We shall clear this conclusion in these three:

First, there may be doctrines drawn from this Song, in reference to all cases that are incident to a believer. As, 1. In reference to the case of the Church, in all its considerations, visible or invisible, catholic or particular. And, 2. In reference to the more private and personal cases of believers, doctrines instructing them both in faith and manners, etc. For the doctrines must rise as extensively as their scope and matter. And these are of a great reach and extent, as formerly hath been said. Such doctrines then, when handled in this Song, would not be thought strange, nor unsuitable to it; but the broader they arise, the Spirit’s wisdom and contrivance in this Song will be the more wonderful and evident.

2. These doctrines, must not be taken from the words properly, but allegorically understood, according to the intention of the Spirit in them, even as from parables, and other clearer allegories and figures in Scripture, it useth to be done.

3. These doctrines so drawn, when rightly concluded from the text and scope, are solid and sure, useful for faith and manners, as doctrines drawn from other places of Scripture are. For, 1. It’s certain that many Scriptures are allegorically set down, and is their authority therefore any way less than that of other Scriptures? And if their authority be such in themselves, as is the authority of other Scriptures, then their exposition and doctrines drawn from them must be solid and useful as those that are drawn from other Scriptures. Or, 2. We must say, there is no use of such Scriptures, which were blasphemous. And if they be useful, there may be solid uses drawn from them, as from other Scriptures. 3. Our Lord useth parables and allegories often in the Gospel, and that in things relating both to faith and manners. Which sayeth, the use of them is solid and safe, when they are rightly understood and applied.

How to Interpret Scriptural Allegories.

All the difficulty is in the right understanding of them, and because allegories are frequent in Scripture, and this Song is wholly made up of allegories. Therefore, both for removing prejudices, and facilitating our way, I shall speak something to these three. 1. We shall shew what an allegorical exposition, or rather the exposition of an allegory is. 2. When it is necessary to understand a scripture allegorically. 3. How to walk in attaining the solid meaning or how to know if such a thing is the meaning of an allegorical scripture.

I. The Difference between Allegorical Exposition and Exposition of Allegory.

For the first, There is a great difference betwixt an allegorical exposition of Scripture, and an exposition of allegorical Scripture. The first is that which many Fathers and Schoolmen fail in, that is, when they allegorize plain scriptures and histories, seeking to draw out some secret meaning other than appeareth in the words—and so will fasten many senses upon one Scripture. This is indeed unsafe, and is justly reprovable. For, this maketh clear Scripture dark, and obtrudeth meanings on the words, never intended by the Spirit. As, suppose one speaking of Goliath‘s combat and David’s, should pass by the letter, and expound Goliath to be the Flesh, or the Devil, and David to be the Spirit, or Christ. Such expositions may have some pleasantness, but often little solidity; and such who most commonly thus interpret Scripture often fall in errors. As guilty of this fault Origen is generally complained of, though more also be guilty, as might be cleared by many instances.

An exposition of an allegorical Scripture is the opening and expounding of some dark Scripture (wherein the mind of the Spirit is couched and hid under figures and allegories) making it plain and edifying, by bringing out the sense according to the meaning of the Spirit in the place, though at first, it seemed to bear out no such thing. So in Matthew 13, Christ expoundeth that parable or allegory (for, though Rhetoricians make a difference between similitudes, or parables, and allegories; yet, in Divinity there is none, but that allegories are more large and continued) calling “the Seed,” “the Word;” “the Sower,” “the Son of Man,” etc. This way of expounding such dark Scriptures is both useful and necessary, and was often used as edifying by our Lord to his disciples. Now, it’s this we speak of, which teacheth how to draw plain doctrines out of allegories, and not to draw allegories out of plain histories or doctrines.

II. When it is Necessary to Understand Scripture Allegorically.

It may be asked then, When are we to account a place of Scripture allegorical, and are we to seek out some other meaning than what at first appeareth? 

Answer. First, When the literal proper meaning looketh absurd like, or is empty, and nothing to edification. As when it is said, we must eat Christ’s flesh, whereby believing is expressed [John 6]. And so, these Scriptures that do command to “pluck out the right eye,” “cut off the right hand,” “take up our cross,” etc. All which, if literally understood, were absurd and ridiculous. And therefore, the mistaking such Scriptures hath occasioned many errors, as that of the Anthropomorphites, attributing members, to wit, head, hands, feet, etc. to God; and passions, yea, infirmities, as anger, repenting, etc. because the Scripture speaking of God, after the manner of men, doth allegorically attribute to him, eyes, hands, wrath, etc. 

