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ask-who were the particular parties in any of the parables of our Lord; who was the king that made a marriage for his son; or who the man that came in among the guests, not having on a wedding garment. All that is necessary to the understanding of such allegories, being, to gain a clear conception of the case supposed, and then to search out the truths intended to be taught by the comparison, or allusion.
In the allegories we are now to consider, the fictitious events are always in allusion to the intercourse of some faithful pair betrothed or espoused to each other, and about to be united together in the sacred bonds of wedded love; or, as the case is sometimes supposed, that event having already taken place. Their declarations of affection, and partial admiration of each other; their occasional separations, and the happiness experienced when these painful interruptions are ended, with other circumstances relating to the marriage union, according to the custom of the times, will be found to form the subjects of the several idyls.
Such is the nature of the exterior and ostensible imagery of these allegories; the interior and remote sense, the true meaning covered by this veil, is the love and affection manifested by Christ, the bridegroom of souls, towards his faithful people, and their returns of love and gratitude to him. And this view of the Song of Solomon, as being intended to represent the mutual love of Christ and his church, is indeed agreeable to the very general and almost universal opinion entertained concerning this part of Scripture, both in ancient and modern times.
The reader, however, should be informed, that one eminent critic, Professor Michaëlis, has advanced a different interpretation. He conceives, “ that the chaste and conjugal affections so carefully implanted by the Deity in the human heart, and upon which so great a portion of human happinėss depends, are not unworthy of a muse fraught even with inspiration. Only let us suppose,” he continues, “contrary to the general opinion concerning the Canticles, that the affection which is described in this poem is not that of lovers previous to their nuptials, but the attachment of two delicate persons, who have been long united in the sacred bond. Can we suppose such happiness unworthy of being recommended as a pattern to mankind, and of being celebrated as a subject of gratitude to the great Author of happiness? This is indeed a branch of morals, which may be treated in a more artificial and
philosophical manner; and such a manner perhaps will be more convincing to the understanding, but will never affect the heart with such tender sentiments as the Song of Solomon, in which there exists all the fervour of passion, with the utmost chastity of expression, and with that delicacy and reserve which is ever necessary to the life and preservation of conjugal love."
Though we feel ourselves compelled to adopt the opinion of the general body of interpreters, in preference to this of the learned Professor, yet we need not totally exclude the moral instruction which he supposes to be deducible from the Canticles, since St. Paul has referred us to the love of Christ towards his church, which we state to be the subject of these songs, for an example of the same virtue-"Husbands, love your wives, eyen as Christ also loved the church g.”
But to suppose this moral instruction the only, or, in any respect, the chief design of the Divine Spirit in these sacred poems, is to suppose a subject far too mean and homely for such a theme. That the Holy Spirit “ should not disdain,” according to the reasoning of Michaëlis, “ in the didactic parts of Scripture, as in the
& Eph. V. 25.
book of Proverbs, minutely to describe the felicities and infelicities of the conjugal state," is scarcely sufficient to reconcile us to the notion, that songs and hymns are inspired by that same Divine Being to extol and celebrate the same.
Supposing no allegory, the moral instruction to be gathered from these songs must be acknowledged to be very small, and the effusion of praise to the great Author of happiness not very obvious. It were strange, indeed, supposing only a literal sense, to find beauty of person, profusion of odours, magnificence of dress and of equipage, held forth as the chief subjects of panegyric, and mutually rehearsed between the lovers, as though they formed the chief motives of endearment. For this may almost be said to be the case in every part of these idyls; while the qualities of the heart and mind, upon the goodness and beauty of which a true affection can alone bę founded, are hardly mentioned. Far different were the instructions of that wisdom with which Solomon was inspired!“ Grace is deceitful, and beauty is vain : but a woman that feareth the Lord she shall be praised "."
sinon. Prov. xxxi. 30.
It will appear, however, inconceivable to some, that there should, in reality, exist any such relation and intercourse between the souls of poor, abject, and sinful mortals, and the eternal Majesty of Heaven, as is here supposed: an intercourse whích can, with any degree of propriety, be compared to the endearments and familiar converse of two earthly lovers. And there is too much reason to fear that many persons, in their most deliberate judgments, will pronounce the notion extravagant and enthusiastical; and some perhaps — forgetting that the theme is scriptural, whatever are the errors of the comment-will not sparé, on this occasion, the shafts of profane wit and ridicule.
But the happy experience of many humble and pious Christians, in every age, and in every clime, does attest the fact, that in that “mysterious commerce" which the Great Redeemer condescends to hold with their souls, there are those manifestations of his love, and those affections kindled in their hearts towards the person of God their Saviour, which may well borrow their allusions from the tenderest and most powerful affection which subsists among men. And, as will be shown in the course of this publication, in these