Thoughts on Canticles.

1869 225 Of all the songs of Solomon, amounting to 1,005, there is only one that has come down to our day. Written by the Spirit of God, and inserted in the volume of the book, whilst some inspired communications have perished, this survives, and will, may we not say it, be a comfort and delight to the godly remnant of his people in the latter day, when the circumstances of the spouse, described in this song, will be found to delineate, as the prophetic word of God only can, the condition of the people, whose hearts have been turned to the Lord during the time of Jacob's trial, and the domination of Antichrist. But, as it gives us the exercises of the heart that seeks after an object which will satisfy it, and the unchanging affection of the one it seeks after, we can read it with profit to ourselves, since, whilst illustrating the changing character of our affection towards the Lord, it brings out the abiding character of His love. To point out the unchanging character of His love as here brought out is the object of the present paper.

The words of the spouse commence the book. We hear her voice at the beginning, she breaks the silence as it were; and we hear her voice at the close. She speaks of her beloved, and to him. He speaks to her and her only, and manifests to her his love. She begins by declaring her desire to receive the proof of his affection. She knows what his love is. "Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth." She can say, assigning as a reason, "for thy love is better than wine." It is no stranger that she thus addresses. "The virgins," she continues, "love thee." Under what circumstances there had been previous acquaintance is not related. Nothing of the past is told us about him, but she acquaints us with something of her previous history. She had been in trial. (Cant. 1:5, 6.) Her mother's children were angry with her, and made her keeper of the vineyards. Of him we learn what offices he fills — he is king and shepherd, and Solomon is as such, the representative of the blessed.

At the outset of the song she is occupied with two things, her beloved and herself, throughout it, he is occupied with but one object, his loved one. "I am black but comely." "I am the rose of Sharon and the lily of the valley," she says. To her companions she said the first, to her beloved she addressed the second. Her description is correct, it is no overstatement; he assures her she is comely (Cant. 1:10), and tells out that as "the lily among the thorns so is my love among the daughters." (Cant. 2:2.) He thus takes up her language about herself. She is all that in his eyes. He sees a comeliness in her though she may have been exposed to the sun's rays. Why should she think of herself? Fair is she in his eyes, nor is that all; he would have her with him, and she knows it, for she gives us the very words of his invitation. (Cant. 2:8-13.) He will not be satisfied without her, so he invites her to go forth with him. Her countenance too he would see, her voice he would hear. "Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away," he says. What is her answer "Until the day break, and the shadows flee away, turn, my beloved: and be thou like a roe or a young hart on the mountains of Bether." (Cant. 2:17.) She would have him with her, but does not respond to the invitation to go forth with him. The ordinary time of day for going out had not arrived, the suited hour she thinks, had not approached. She would judge for herself of the fitness of the time to go forth instead of leaving that, as she ought to have done, to him. She did not go forth as he asked her, so does not find him with her, as she had requested. His absence draws out her heart after him, and she goes out at an unseasonable hour to seek for him. Her question to the watchmen shows where her heart is, as, full of him she loves, she mentions not to them the name of her beloved. (Cant. 3:3.) She finds him, and constrains him to return with her. In this she shows her love, and in being thus constrained he proves his love to her. She had declined his invitation, he refuses not to go with her. He had been slighted by her, she should not know what it was to be slighted by him.

After this we have a description of his majesty coming out of the wilderness. It attracts; and the daughters of Jerusalem are exhorted to go forth, and behold king Solomon with the crown wherewith his mother crowned him in the days of his espousals, and in the day of the gladness of his heart. All are occupied with him. With what is he occupied? Is he thinking of his majesty? Do his thoughts centre round his crown? He is occupied, but it is with her who is his love, and with nothing else. Of her he thinks, with her beauty and sweetness he is taken up. She had failed, but his love could not fail. "Behold, thou art fair, my love; behold, thou art fair: thou hast doves' eyes." (Cant. 4:1.) Before he had endorsed what she had said of herself, here, unasked, he expresses what she is. What he had said in Cant. 1:15 he reiterates at the beginning of this chapter. How little could she have expected this after the way she had acted. But he does more than this. At first be had only spoken of her eyes; now he gives a full description of his spouse. Nothing escapes his notice, with every feature he is conversant, and all find favour in his sight. So we read, "Thou art all fair my love; there is no spot in thee." (Cant. 4:7.) Comely and fragrant is she to him. Beautiful objects of nature and art alone could describe her appearance; the most valuable spices that were cultivated must be enumerated and massed together to express her sweetness. What delight he finds in her. How true, how deep must be that love which is thus occupied with such an one as her. To him she is all that is comely, all that is fragrant, and this he tells her himself. She knew his desire for her presence with him; she learns from his lips what she is in his eyes.