2. These places of Scripture are to be accounted allegorical which reach not the scope of edification, intended by them if literally understood. As when Christ hath spoken of sowing, the disciples thought that some more was intended than at first appeared. For, his aim could not be to discourse of husbandry to them. So gathers the Apostle an allegory from these words, “Thou shalt not muzzle the mouth of the ox that treadeth out the corn.” And so also, that and the like precepts, discharging the Jews, “the sowing their fields with diverse grains,” etc. Which though they be not wholly allegorical, but have in the letter their own truth, yet, somewhat in these beyond what appears, was aimed at by the Spirit. For, saith the Apostle, “doth God care for oxen?” that is, that precept hath a further scope (1 Cor. 9.9-10).

3. When a literal sense would obtrude some falsity on the Scripture, then such a Scripture is to be understood allegorically. As when Christ said, “Destroy this Temple, and I will build it up in three days;” it is not to be understood of the material house, or Jewish Temple, because then Christ’s Word would not have had it’s accomplishment—but Allegorically of his body. So, when Christ saith, “except a man eat his flesh, he shall not live” (John 6.53), it cannot be understood literally, seeing all who have obtained life, did never eat his flesh in a carnal bodily way. 

4. Any Scripture is to be accounted allegorical when the literal sense agreeth not with other Scriptures, and is not repugnant to the Analogy of Faith, or rules of right manners. As, when we are commanded to heap coals of fire upon the head of our enemy [Prov. 25.22; Rom. 12.20]. Now, it were against the command of not avenging ourselves if literally and properly understood. It must therefore signify some other thing. 

5. When a literal sense answereth not the present scope of the speaker, and the speaker would be thought impertinent, if his words were properly taken, then it would seem necessary to expound it as an allegory. So Mat. 3.10, when John is pressing repentance, he saith, “The axe is laid to the root of the tree,” etc. And that parable of Christ’s speaking of the husbandman that spared his tree three years (Luke 13.7). If these places were only properly understood, they would not enforce repentance, which is aimed at. They must therefore be expounded as having something more in them of a deeper reach, which may conduce to that scope.

And seeing according to these rules, all the absurdities mentioned would follow if this Song were literally and properly expounded, it must therefore be taken allegorically, and the doctrines must be drawn from its inside, or scope, when the veil of the allegory is laid by.

III. How to Properly Interpret Allegories.

But because it’s dangerous to leave men to coin what expositions they please of such Scriptures, therefore as upon the one hand, it’s absurd to cast all doctrines from them as unsolid, so upon the other hand, we would see what may fix us in a solid exposition, and so what may be esteemed a well grounded doctrine drawn from such an allegory.

Five Rules for the Proper Interpretation of Scripture Allegories.

I shall, in order to our help in this, name five rules, whereof the last is safest.

First, some allegories at the first view seem plain and imprint their meaning on these that have the least capacity, that it may be known, at least, what in general they aim at. And therefore, such are left frequently in Scripture unexpounded, and are used to press most obvious truths, such is that of John, The axe is laid to the root of the tree; and he hath his fan in his hand,” etc. (Mat. 3.10). The meaning whereof, is at first obvious to be a peremptory certification pressing present repentance. So is the Parable of the Marriage (Mat. 22.1), which at first view appears to be understood of espousing believers to Christ as their husband. And so Christ’s command to “take up the cross,” etc. These, as to their meaning, are obvious, and we think such is this Song in its general series. The very reading of it seems to imprint that Christ and his people must be taken up as the parties, and the love here spoken of, must be such as is betwixt them. And though particular expressions be dark, thus far it is obvious.

2. The meaning of an allegory, may be gathered from the common use of such phrases and expressions in our common use, so kissing and embracing, etc. signify love, and are expressions of mutual affection. In an allegory then, these, and such like, are to express analogically some spiritual thing, answerable in our spiritual life to such things in our bodily life. Thus they express spiritual love and the sense of it. Thus eyes, hands, feet, etc. applied to God, denote some singular property in him. If allegorically applied to believers, they denote some qualification of the new man that hath some analogy and resemblance to these, as knowledge, activity, patience, etc. because, by our eye we see, by our hand we work, and by our feet we walk and travel, etc. Thus are they transferred, to hold out some other thing than appeareth at first from the words, and the work of the interpreter is to bring out the scope and matter in plain expressions, that it may look like the thing it is, and which is aimed at as the scope.

3. It’s helpful in expounding allegories to know how such phrases are expounded in other places. As when some things are spoken of David that cannot literally agree to David, then see who is meant, in other places of Scripture, by him. If it cannot be known what is meant by a marriage tie here, seeing it can be no human thing, see what other spiritual marriage is spoken of in any other place of Scripture, and who are the parties, and this is to be expounded by that. 

