Many have applied this wonderful book of scripture to the church, many more to the soul, in relation to the Lord Jesus. Nor is it denied for a moment that there is a principle common to all born of God, the love to Him Who died for all that enter by faith into the love of God in Christ, the love which His known love creates, itself passing knowledge.
But is there the smallest reason to question that the book really contemplates, what the O. T. does every where, that object which is so precious to Messiah on earth, confirmed as it is by so many proofs in the Psalms (especially 45) and the Prophets (Isa. 62.)?* Solomon accordingly was no unsuited vessel for the Spirit to employ in this respect. The N.T. treats Christ and the church as a secret kept hid in God till the apostle Paul was employed to make it known; so that the bearing is naturally on the mutual love of Messiah and His earthly bride, the daughter of Zion, and other such figurative terms. It seems difficult to men who look only at the past to realise what divine mercy is yet to effect in Jerusalem; when, instead of her old rebellion and treachery, the city of the Great King shall be the object of Jehovah's delight, called by a new name, a crown of beauty and a royal diadem in His hand, and shall stand at His right hand as the queen in gold of Ophir, a praise in the earth.
* Of the few rationalists Rosenmüller and Eichhorn urged Chaldaisms to unsettle the authorship and lower the date. But Gesenius, a better judge of Hebrew than most, and in no way bound by tradition, had no doubt that it is of the golden age, and its few anomalies otherwise explicable.
In fact a great deal of the perplexity among the commentators is owing to misapplication. Literalists are apt here, as elsewhere, to deprive the book of a worthy object and divine character. Thus, according to one of the latest and ablest, it is intended to display the victory of humble and constant love over the temptations of wealth and royalty! Such an aim might suit the Idyls of Theocritus or the Eclogues of his Latin imitator, Vergil; but it betrays fatal ignorance of O. T. scripture, which rises habitually above the immediate historical occasions into a purpose of grace. It is the more easily overlooked, because its accomplishment awaits the grand future when Messiah shall have the object of His nearest affections here below answering to His love. As a whole it is typical or allegorical, however unbelief may miss the object.
The Song of songs accordingly fills a place in the O. T. which is as unique as the Book of Psalms, while both are without counterpart in the N. T. where neither was directly needed, and the Christian as well as the church could use both fittingly, mutatis mutandis, in keeping with our own distinctive relationship. For us redemption is accomplished, salvation come, and righteousness revealed. The accepted work of Christ glorified on high and the gift of the indwelling Holy Spirit place us in a position very different from that which is contemplated in Canticles. Hence the wonderful reality which the Christian and the church alike and already possess of union with Christ, where, by the Spirit, there is still the power of hope, because we await the consummation, the actual bridals in heaven, after being caught up to be with Christ (Rev. 19) For us the relationship is so established that the affections can flow, and the walk be expected, which suit her who is Christ's body and bride (Eph. 5, Rev. 22). This is in contrast with the Jewish position here set forth, where the relationship is as yet only desired and has to be formed, or at most re-established. Hence we have the varied exercises of the heart, through circumstances of trial that issue in profit, set on the profession of what is dearest, but not yet enjoying it in peace. And as we could not without the inspiring Spirit have had such a collection as the Psalms from a people under the law, a ministry of death and condemnation; so still less if possible such an anticipation of the mutual love of Messiah and Jerusalem that is to be; whereas the Christian and the church are morally capable of uttering our own psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, in the enjoyment of His love and our intimate relationship as one with Him. What, next to having eternal life and redemption and our proper relationship to Christ, can be more important than the enjoyment of His love and the kindling and strengthening and fixing of ours! We love Him because He first loved us.