Wednesday, March 28, 2007

A Visit to the Evangelical Library and an Encounter with Jonathan Edwards!

I'm down in London at the moment staying with my friend Pete for some times of prayer and worship and hearing from God. We visited the Evangelical Library for the first proper time for me. It is absolute HEAVEN! Row upon row of dusty shelves with tomes of depth, glory and weight. They also have thousands of journals, periodicals and newspapers that one could just spend weeks in. So while Pete studied books for his sermon preparation I browsed and was thrilled to come across the Yale volumes of the Works of Jonathan Edwards. Although they didn't have my longed-for "Blank Bible" yet, they did have Volume 15, "Notes on Scripture".

What are the "Notes on Scripture"? They are a collection of 507 comments that Jonathan Edwards wrote throughout his life on various Scriptures that he studied in keeping with his Resolution to study the Scriptures daily and intently. The comments themselves are worthy of being published for they show an insight into Scripture that few have today and I am so grateful to Yale for making these historical documents available. I read about half the book while we were there and here are a few notes on Scriptures that stood out to me and opened the Word of God to me in glory.

(p92) - No. 147 - Solomon's Song. "The name by which Solomon calls this song confirms to me that it is more than an ordinary love song and that it was designed for a divine song and of divine authority for we read in 1 Kings 4:32 that Solomon's songs were "a thousand and five". This he called the "Song of Songs" (Canticles 1:1). That is the most excellent of his songs which seems very probable to me to be upon that account because it was a song of the most excellent subject, treating of the love, union and communion between Christ and His spouse of which marriage and conjugal love was but a shadow. These are the most excellent lovers and their love the most excellent love".

I am still reluctant to use the Song of Solomon in debate as I remain haunted by C H Spurgeon's description of debating this most beautiful of books as; "The invasion of the dove's nest of the Canticles with the eagle of debate". Yet C J Mahaney remains unanswered in his message to the Sex and Supremacy of God Conference. I don't think I could have found a better defence for my view of the true meaning of the book of Song of Solomon. Compare Jonathan Edwards argument with Mahaney's view;

I know whom I think I will stand with. Here is another note from Jonathan Edwards;

(p75) - No 86 - Canticles 1:5 - "The people of Kedar it seems used to live in tents, in more able habitations and lived by the feeding of sheep. Therefore the church is very fitly represented by these. It is agreeable to many other representations in Scripture where God's people are called His sheep and His flock, and Christ and His ministers are called shepherds. The church is also compared to a tabernacle or tents; it is fitly compared to moveable tents for here we are pilgrims and strangers and have no abiding place".

Where is there room in Mahaney's view of the Song of Songs for "moveable tents" and "sheep and shepherds"?

Can these be allocated into the picture of marriage? Would he see wives as sheep and husbands as shepherds? Is the tent the marriage home? I'm not quite sure.

Finally moving away from the Song of Solomon and the arguments there, I have one final note from Edwards to quote. Like many, I struggle sometimes with the Old Testament passages to understand them and profit from them for today. The book of Esther is no exception but this note brings awesome illumination into understanding and profiting from Esther!

(p60) - No. 46 - The Book of Esther: "It appears to me very probable that this book of Esther is a history, that it is a shadow of gospel things and times ... the great feast that Ahasureus made is the gospel feast. Vashti is sent for to this feast to appear before the king (1:11) so when the gospel feast was made more especially to the Jews that has hitherto been God's people ... Vashti though she was the king's own wife refused to come for she had a feast of her own. So the Jews though God's perculiar people refused to come to the glorious feast he made through their pride and vanity ... So it will be by the earnest prayer of the church that God's people will be delivered from Antichrist and God will extend the golden sceptre of His grace as the king to Esther (5:2)".

This volume 15 is actually cheaper than the "Blank Bible" and it is currently $80 from Yale. That is £40 in UK prices! Let's seek to reverse the trend somewhat and see some of these awesome volumes come over for our benefit in this country.


jul said...

I think C.J. is so adamant about his view because he cannot conceive of a deeply intimate relationship between us and God. He is strongly against any use of language in worship songs that is remotely similar to romantic or intimate love or emotion. Many men share his distaste for thinking of God as our husband. I don't quite understand this because God obviously created sex and marriage as a pale shadow of something better and eternal that we the church will experience in relationship with him. We are waiting for the return of our bridegroom and the marriage feast of the Lamb after all. I'm not sure it's wise to ban all such 'romantic' language when Scripture uses it so freely.

Baxter's Boy said...

Amen!! Thank you for that! I was just talking about you to Pete and saying how much I love your honesty and straightfowardness! It's very refreshing.

Yes I remember that's one of the things that concerned me so much over the "Draw Me Close to You" debate - remember?! Colson?! Why is it that we men especially find this intimacy hard to stomach?! Of course He is God and He is to be feared and awed. But the veil has been torn in two!! Christ has risen on high - our great High Priest! And with boldness we can draw near!!