Another opportunity is offered her of responding to his invitation; but how does she use it? He calls to her from without, not to go out to him, but to open the door that he might enter the chamber where she was. But a short time before she had taken him into her mother's chamber. He stands without and tells her his condition, his "head filled with dew, and his locks with the drops of the night." Surely, she will at once open the door to him. She hears his voice, knows what he says, but remains where she is. "I have put off my coat; how shall I put it on? I have washed my feet; how shall I defile them?" (Cant. 5:3.) Self comes in, and keeps her from opening the door. At first we saw her thinking of her appearance, now she thinks of the trouble it will cost her. Before when he had spoken, she intimated that his invitation is premature, now she would tell him his call was out of season. Need we wonder at her? Have not many practically acted as she did?

Again he withdraws himself, he could not act otherwise, for she must be made sensible of her coldness. Yet he would assure her of the unchanging character of his love. She might change or grow cold, he could not. She opens the door, but he was gone. Was that all she found? In his love he leaves her a token of affection which she well understood. "I rose to open to my beloved, and my hands dropped with myrrh, and my fingers with sweet smelling myrrh, upon the handles of the lock." Whence came this? "My beloved put in his hand by the hole of the door." He had anointed the handle of the door with this perfume in token of his unabated affection, even when she was cold towards him. What proof could she give of her love? His withdrawal witnessed of her remissness. What a proof had he left of his as her hands dropped with myrrh, and her fingers with sweet scented myrrh on the handles of the lock.

A second time she seeks him abroad in the streets. Her remissness draws her a second time into a position unsuited for such an one. The watchmen find her without, and put her to shame as they took away her veil. Her companions are made acquainted with her condition, as she sends a message by them to her beloved if they found him. She might have spoken to him face to face, but she would not, and now she is reduced to be uncovered by the keepers of the wall, and to solicit the help of her companions to recover her beloved. To their request about him, she answers at once, giving a full description of his appearance. He had seen beauty in her, she had seen comeliness in him. Suffering as she did for her conduct towards him, she is once more with him (for he was willing to be found of her), and he is proved to be unchanged, for, as before, he speaks first. He waits not to hear what she has to say in extenuation of her fault; he speaks, not to upbraid or condemn, but to assure her of her beauty in his eyes. "Thou art beautiful, O my love, as Tirzah; comely as Jerusalem, terrible as an army with banners." As before, he has but one object of special delight — herself. "There are three-score queens, and fourscore concubines, and virgins without number. My dove, my undefiled is but one." How perfect was his love! It had an object at the beginning of the song from which nothing would divert it. Unworthy of it she was, but he could not change. He sought her, he desired her, his dove, his undefiled was but one, there was not another to be compared with her in his eyes.

At the close of the song (Cant. 8:12) she avails herself of an opportunity of showing his value in her eyes. "My vineyard, which is mine, is before me; thou, O Solomon, must have a thousand, and those that keep the fruit thereof two hundred." But is this wilt he cared for? Would the thousand pieces of silver satisfy him? Let us hear his response: "Thou that dwellest in the gardens, the companions hearken to thy voice: cause me to hear it." Her voice to him was more refreshing than any present of money she could bring. The sound of her voice he desired to hear; nothing short of that would fully please him. What he had said in Cant. 2:14 is what he concludes with here. His last recorded wish is to hearken to her voice. "Cause me to hear it." In him there was — in Him who is really figured here there is — no change.

A few words to point out, as far as the original guides us, where the change of speakers takes place, may be of use.

Cant. 1:1, the title; Cant. 1:2-7, the spouse; Cant. 1:8-11, the beloved; Cant. 1:12-14, the spouse; Cant. 1:15, the beloved Cant. 1:16 — Cant. 2:1, the spouse; Cant. 2:2, the beloved; Cant. 2:3 — Cant. 3:5, the spouse; Cant. 3:6-11, the companions probably of the spouse; Cant. 4:1-15, the beloved; Cant. 4:16, the spouse; Cant. 5:1, the beloved; Cant. 5:2-8, the spouse; Cant. 5:9, the companions Cant. 5:10-16, the spouse; Cant. 6:1, the companions; Cant. 6:2, 3, the spouse; Cant. 6:4-12, the beloved; Cant. 7:1, the companions say, "Return, return, O Shulamite, return, return that we may look upon thee." The spouse answers, "What will ye see," etc.; Cant. 7:2-9, as far as "best wine," are the words of the beloved. Here the spouse breaks in, "For my beloved," and continues to Cant. 8:4, when the companions ask, "Who is this that cometh up from the wilderness, leaning upon her beloved? "The spouse answers, "I raised thee up," etc., and continues to Cant. 8:7, 8, 9, the companions or brethren of the spouse according to some; Cant. 8:10-12, the spouse; Cant. 8:13, the beloved; Cant. 8:14, the spouse.

Some regard Cant. 2:7, Cant. 3:5, Cant. 8:4 as the language of the beloved, but probably without sufficient grounds. C. E. Stuart.