It's an assumed point of hermeneutics today that the grammatical historical meaning of the Song of Songs is that it merely a love song, a poem between a husband and wife. John Owen reminds us of the ancient method of Christological exegesis, seeing in the Song a type and shadow of the mutual love between the Lord (Christ) and his Church. At the end of chapter 3 in his devotional classic, Of Communion with God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, Owen inserted a "Digression" in which he exposited Song of Songs chapter 5. At the end of this chapter, the Shulamite said of her beloved, "he is altogether desirable" (Song 5:16). Owen then concluded his exposition with a description of the loviness of Jsus Christ:
When the spouse hath gone thus far in the description of him, she concludes all in this general assertion: "He is wholly desirable,—altogether to be desired or beloved." As if she should have said,—"I have thus reckoned up some of the perfections of the creatures (things of most value, price, usefulness, beauty, glory, here below), and compared some of the excellencies of my Beloved unto them. In this way of allegory I can carry things no higher; I find nothing better or more desirable to shadow out and to present his loveliness and desirableness: but, alas! all this comes short of his perfections, beauty, and comeliness; 'he is all wholly to be desired, to be beloved;'"—
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 came broken, dead, from the cross. Then had he carried all our sins into a land of forgetfulness; 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, towards his beloved ones.
Lovely in all those supplies of grace and consolations, 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 hath appointed to his people, whereby they draw nigh and have communion with him and his Father.
Lovely and glorious in the vengeance he taketh, and will finally execute, upon the stubborn enemies of himself and his people.
Lovely in the pardon he hath purchased and doth dispense,—in the reconciliation he hath established,—in the grace he communicates,— in the consolations he doth 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." (Works, 2:77–78 )
“So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured.” (Hebrews 13:12-13)
“the Common Prayer book with the alterations and amendments… did not come out of the press till a few days before the 24th August. So that of the seven thousand ministers in England who kept their livings, few, except those who were in or near London could possibly have a sight of the book with its alterations, till after they had declared their assent and consent to it!”
is not to rest in general doctrine, although never so much cleared and confirmed, but to bring it home to special use, by application to his hearers: which albeit it prove a work of great difficulty to himself, requiring much prudence, zeal, and meditation, and to the natural and corrupt man will be very unpleasant; yet he is to endeavour to perform it in such a manner, that his auditors may feel the word of God to be quick and powerful, and a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart; and that, if any unbeliever or ignorant person be present, he may have the secrets of his heart made manifest, and give glory to God.
Since theological seminaries have recently held graduations and a new class of students will soon enter, I thought it would be a fun exercise to write a post on "the learned Doctor" William Ames' advice to theological students. William Ames (1576–1633) was an Englishman who was "exiled" to the Netherlands for the end of his life and ministry. If any of you know much about the Dutch, you'll understand the great blessing Ames had in teaching at the University of Franeker in the province of Friesland (laugh if you get the tongue-in-cheek joke). On May 23, 1622, the independent-minded, some would say stubborn, Frieslanders installed Ames at their small but "gracious academy of Friesland." A little over year later he gave a lecture entitled, Parenesis ad studios theologiae, habita Franekerae, Aug. 22, anno 1623, "An Exhortation to the Students of Theology, Dwelling in Franeker, August 22, the Year 1623." This lecture was translated in 1958 by Douglas Horton and is available through Inter-Library Loan or through sending me a few guilders.
Ames begins by defining the nature of theology as he did in his Medulla theologica, also published in 1623, in which Ames said so famously, "Theology is the doctrine or teaching of living to God." In his exhortation, Ames said it was necessary for the University to "call theology away from questions and controversies, obscure, confused, and not very essential, and introduce it to life and practice so that students would begin to think seriously of conscience and its concerns." No doubt Ames' definition and populist concern reflects his relationship towards Johannes Maccovius, whom he considered too speculative.
First among Ames' concerns was to counter what he perceived as a lack of understanding by students of "the proper end of theology." He discussed this using 1 Timothy 4:16 as his text, which says the minister must be aware of his teaching since it saves himself and his hearers. This meant that students need to know that they were to be devoted to the glory of God and the edification of the church. Contrary to this concern for the proper end of theology were those who entered the ministry for financial gain or just like they would enter
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a business. God help us from this attitude in ourselves and for us so privileged, in purging this attitude from those we are shepherding towards the ministry as seminary students. While these were "useless weights to the church," Ames said "the greater marvel is the grace and providence of God, by which it has come about that up till now the church has lived on, although burdened to an unhappy degree by men of this hireling kind." Amen! Ames also linked his concern for the proper end of theology with the conscience, saying, "The mirror in which the image of eternal truth is reflected must be pure and clean. As far as possible there ought to be no stains of vice or flaws of selfishness in that heart in which the divine wisdom is to tabernacle." How important a godly character is to the preparation for the ministry! Cleanse your mind, seminary students, of greed, pride, arrogance, anger, envy, and contentiousness, to name a few areas. I remember those seminary days well.
Ames' second concern was to impress upon his students the high calling of the ministry: "What can be thought more important or useful than the profession of the ministry? Here one does not treat of lands and estates and similar earthly matters, as in civil law, but of the supremest good and the highest heaven, not of temporal bodily health, as in medicine, but of salvation and eternal life. Not here, as elsewhere, do they enquire into the sentiments, orders, decisions, and rulings of men, but into the eternal wisdom of God and His perfect will." I don't know if I've ever read it better than this.
Ames' third concern was to show that the ministry concerned not only doctrine, but method and practice, using the illustration of physicians of old who divided their discipline into these three areas. This was important, because, as Ames said, "Our ministers, however, think themselves to be quite prepared for all the parts of their office if they know only the doctrines—and would they knew them!" It is for this reason that the Scriptures were to be studied for doctrine and for the practice of godliness. What does this mean for us? It means that just because you like to read, just because you like theology, and just because you are able to cite a few passages of Scripture, from Calvin, or from the Confessions to make a point does not mean you are being called into the ministry.
In conclusion, like a good Ramist, Ames ended his exhortation with the use of his word concerning the end of theology, the high calling of the ministry, and the need to study for purposes of doctrine and godliness. Here Ames spoke to his students about "theological exercises," which were the ways the things they learned were sharpened and put into practice. Ames' exhortation to his students was that they participated in disputations, that is, formal theological debate. They needed to engage in rehearsing their sermons so that they would benefit their hearers; they need to pray; they needed to engage in holy meditation; and as fellow students, they needed to exhort, admonish, and console each other as brothers in the Lord. May God help us to do so.
Why, that Evangelist, when he met the man with the burden on his back, said to him, "Do you see that wicket gate?" "No," he said, "I don't." "Do you see that light?" "I think I do." "Why, man," she said, "he should not have spoken about wicket gates or lights, but he should have said, 'Do you see Jesus Christ hanging on the Cross? Look to Him and your burden will fall off your shoulders.'"
God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you…when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might (1:6, 7–9).