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Jonathan Edwards on Christ and the Song of Songs

While preparing a lecture on "Jonathan Edwards' Christology of the Song of Songs" for the Jonathan Edwards for the Church Conference, I happened across a fascinating historical and theological discovery. Having begun his Notes on Scripture very early in his ministry (1724),  Edwards wrote the final entry #507 in 1756--just two years before he died. This entry is a comparison between the Song of Songs and Psalm 45. The timing of this entry reveals that Edwards, far from holding to an immature, unformed and speculative interpretation of the Song, was convinced of its Christological purport at the zenith of his theological studies. It is well know, and well attested, that Edwards was thoroughly convinced that the Song was a redemptive song about Christ and the church. Stephen J. Stein explains Edwards' commitment to this hermeneutic when he notes:

Edwards joined the long line of expositors who have addressed the question of the nature of this song. He left no ambiguity in his answer. It is "no common love song or epithalamium," a judgment he also rendered about Psalms 45 (p. 608). On the contrary, he asserted, Canticles is "a song of love between Christ and the church, or the assembly of the saints" who are "spiritual virgins" (p. 610). Edwards marshaled the variety of comparisons in the text as evidence against the notion that Canticles is a human love song. Comparing the church to a company of horses, for example, fits with Christ's being conveyed on a chariot of truth drawn by the church, especially by "the ministers of the gospel" (p. 611). Christ's love is "as the lily among thorns," or as the "true church among false churches," for persecutors are compared to thorns (p. 613).

Underlying Edwards' approach to Psalm 45 as an interpretive guide to the Song is the explicit Christological defense of the Psalm in Hebrews 1:8-10. In his final entry to Notes, Edwards' set both love songs side by side in order to defend a Christological reading of Canticles based on the obvious similarity of symbolism. He wrote:

507. The great agreement between the BOOK OF SOLOMON'S SONG and the Psalms 45, and the express and full testimonies of the New Testament for the authority and divine inspiration of that psalm in particular, and that the bridegroom there spoken of is Christ, whose bride, the New Testament abundantly teaches us, is the church, I say, this agreement with those full testimonies are a great confirmation of the constant tradition of the Jewish church, and the universal and continual suffrage of the Christian church for the divine authority and spiritual signification of this song, as representing the union and mutual love of Christ and his church, and enervates the main objections against it. They agree in all particulars that are considerable, so that there is no more reason to object against one than the other.

They are both love songs.

In both, the lovers spoken [of] are compared to a man and a woman, and their love to that which arises between the sexes among mankind. 

Both these songs treat of these lovers with relation to their espousals one to another, representing their union to that of a bridegroom and bride.

In both the bridegroom is represented as a king, and in both the bride is spoken of as a king's daughter. Psalms 45:13, "The king's daughter is all glorious," etc.Canticles 7:1, "How beautiful are thy feet, O prince's daughter."

In each, both the bridegroom and bride are represented as very fair or beautiful. The bridegroom, Psalms 45:2, "Thou art fairer than the sons of men."Canticles 5:10, "My beloved is white and ruddy, the chiefest among ten thousands."

In both the bridegroom is represented as greatly delighted with the beauty of the bride. Psalms 45:11, "So shall the king greatly desire thy beauty." Canticles 4:9, "Thou hast ravished my heart, my sister, my spouse; thou hast ravished my heart with one of thine eyes, with one chain of thy neck."

In both the speech of the bridegroom is represented as exceeding excellent and pleasant. Psalms 45:2, "Grace is poured into thy lips." Canticles 5:16, "His mouth is most sweet."

In both the ornaments of the bride are represented by costly, beautiful, and splendid attire, and in both as adorned with gold. Psalms 45:9, "Upon thy right hand did stand the queen in gold of Ophir." Psalms 45:13–14, "Her clothing is of wrought gold. She shall be brought unto the king in raiment of needlework."Canticles 1:10–11, "Thy cheeks are comely with rows of jewels, and thy neck with chains of gold. We will make thee borders of gold with studs of silver."Canticles 7:1, "How beautiful are thy feet with shoes, O prince's daughter!"

The excellencies, and amiable and honorable endowments, of the bridegroom in both are represented by perfumed ointment. Psalms 45:7, "Hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows." Canticles 1:3, "Because of the savor of thy good ointments, thy name is as ointment poured forth; therefore do the virgins love thee."