I'm not lambasting Mahaney for fun. I am on a mission to see true intimacy restored to the church and I do think this message does damage to that.

Peter Day said...

I have spent a few minutes today in total shock and horror watching part of CJ Mahaney's messsage on Song of Solomon. It was extremely disturbing to hear him mock God's word, and to mock great men of God of past generations that have handed to us such a glorious legacy of exposition.

I was saddened by his quoting of some of the more extreme allegorical comments as if to prove a point that this book cannot possibly reflect Christ's love for His church. It is easy to quote extreme and unusual comments to make a point. But I need to say that the classical interpretation of Song of Songs isn't some narrow-minded invention of the Puritans, it is part of the heritage of the people of God - both of the old and new covenants.

At a recent conference in London, David Davis, pastor of Mount Carmel Assembly in Israel, shared teaching of many rabbis on Song of Solomon. It is interpreted, yes as a glorious reflection of the gift of sexuality. BUT - it is also a glorious and intimate reflection of God's love for His chosen people.

The Hebrew mindset is not shy of talking about sexual matters, but still many scholars have seen this glorious picture of God's love.

CJ Mahaney seems to think that the sexual language is inappropriate when talking of our relationship with God. He used the phrase "erotic language". But Song of Songs is not erotic - it is intimate, joyous, beautiful, passionate. All things that should reflect our relationship with God.

Perhaps this "new" interpretation is an example of interpreting scripture by our experience and not the other way round. Because many do not experience God in this way, it becomes necessary to change our view of scripture!

Let us not downgrade scripture to suit our lack of experience of God's love. Song of Songs should humble us by its powerful language. We should read it on our knees and cry out for the fire of the Spirit to pour into us this passionate love for the Lord. Our experience needs to change. We need to love God like the lover loves Him in Song of Songs. We need to bask in the extravagant love that our Beloved pours on us.

Anonymous said...

I must admit as a crusty old Pentecostal to finding this discussion of visiting a REFORMED library and reading REFORMED books by some young man who calls himself unashamedly a CHARISMATIC, it just baffles one!! ;)

There ... see I use emoticons too!

Part of me sighed reluctantly when I read your dogged determination to fight on about this issue of the Song of Songs. I'd rather you posted glory after glory on aspects of Kingdom life. But I am persuaded by your friends comments and your own that this is a key issue - intimacy in the church. Yes. I admit honestly that as a man I have problems reading the Song of Songs. I have problems keeping my mind pure. I have problems addressing it and seeing it as God-ward and Church-ward.

Yet I have never been tempted to turn it into a sex manual for married Christian couples. Outrageous! Like Dan, I am a single celibate man and therefore Mahaney's argument makes this book of God's Word (of which ALL is profitable for our instruction) unobtainable to me and to Dan and to other single men and women among us!

This simply cannot be. It goes against everything I have ever believed and so I hear and agree with what is being said. Let the intimacy of God return with holy awe and fear. For lest the cloud of glory appear before us and consume us for coming into the sanctuary with strange fire.

Dr S A J Burgess

Anonymous said...

When are you going to learn some respect for a man who is your senior, elder and better?

James B said...

Ah hah one mention of that magic "M" word and our mysterious anonymous angry man appears like a genie!!

I don't think Dan at all is being disrespectful to Mahaney as a person! He is simply expressing concern over a theological concept that Mahaney uttered publicly.

THATS the issue! Surely we are all allowed opinions that should be backed up with Scriptural explanation and reasoned arguing?

Ollie said...

Awesome awesome posts my brother! I love the thought of you scouring the dusty shelves of the E.L and finding a treasure trove in this book! These quotes are like pure gold. I almost felt bad, peering from afar into the heart of a man who was passionately in communion with His God. Who wasn't afraid to be intimate with Him. Who wasn't afraid to call Him Abba.

I find the whole Mahaney thing just plain weird I'm afraid. I think Jul has the most accurate analysis. There is a rabid fear of becoming something less than an "alpha male" and not looking "cool or sporty". Hence this distaste for anything too close. Yet what concerns me is that some are now adjusting Scripture to suit their alpha male likes and dislikes and that ISNT acceptable.

Keep reading and keep writing!!

B.E said...

Oh please. Respect isn't automatically granted. Respect has to be earned. Didn't earn speak of the difference between ecclesiastical appointing and spiritual anointing?

Baxter's Boy said...

I've just discovered how to put titles on my blog posts!! Hurrah!! I feel that is another major breakthrough for the techno-idiot that I am! Very exciting. I'm quite proud of myself!!

Baxter's Boy said...

My friend Luke Wood from Sheffield soon to be Southampton has made an EXTREMELY helpful comment over at the original Song of Solomon post. He said;

"Terry at the last prayer and fasting on Song of Songs being about the church: "I don't have the same problem as CJ with this being about the church as well as about marriage."

