George Burrowes on the Song of Solomon

One of the best 19th century American commentaries written on the Song of Solomon is that by George Burrowes (1811-1894). Previously, he had published an article on the SoS, which appeared in an 1849 issue of The Biblical Repertory and Princeton Review.

In that article he sets forth the high and majestic place the SoS has within the scope of God's Word: 

"The gospels furnish the life of God manifest in flesh; the epistle to the Hebrews opens the doctrine of atonement as vicarious and possessing infinite value from the divine nature of Him who suffered; Proverbs embody the practical duties of daily life; the Psalms are the pious heart's language of devotion, the song is its language of love."

As Thomas Hooker once wrote, "The man whose heart is endeared to the woman he loves, he dreams of her in the night, hath her in his eye and apprehension when he awakes, museth on her as he sits at table, walks with her when he travels and parlies with her in each place where he comes."

And so, Burrowes speaks of meditating on this Song, a song of love between Christ and the believer, making a point worthy of consideration for the Christian who thus muses: "We have deemed it more profitable and natural in meditating on this book, to view the bride as the representative of the individual believer rather than of the whole church. As the church is a collection of individuals, its state must be that of the members composing it; and no distinction can be drawn between the love of Jesus for the collective body and his love for the several persons constituting the whole mass."

Moving from the 1849 article to the 1853 commentary, Burrowes sets forth his goal therein: "In the exposition, the aim has been to unfold the truth, in the way supposed the most desirable to a soul animated with fervent love for the Lord Jesus, and craving the hidden manna which the Holy Spirit has lodged in this precious portion of the Scriptures. The heart hungering and thirsting for righteousness, does not rest satisfied with the stalk and husks, but is anxious for the luscious kernel, of these fruits of eternal life. As here viewed, the Song is a continuous and coherent whole, illustrating some of the most exalted and delightful exercises of the believing heart" (pp. 7-8).

Burrowes has read the wide spectrum of commentators and their opinions about the SoS. In the introduction, he makes the case that the Song is an allegory representing Christ and the believer: "It is an allegorical illustration of the operations of love in the bosom of the saint and of the Redeemer” (p. 32).

The expressions of spiritual longing and delight found in this remarkable Song are in these works studied and mused upon by a gifted scholar, who very clearly understands the language of love. Thus, "When we are anxious to hear from the lips of Jesus the fulness of his love to us, here do we rejoice to sit and listen" (p. 24). Let Burrowes be your guide, dear Christian, as you take up this precious Song, in your study, meditation, and delight, to the glory of our Redeemer.

Are you preaching or teaching on the parables or the gospel of Luke? Check out Alfred Nevin's commentaries!

The purpose of the Log College Press website is to collect the writings of the 18th and 19th century Presbyterians. Sometimes, those works are well known. Other times, they are more obscure, and I feel like a detective or archaeologist digging through a dusty attic and discovering things I didn't know existed. That's what it was like to come across these commentaries on the the Parables and the Gospel of Luke, by Alfred Nevin, who also edited the 1884 Presbyterian Encyclopedia. If you're spending time personally in Luke or the parables, or feeding God's sheep from these portions of Scripture, don't miss Nevin. 

Are you looking for 19th century commentaries on the book of Revelation? Here are three.

Our Presbyterian forefathers were not afraid to tackle one of the hardest books in the New Testament: the Book of Revelation. We've uploaded three commentaries on the book to the Log College Press website:

1. Alexander McLeod, Lectures Upon the Principal Prophecies of Revelation (1814)

2. Thomas Murphy, The Message to the Seven Churches of Asia (1895)

3. James Beverlin Ramsey, The Spiritual Kingdom: An Exposition of Revelation 1-11 (1873)

Though not full commentaries as we know them today, these books will give you a taste for how the 19th century viewed the book of Revelation. Happy historical hermeneutical treasure hunting!

William Swan Plumer's commentaries on Hebrews and Romans are as rich as his commentary on the Psalms.

Thanks to Banner of Truth, William Swan Plumer's commentary on the Psalms has been a blessing to the church not only in the 19th century, but in the 20th and 21st centuries as well. Unfortunately, his commentaries on Hebrews and Romans have not remained in print. Yet they contain the same exegetical, theological, practical, and pastoral gems that are found in his work on the Psalms. Here is a beautiful example, from his note on Hebrews 12:1-2:

Hebrews 12:1-12 largely introduces to us the subject of afflictions. To pious people this matter possesses special interest. They and all their friends are liable to suffer. For some kinds of grief custom allows us to hang out signals of distress, and to call on friends for lively sympathy. But many sorrows must be borne in silence and retirement. The dove lays her wing over the arrow that pierced her. The wounded hart seeks the silent dell there to die, and the child of sorrow often goes to his chamber to weep alone. The widow in her weeds may be truly sad, but her neighbor without a yard of black crape may be suffering ten times more. It is often a relief when we can say: “Have pity upon me, have pity upon me, O ye my friends; for the hand of God hath touched me,” Job 19:21. But often we are compelled like the sad prophet to “weep in secret places,” Jer. 13:17.