In both the excellent gifts or qualifications of these lovers, by which they are recommended to each other, and delighted in one another, are compared to such spices as myrrh, aloes, etc. And in both the sense these lovers have of this amiableness, and that sense by which they have comfort and joy, is represented by the sense of smelling. Psalms 45:8, "All thy garments smell of myrrh, and aloes, and cassia, whereby they have made three glad." Canticles 1:13–14, "A bundle of myrrh is my well-beloved unto me; my beloved is unto me as a cluster of camphire." Canticles 1:12, "While the king sitteth at his table, my spikenard sendeth forth the smell thereof." Canticles 2:13, Let us see whether the vines "give a good smell." Canticles 3:6, "Who is this that cometh up out of the wilderness like pillars of smoke, perfumed with myrrh and frankincense, with all powders of the merchant?"Canticles 4:14, "Spikenard, saffron, calamus, and cinnamon, with all trees of frankincense, myrrh, aloes, with all the chief spices."

Indeed in some parts of Psalms 45, the Psalmist makes use of more magnificent representations of the bridegroom's excellency. Psalms 45:3–4 "And gird thy sword upon thy thigh, O most mighty, with thy glory and thy majesty; and in thy majesty, ride prosperously." So we find it also with respect to the bride Canticles 6:10, "Who is this that looketh forth as the morning, fair as the moon, clear as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners?" And in both these representations the excellencies of these lovers are represented as martial excellency, or the glorious endowments of valiant warriors.

In both these songs the bride is represented as with a number of virgins that are her companions in her nuptial honors and joys. Psalms 45:14, "She shall be brought in unto the king; the virgins, her companions that follow her, shall be brought unto thee." So in many places of Solomon's Song, the spouse is represented as conversing with a number of the daughters of Jerusalem that sought the bridegroom with her, and therefore she speaks in the plural number. Canticles 1:4, "Draw me, we will run after thee; we will be glad and rejoice in thee. We will remember thy love more than wine."

The representation in both of the manner of the bride's being brought into the king with her companions, with great joy, is exactly alike. Psalms 45:14–15, "She shall be brought in unto the king in raiment of needlework. The virgins, her companions that follow her, shall be brought unto thee. With gladness and with rejoicing, shall they be brought unto thee; they shall enter into the king's palace." Compare this with Canticles 1:4, "The king hath brought me into his chambers; we will be glad and rejoice in thee."

Those who are the friends of the bridegroom, that are united to him and partake of his dear love, are in both these songs represented as gracious and holy persons. Psalms 45:4, "In thy majesty ride prosperously because of truth, meekness, and righteousness." Canticles 1:4, "We will remember thy love more than wine; the upright love thee."

To represent the excellency of the bridegroom's place of abode, in Psalms 45:8, the excellent materials that his palace is made of are mentioned.

'Tis represented as made of ivory. In like manner, as the excellent materials of his palace are spoken of, Canticles 1:17, "The beams of our house are cedar, and our rafters of fir," as elsewhere, the materials of his chariot are mentioned, viz. "the wood of Lebanon," gold, silver, and purple (Canticles 3:9–10).

'Tis objected by some against Solomon's Song, that some expressions seem to have reference to the conjugal embraces of the bridegroom. But perhaps there is nothing more directly supporting this than the Psalms 45:14, Psalms 45:15, and Psalms 45:16 verses of the Psalms 45, where seems to be a plain reference to the manner in Israel in which the bride at night used to be led into the bridegroom's bed chamber, her bridesmaids attending her, in the Psalms 45:14 andPsalms 45:15 verses; and then, immediately in the next verse, are we told of the happy fruit of the intercourse in the offspring which they have, "Instead of thy fathers shall be thy children."

'Tis supposed by many to be very liable to a bad construction that the beauty of the various parts of the body of the spouse is mentioned and described in Solomon's Song. But perhaps these are no more liable to a bad construction than the Psalms 45:13, where there is mention of the beauty of the bride's clothes, and her being "glorious within," where setting aside the allegory, or mystical meaning of the song, what is most naturally understood as the most direct meaning would seem to be, that she had not only glorious clothing, but was yet more glorious in the parts of her body within her clothing, that were hid by her clothing.

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