Not that that settles it, but it surely gives some leadership to us on the issue!"

If I had any doubts before, I don't know!! Hurrah for Terry!! And for Luke! Thanks for that!

jul said...

Just when I thought I couldn't love Terry more... lol

James B said...

Amen. A true apostolic father who isn't going to allow experience to shape his theology.

Hey Dan. Start up a "Tribute to Terry Virgo" site. We wanna read his sermons.

Rev Dr Paul Collingford said...

This is an incredibly interesting debate that I stumbled across on the internet quite by accident. I am a 40 year old pastor with 15 years experience in the ministry and I have never contemplated before that this most beautiful of books of the Word of God could be anything but a beautiful combination of primarily being about the Church and the Lion of Judah with some truth to be learned and benefited for the marriage bed.

To read that someone like this man who I haven't heard of before is claiming that it is EXCLUSIVELY for marriage and sex is to me somewhat offensive. How can Christ be cut out of anything of His own Word? And how can it be possible that the meaning and significance of this Book will cease to have significance in heaven, for as we know there will be no marriage in heaven and no sex! Can it be that this most beautiful of Books will cease to have significance? Ridiculous!

I do hope that someone close to this Mahaney will stand up to his view, no matter how sincere he thinks he may be, and challenge it. For this is the Word of God! And his arguments do not stand up to logic, to true exposition.

Peter Day said...

That is a really important point, Dr Collingford. For the book to have significance in heaven (for surely it must, God's word is eternal!) then it must be a glorious reflection of Christ's love for His bride.

I hope, too, that wise counsel will prevail and that CJ Mahaney and those who have heard this message, might see again the wonders of this beautiful book as it speaks of our beloved Lord.

Jon said...

CJ can amaze me at times, having said that, His message at the Bright conference on the death of Christ was earthshaking, a real passion of the Christ sermon.

As a reformed charismatic puritan :) the idea of an encounter with Jonathan Edwards God through his writings, is something that stirs zeal and hunger for God deep within me.

I hold my hands up, next to Edwards I am ashamedly aware of my superficiality. Edwards and his contemporaries were giants among men.


Anonymous said...

Let me make it clear that I am not the rather blunt anonymous person but for reasons I hope will be clear I didn't want to put my name. Apologies.

I have found the discussion around the Song of Solomon incredidbly interesting and profitable. I DO agree that it is worth debating and taking a stand on as it concerns the very Wrod of God - our highest authority.

I have been within SGM at a major church for some 20 yeasr and only left recently due to my concern with their gradual slide away from the Holy Spirit and life in the Spirit but this matter of the Song of Solomon and the way that C J has dealt with it is very characteristic of the form of preaching and teaching within the group of churches.

They will say things like "We will never move beyond the Cross" and "Cross centred life" etc etc but will indeed address mattesr like the Song of Solomon and who it applies for and to. However if you do disagree with the viewpoint they take and attempt to address it with the leadership you will be told that you shouldn't argue about things that are outside the Gospel or the Cross and that maybe your argumentative spirit shows pride. So you see as I found it is hard to express diversity without incurring the wrath of the leadership!

I don't say that intending to imply that all is bad. I spent 20 years there for goodness sake! But I have noted an increase intolerance of any disagreement with the preached word.

It's good to find I am not unique in my experience. As I say I would rather remain private as I do still have friends within the church and don't wish to offend.

Many thanks. I hope that is okay.

With appreciation.

Peter Day said...

Dear friendly anonymous person

Thank you so much for your honesty in sharing these things. It is sad that there has been this slide from the Holy Spirit and it must have been hard leaving a church you love.

But God bless you and encourage you and may He lead you to a wonderful Christ-glorifying, Spirit-filled church where God's Word is honoured.

Its good that you have found this site a blessing. I know I have.

If I might leave you with Paul's prayer in Colossians 1v9-12: "For this reason we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power, for all patience and longsuffering with joy; giving thanks to the Father who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light."

jul said...

Hi anonymous. My husband and I left Sovereign Grace last year after being there for 8 years or so. I will keep you in my prayers as I know it can be a very difficult time. We are still working through legalism and other issues, basically un-learning a few things! May God pour out his lavish grace on you and your family.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Jul and Peter for your gracious comments and deep understanding. I do indeed feel welcome here. I'm not quite sure of the story of Baxter's Boy but I sense some deep understanding and similarity in our experiences - indeed many of our experiences. I'm not looking for a pity party but it is incredible how the church which is meant to be "the dearest place on earth" as Mahaney trumpets so often, is often the cruelest place on earth.

I dislike the anonymous banner especially as I suspect some SGM-ites are using it to fire shots across the bow but I hope all will understand.

Many thanks to all.

Tim said...

there's some deep stuff here, this is really cool. Hope that you save up enuf money to buy the Jonathan Edwards books! Maybe we can have a whip-round for your 30th birthday?!