All too often, when reading about pre-critical, allegorical interpretations of the Scriptures, we’re tempted to roll our eyes, and move on to modern commentaries that seem more cognizant of contextual, literary, and historical concerns. And there’s something to that. Biblical scholarship has moved on in some places and there were some rather odd interpretive excesses. But all too often, when we do so, we rob ourselves of, both exegetical insight, as well as theological treasures.
For instance, following most modern commentators, I’m not inclined to read the Song of Songs as an allegorical work on Christ and the Church. That said, I would be a fool to not marvel at John Owen’s exposition of 5:16 that speaks of the Lover, “He is wholly desirable–altogether desired or beloved.” Owen sees this as a reference to the wholly desirable nature of Christ in his person and work. And so he sets about listing all the ways that Christ is lovely:
Lovely in his person–in the glorious all-sufficiency of his Deity, gracious purity and holiness of his humanity, authority and majesty, love and power.
Lovely in his birth and incarnation; when he was rich, for our sakes becoming poor–taking part of flesh and blood, because we partook of the same; being made of a woman, that for us he might be made under the law, even for our sakes.
Lovely in the whole course of his life, and the more than angelical holiness and obedience, which, in the depth of poverty and persecution, he exercised therein–doing good, receiving evil; blessing, and being cursed, reviled, reproached, all his days.
Lovely in his death; yea, therein most lovely to sinners–never more glorious and desirable than when he became broken, dead, from the cross. Then had he carried all our sins into a land of forgetfullness; then had he made peace and reconciliation for us; then had he procured life and immortality for us.
Lovely in his whole employment, in his great undertaking–in his life, death, resurrection, ascension; being a mediator between God and us, to recover the glory of God’s justice, and to save our souls–to bring us to an enjoyment of God, who were set at such an infinite distance from him by sin.
Lovely in the glory and majesty wherewith he is crowned. Now he is set down at the right hand of the Majesty on high; where, though he be terrible to his enemies, yet he is full of mercy, love, and compassion, toward his beloved ones.
Lovely in all those supplies of grace and consolation, in all the dispensations of his Holy Spirit, whereof his saints are made partakers.
Lovely in all the tender care, power, and wisdom, which he exercises in the protection, safe-guarding, and delivery of his church and people, in the midst of all the oppositions and persecutions whereunto they are exposed.
Lovely in all his ordinances, and the whole of that spiritually glorious worship which he has appointed to his people, whereby they draw nigh and have communion with him and his Father.
Lovely and glorious in the vengeance he takes, and will finally execute, upon the stubborn enemies of himself and his people.
Lovely in the pardon he has purchased and does dispense–in the reconciliation he has established, in the grace he communicates, in the consolations he does administer, in the peace and joy he gives his saints, in his assured preservation of them unto glory.
What shall I say? There is no end of his excellencies and desirableness–“He is altogether lovely. This is our beloved, and this is our friend, O daughters of Jerusalem.”
-John Owen, Communion with the Triune God, pp. 181-182
What more can we say, indeed?
Soli Deo Gloria