4. Being to interpret any allegorical place of Scripture, we would see, not only to the scope of all Scripture, and the Analogy of Faith in general, but to the scope of the Spirit in that place. As for example, if we would understand what is intended by the Parable of the Prodigal, we would first consider the scope, which is to shew God’s ready welcoming of a sinner, and then level the exposition, as serving to illustrate that scope. So we would consider what is the Bride’s scope, and it’s to describe Christ (5.10). And we would consider what is the Bridegroom’s scope, and it’s to describe her (7.1). So then it agrees with the scope to open these places and apply them to what is commendable in him, and her. And thus the exposition and doctrines from it do not only suit with the Analogy of Faith, and are not contrary to sound doctrine, but also suit with the intention of the Spirit there, and are agreeable to it. For the Holy Ghost under general commendations, may include all particulars, which may serve to make out the general.

And so when the scope is to hold Christ out as all desires, then whatever makes him appear desirable, and standeth with the analogy of the expression, may well stand with that scope. This is sure, especially when negatively it’s inferred, that is, when such a scope necessarily inferreth such a doctrine, and when that scope could not be attained if such a doctrine were not supposed. As when in general, Christ and his Church are holden out to stand in a near relation together, and so to carry one towards each other, as being under such a relation, this will necessarily infer a Covenant, and an union by faith upon the grounds of it, and some evidencing of the proofs of Christ’s love, etc. because without these, that relation could never have been, nor can it without them be understood by us.

5. The last rule, which we call most sure, is this: Then we may safely conclude that we have reached the true meaning of an allegorical Scripture, when from the Scripture in the same or other places, agreeing with the scope of the present allegory, we gather in plain expressions what is meant thereby, or what was intended by the Spirit in such an allegorical expression. As when Christ clears the Parable of the Sower, he calleth “the seed,” “the Word,” etc. which makes the meaning clear, and above question. Or, when a plain expression is mixed in with the allegory. So that expression, “Let him kiss me,” etc. (1.2) in the words following is expounded by a more plain expression, to wit, “thy love is better,” etc. Hence we solidly gather that by kisses are meant love. And this doctrine is sure, Christ’s love is vehemently desired by the Bride. These ways for finding out what is the sense of such Scriptures are safe. And therefore, that saying, “symbolic Scriptures are not argumentative,” is to be understood with a limitation, to wit, except in so far as the scope and meaning of the Spirit is known, and in so far as the allegory, or the several parts thereof agreeth with, and conduceth to, the clearing and making up of the known scope.

All these ways going together and taken along with us, we may through God’s blessing, undertake the opening of this Song, and draw doctrines from it so expounded—not only agreeable to other Scriptures and the Analogy of Faith, but also as agreeable to the scope of this Song. Yea, even the scope of such a portion of it, though possibly every expression in its meaning be not so fully reached. Which is not the thing we dare promise, but humbly to essay the making of it in some measure clear, relishing, amiable, and comfortable to God’s people. And so we leave this conclusion.

. . .

In the last place, for better understanding of the subject of this Song, we would take along with us: 1. Some Observations. 2. Some Rules.

I. Observations for the Better Understanding of the Song.

1. The subject thereof is to hold forth the mutual and interchangeable exercise, and out-lettings of love, as well betwixt Christ and particular believers, as betwixt him and the Church. As also his various dispensations to the Bride, her diverse conditions and tempers, and both his and her carriage under them, and her out-gates.

2. The manner in which this sweet subject is set down is by way of dialogue, in several conferences, after a dramatic way (as it’s called) because thus the mutual love of these parties is best expressed. In which there are, 1. The principal parties in the discourse. 2. Others as friends or attendants waiting on. In the Gospel there are mentioned the “Bridegroom,” and his “friends,” and the “Bride” (John 3.28-29). And “children of the marriage chamber” are spoken of (Mat. 9.15), by which are understood “virgins” and “companions” that attend her, and also go forth to wait on him. Which are of two sorts, some wise, being really so, some foolish, being wise in profession only (Mat. 25.1-2). There is also mention made of a “Mother,” which hath two sorts of children, some born after the “Flesh”—and but children as it were of the “Bond-woman”—others born after the “Spirit,” and true members of the Church invisible (Gal. 4.26). The former persecutes the latter; and of both kinds of children are some of all ranks, amongst priests, apostles, ministers, etc.

The Parties in the Song.

We will find all these parties in this Song, acting their several parts:

First, the Bridegroom is Christ (John 3.24), called the “one Husband” (2 Cor. 11.2), for there is not another spiritual husband to whom believers can be matched. He is “the King’s son,” for whom the marriage is made (Mat. 22.1-2). He is “the Lamb” unto whose marriage the hearers of the Gospel are invited (Rev. 19.9; Psal. 45). He is the King unto whom the Queen is to be brought after she is adorned—by this name he is also styled in this Song, “the King” (1.4. 12, etc.) and “the Beloved.” Those and such titles are given to him which cannot be understood to be attributed to any but to Christ only, by believers. 

