Book Review – Discovering Christ in the Song of Solomon (Don Fortner)

This is essentially a commentary on the Song of Songs taking an allegorical approach. Indeed, the author insists that the book “is not in any sense to be interpreted literally” and “it would lead to great evil to interpret it literally”. Personally, I find that approach too limiting, but the allegorical interpretation does have good pedigree, with Spurgeon and the Puritans seeing in this book a love story between Christ and the church (and indeed between Christ and the individual believer).

The book has no introduction and is divided into 32 short chapters, which make it suitable for reading a chapter a day as a devotional guide. The early chapters in particular are very good at stirring us up to desire to know the manifest presence of the Lord in our lives. We are to treasure his presence above all things, not being content with mere religious gatherings, and not allowing even our sins to keep us from Christ.

As would be expected in an allegorical interpretation there are some rather speculative interpretations, and the author rarely admits to uncertainty over the meaning of a passage. It has a strongly reformed theology and he even manages to find references to Arminian theology in places! There are some good sections on assurance of salvation and the believers struggle with sin and its effect on our relationship with Christ.

Overall, there is much good devotional material in here, but the jury is out on the hermeneutics. It is not until chapter 7 of Song of Songs that he even considers that there could be an application for husbands and wives. But the call to love Christ more deeply and to treasure his presence is always a valuable one, and even if other commentaries may need to be consulted, I think the allegorical approach should not be lightly dismissed.

As long as it is informed by other plainer passages of Scripture, this approach brings to life Paul’s observation that the relationship between a husband and wife mirrors that of Christ and the church. I would probably however recommend that those wanting to study Song of Songs allegorically start with John Owen’s “Communion with God” or Hudson Taylor’s “Union with Christ” rather than this book. I still also consider Tom Gledhill’s Bible Speaks Today commentary on Song of Songs which takes a completely non-allegorical approach to the book to also be well worth a read.

Book Review – One With Christ (Hudson Taylor)

In this short book, Hudson Taylor works his way through the Song of Songs, treating it as an allegory of the union between Christ and the believer. Of course there are many expositors who approach the book from a very different angle, seeing it as primarily about human love. Personally, I think there is profit in both approaches, as well as dangers of trying to force the details of the book to fit a system (whether it be “Christ and the church” or “courtship and marriage”). Taylor asserts that the book is unintelligible without its New Testament key, and that it teaches us of the benefits of abiding in Christ.

He breaks the song down into six main sections, each with a spiritual lesson. The first is about the remedy for the “unsatisfied life” in which he urges us to give ourselves fully to Christ. We are called to “please” the Lord, which means more than simply not grieving him by our sin, but actively seeking to bring him pleasure.

The real secret of an unsatisfied life lies too often in an unsurrendered will

Sections 2 and 4 deal with the causes of broken communion with the Lord – worldliness and spiritual sloth or pride, while sections 3 and 5 are about the joy of restored communion. Taylor warns that we cannot enjoy both the world and Christ, and that it is only in the place of entire consecration in which the fulness of Christ’s love and power can be experienced. The book closes with a section on “final oneness”.

Taylor’s heart for mission shines through in a number of places, as he sees soulwinning as the natural outworking of closeness to the Lord.

If you are interested in studying the Song of Songs as an allegory, this book would be a good place to begin. It is short enough to be read in a few hours and the call to be closer to the Lord is one that will be extremely profitable to meditate on. It will probably not answer all your questions about the book and its “correct” interpretation, but it will introduce you to an understanding of the Song that has been shared by many throughout church history.