Thursday, April 30, 2009

Dr Peter Masters is Right!!

Well this is now the third part in an inpromtu series sparked off by Mark Driscoll and his rather colourful words on the Song of Solomon. The first was Dr John MacArthur's reaction to Driscoll here and the second was Rob Rufus's wonderful inspired words on the Song of Songs at "Glory and Grace" in 2007. I guess that part of the motivation behind why I feel so intensely about this could be explained in my post; "Speak Tenderly to My Bride". It's my conviction that something had gone drastically wrong when a preacher is laying down rules and regulations on what Christian wives "should do" in the privacy of their bedroom - with the end result of guilt and condemnation if they even feel they do not want to do what their husband is demanding.

So yesterday on the back of a recurrent dream I have been having I travelled down to London and went to the outstanding Evangelical Library. I was hoping to spend time in the periodicals and journals that they have but they are currently in storage. Instead I spent my time in the commentaries on the Song of Solomon. And I found a quote by Watchman Nee that made me think. Underneath the mocking of the allegorical interpretation of the Song of Solomon - I believe there is actually a problem with believing that God can feel so intimately about them. Why? Because they believe that they still have sin within them somewhere that the blood of Jesus Christ didn't quite cover and thus deserve something of the wrath and judgement of God.

In short this issue of how you understand the Song of Solomon is not just some secondary issue that can be ignored. Understanding that book rightly has implications on worship, on intimacy with God and the gospel itself. Because we will never be able to access the full glory, weight and wonder of God's love and passion for us conveyed through the Song of Solomon (among other Scriptures) until we understand the Gospel of grace properly.

Here's the quote from Watchman Nee;

"The book's (Song of Solomon) innermost heart speaks of spiritual communion. It is a book for the heart ... The book addresses itself to those who are already regenerated by the Spirit of God and who are awakened to longings for a fuller experience of Christ. There is not the slightest mention of things pertaining to salvation. The emphasis is not on matters relating to the sinner but rather on those concerning the advancement of the believer. It does not address itself to those outside of Christ but to the Lord's own people.

Consequently there are no instructions given as to how one may be saved but it tells of the longings of a believer for deeper experiences of the Lord. It does not speak of faith but of love. Love floats like a banner over the whole Song ... ".

And that's when I got my shock. Searching more through the shelves of the Evangelical Library I found a commentary on the Song of Solomon by Dr Peter Masters - the senior minister of the Metropolitan Tabernacle. I am ashamed to say that Dr Masters is another individual I classed along with John MacArthur in the "rabidly anti-charismatic, anti-everything" camp. And that's true - he is. But I sat myself down and read his commentary. It was excellent. Here's the basis of his argument which I hope will be helpful;

1. The Title Points to Christ.

Firstly the original Hebrew is "Song of Songs" meaning the best of all possible songs, or the supreme and most beautiful song ever composed, an extravagant title for the love of ordinary human beings. Such a title best refers to the love of the Son of God for His people and their responding love to Him.

2. Solomon is Not a Model for Marriage.

Secondly Solomon, the inspired author, would hardly be the ideal channel for lessons on love and marriage in view of his having acquired a thousand wives and concubines who turned away his heart from God.

The life of the teacher must surely commend his message. If Solomon wrote about his own first courtship and marriage, how could this be described as the best song and put forward a model when it quickly became a betrayed relationship? A repentent sinner however is an acceptable person to write about the mercy of Christ to His church and Solomon became such a person after His restoration to God (reflected in Ecclesiastes).

3. There is No Wedding.

A third reason why we must see the Song as an allegory of the love between Christ and His church rather than a manual on married life is that there is no wedding in it.

It is a fact that the bride and groom are viewed throughout the book as not yet fully married, this being one of the compelling dramatic features. Modern writers tend to marry the couple off at an early stage so they view them as husband and wife, complete with physical intimacy and marital tiffs but this is read into the song. The reality is that the bride and groom had engaged in the first stage of an ancient Jewish betrothal so that they were wholly committed to each other but they did not yet live together.

Throughout the Song the bride and groom are seen waiting for the day of the wedding ceremony with it's great marriage supper and they are still looking forward to it with great desire at the end. This is powerfully prophetic providing an exceptionally close union between believers and their Lord as they wait for His coming at the end of the age and the great bridal supper of the Lamb.