2. The Bride is the Church, and every believer in diverse considerations (as is said before) who are married to Christ, and are to be made ready and adorned for the solemnizing of the marriage. Of the nature of this marriage see more (8.8). 

3. The Bridegroom’s friends are honest ministers who rejoice to see him great. Such as John was (John 3.29), and such were the Apostles (John 15.15). Such are here the Watchmen, trusted with the oversight and edification of others, spoken unto in 2.15, and spoken of in 3.3.

4. The Virgins, or children of the marriage-chamber, are here called “Daughters of Zion” (3.11) and “of Jerusalem” (many whereof are weak, ready to stumble, 1.6, and of little knowledge, 5.9, and ready to stir up the Bridegroom, 3.5) and the “Virgins that love” Christ (1.3) and “the upright” (1.4).

5. The Mother is the universal visible Church, wherein are many true believers, who are converted to Christ by the Word and ordinances dispensed therein, and to which also many hypocrites belong as members. 

6. The Children of the Promise, are true virgins that love Christ. The children of the bond-woman, and the flesh, are unrenewed professors in the Church, as also, false teachers, who act their part here likewise (1.6; 2.15; 5.7).

3. This conference, as it is betwixt Christ and the believer, is followed as betwixt married parties. 1. In their titles they attribute to each other. 2. In their claiming of this relation one in another, as that he is her’s, and she is his. 3. In their expressions, which are such as used to be betwixt most loving parties who live exercising conjugal love, most kindly and intimately together. The reason whereof is,

1. To shew the near union that is betwixt Christ and his Church. There is a relation, and a most near relation betwixt them, that is not betwixt him and any others.

2. To shew the kindly effects of that relation in both the parties, especially the faithfulness and tenderness of the husband, in walking according to it in everything.

3. It’s to sweeten every piece of exercise the believer meets with. Yea, to make all dispensations digest the better, seeing they are dispensed and ordered by such a loving husband.

4. It’s for warming the believer’s heart the more to Christ, and to make this Song heartsome and delightsome, that so believers may have always a marriage Song, and every night may be to them as a marriage night.

4. The purpose or subject of this Song is Christ and divine things of all sorts, but mainly the experiences of grown Christians, held forth in most noble and lively expressions, as was before a little cleared.

5. The scope of all is to express the desirableness of fellowship with the Bridegroom, and how the Bride thirsteth and longeth for it, and how careful she is to entertain it, and by laying out his matchless excellencies to commend him to others. Which also seems to be the scope and design for which this Scripture is given to the Church. And so her breathing after communion with him doth here begin the conference, “Let him kiss me,” etc. (1.2).

6. The manner of their expression is,

1. Sweet and loving: and therefore, this conference is carried on under the terms of marriage, and the titles of “beloved,” “my love,” “spouse,” etc. (as being the most lively that can express that relation, and most apposite for entertaining of mutual love) are here made use of.

2. The manner of expression is something obscure, though sweet, that so the Lord’s people may be stirred up to painfulness and diligence in searching out his mind. And also, because the mysteries here contained are great and cannot, as they are in themselves, be conceived. Therefore that they may be illustrated, parables are used, as Matthew 13.34 compared with Mark 4.33 where it’s clear that the intent and effect of the Lord’s speaking by parables is to help some to take up these mysteries, and to leave some ignorant.

3. The Spirit of God doth here make use of borrowed expressions—the more lively to set out the spiritual matter contained under them—and by things most taking and best known to our senses, to hold out divine mysteries unto which these expressions are to be applied.

4. Often these same expressions are made use of in one place, in speaking to the Bridegroom, and in another speaking to the Bride, he calling her “chief amongst the Daughters” [2.2], and she him “chief amongst the Sons” [5.10], but in a different sense. For, he styles her from his acceptation of her, and from his imputation and communication of his graces to her. But she styles him from his own excellency and worth, he having all in himself, and nothing borrowed from any other, but imparting that which is his, to her.

II. Rules for the Better Understanding of the Song.

The rules we would take along with us in our proceeding are these: 

First, we would find out who speaks in every passage of this Song—for this serves much to clear what is spoken.

2. We would carefully ponder, what is the purpose of the Spirit in every part thereof.

3. We must apply and conform expressions to the scope, and expound them by it, and not stick too much in following of everything which these allegories seem to bear; but draw the doctrines from them, being compared with the scope, and other places of Scripture, not insisting too far upon the similitudes.

4. We are to take special notice of the Bride’s frame in her manner of speaking. For we may observe that often in the vehemency of her passionate love, she breaks out without any seen connection or order (as in 1.2), and by cutted, broken, and vehement expressions, in her diverse flames and tender fits, as her case is up or down (abruptly, as it were), she useth to express herself.

5. We must not apply all so to the Church as to shut out [individual] believers, nor contrarily, but take in both, where both may come in. And more especially apply to the one, where the purpose makes most for it, as hath been said.


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