C H Spurgeon said; "As a believer draws near to Heaven, this is the book he takes with him".

If we miss this the Song has ... nothing to say to our spiritual lives.

4. Love Terms Cannot Be Real.

A fourth reason for the superiority of the grand old view is that many expressions of admiration used in the Song are simply not credible for human love, such as when the groom tells the bride she resembles Pharoh's horses or that she has a neck like the squat, rough Tower of David, plus other equally jarring descriptions.

If however the poem is an allegory of the love between Christ and the church, these sentiments come to life, describing the privilidges and characteristics of saved people. The love poem is only the "vehicle" for the message. The descriptions were never meant to be wholly realistic or to be taken literally. As the old saying goes - an allegory says one thing but means another. We must see the deeper meaning.

5. Great Prophecies are Here.

A fifth reason for taking the groom to be Christ and the bride to be the Church, is the amount of prophecy which becomes obvious through this interpretation. It is no coincidence that many passages picture well the incarnation of Christ, His saving work, His resurrection, the establishment of the church age, the calling of the Gentiles and the future heavenly kingdom.

One modern evangelical Bible dictionary says rather surprisingly that "there is little in the book that is explicitly religious". This is only true if one takes the fairly modern view that this is a literal love story. However if we take the older view that this book is a guide to spiritual love then we see Christ and His work prophesied throughout it's eight chapters.

6. Allegory is Solomon's Speciality.

A sixth reason for believing that Christ and His church is the subject of this poem is that the Bible tells us that a parable style was the principal feature of Solomon's writings. He issued 3,000 proverbs and 1,005 songs (1 Kings 4:32) many of the proverbs being in the book of Proverbs. A proverb is (in the Hebrew) a rule or a comparison, ranging from a short, pithy comparison to a full-size paralell or allegory. While we are told that Solomon specialized "comparisons" (teaching truth by means of a fictional story) and also in songs,

We are not told that a major part of his work was a marriage guidance manual.


dave bish said...

My inclination is that we get something similar in Proverbs... a father instructing his son on whether to marry Folly or Wisdom... such that, "Proverbs 31" isn't the ideal wife, but rather a portrait of Christ/the gospel as the one to "marry".

Masters clearly runs with the Puritans - Ryle, Spurgeon, Owen, Henry all take The Song this way, and quite right I say!

There are some others going this route today like Matthew Mason, Daniel Newman and Ros Clarke.

Dan Bowen said...

Hmm haven't heard of these modern guys ... thanks for tip. It's encouraging to see that not all modern theologians are charging off down the "sex manual" route and thus removing one book of the Bible from being "profitable for teaching, instruction" from single people, widowers and basically anyone not married!

lydia joy said...

Wow Dan this was a great find!! I think the whole Bible is God's love letter to us, way above and beyond all practicals!

dave bish said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
dave bish said...

Ros Clarke's "Song of Songs: A Biblical TheologyDaniel Newman's very thorough blog series, including a couple of mp3s and some 'implications' for marriageMatthew Mason's mp3 sermon series on the Song from ChristChurch Clifton

Peter Day said...

It was a wonderful time at the Evangelical Library and these quotes are excellent revelation from perhaps an unlikely source!

As I mentioned when we met, as I have thought about the imagery in Song of Songs, I have realised it is about courtship, not marriage. So, if those who take a hyper-literal view of Song of Songs are consistent then they would have to advocate sex before marriage!

You make an excellent point here:
"Underneath the mocking of the allegorical interpretation of the Song of Solomon - I believe there is actually a problem with believing that God can feel so intimately about them."God IS passionately in love with His children, whom He has made righteous and beautiful, and He expresses that love in this wonderful poetic description. And He invites us to express our love back to Him. It is so glorious!

janelle said...

Those are certainly convincing points. Man, this is so INTERESTING. I love how you study up on things that you are passionate about and share what you found with us, Dan. So helpful.

Dan Bowen said...

Hee hee thanks Janelle! Some friends here are a little less encouraging and call me more a bulldog who gets a grip on something and won't let go! ;)