Sometimes tears come to the relief of the sorrowing. Then again their moisture is turned into the drought of summer. Dry sorrow drinks up their blood and spirits. Some afflictions are brief; others are lasting. Sadness sends some to their closets: others, to their graves. It covers some with wrinkles; others, with the clods of the valley. “Many are the afflictions of the righteous; but the Lord delivereth him out of them all.”

Very good men have bad punishments sent on them for particular sins. What sufferings came on Jacob for supplanting his brother? Leah is deceitfully given him for Rachel. And all his worldly goods are imperiled, yea and his life also by Esau. The rebellion of Absalom was a punishment on David for a particular sin, 2 Sam. 12:9-12. The father of John the Baptist, though he and his wife habitually walked in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless, was yet by the judgment of God made dumb for nearly a year as a punishment for his unbelief, Luke 1:20. So that all temporal punishments are not confined to the reprobate. Yet we should guard against censoriousness and uncharitableness, when we see others suffering. It is seldom proper for us to say that a given calamity befalling one of our neighbors is a punishment for a particular sin. This was the great error of Job’s friends. Our Saviour warned us against this offence when he spoke of the fall of the tower in Siloam, etc., Luke 13:1-5.

We are less apt to err in regarding particular afflictions sent on ourselves as punishments for particular transgressions. Thus even a heathen said: “As I have done, so God hath requited me,” Jud. 1:6. The pious Jews confessed that the Babylonish captivity was in punishment for their great sins, Ezra 9:13. To Israel God said: “You only have I known of all the families of the earth: therefore will I punish you for all your iniquities,” Amos 3:2. Yet even pious men may misinterpret God’s dealings with them, and without a cause write bitter things against themselves. We may reverently pray, “Shew me wherefore thou contendest me;” but we may not always decide that our afflictions are judgments sent on us for particular sins.

Some afflictions are exemplary. God often makes his people a spectacle to angels and to men. He commonly keeps the path to heaven moist with tears, and often with the blood of his saints. To this end in part the worthies of old suffered. “Take, my brethren, the prophets, who have spoken in the name of the Lord, for an example of suffering affliction, and of patience.” Jas. 5:10. Rich treasures have been laid up for the church in the illustrious heroism of her suffering members. In the days of legal persecution the blood of the martyrs was the seed of the church. Mohammedanism triumphed by the blood of its foes; Christianity, by the blood of its friends. To this day the history of the martyrs ministers strength to the faith and fortitude of God’s suffering people. The Lord’s people are never sent a warfare at their own charges. Perhaps they are never more sustained than when outward things look dark. So thought Paul: “As the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ.” 2 Cor. 1:5. Nor could the people of God from age to age do well without such examples. They stir them up to do and suffer all God’s will. To the plain and obscure they often give vast opportunities for usefulness. To a heathen tyrant, who was posing her with hard questions, a poor woman said: “I cannot dispute for Christ, but I can burn for him.” I have seen a whole community turn aside to admire the grace of God in one of his people, rustic in manners, poor in worldly goods, and weak in intellect, yet remarkable for severity of sufferings, and patience of spirit.

Some afflictions are designed to prevent worse evils. Sin is more to be dreaded than any earthly sorrow. God often makes men sick to teach them their weakness. Many things are permitted deeply to mortify us, that pride may not be our ruin. The cruel deceit of some gay worldling drives us from the giddy circle, which jeopards our salvation. In this life good men are often sorely chastened that they may not be condemned with the world. 1 Cor. 11:32. When God undertakes a man’s salvation, he will not permit any of his sins to have dominion over him. To do this, he sees best to spoil their pleasant things, write “vanity of vanities” on the glories of earth, and bring down their hearts with labor and sorrow. Low as are the attainments of God’s people, they would have been far less but for divine chastenings.

God’s people are also afflicted in the way of discipline. “Blessed is the man whom thou chastenest, O Lord, and teachest him out of thy law.” It is well for the Lord to correct us, if we may thereby be made partakers of his holiness. In his last sickness Dr. Archibald Alexander said: “My pains are intended for my purification.” The good husbandman prunes every fruitful vine that he may make it more productive. Christ often calls the languishing graces of his people into lively exercise by methods as strange as they are salutary. We wish to walk by sight, God would have us to walk by faith. Like Job in distress we cry out, “Oh that I knew where I might find him. Behold I go forward; but he is not there; and backward, but I cannot perceive him; on the left hand where he doth work, but I cannot behold him; he hideth himself on the right hand, that I cannot see him,” Job 23:8, 9. Yet one thus tried may soon be able to say: “Though he slay me, yet will I trust him.” All the graces of the Spirit, not excepting joy, thrive best when the waters of affliction somewhat moisten their roots. Let us not object to the treatment God gave to the prophets, martyrs and confessors, who reached the kingdom of heaven through great tribulation Yea the Captain of our salvation himself was made perfect through sufferings.

In all our afflictions, whatever their design, let us in patience possess our souls. “He, who composes his own mind, is greater than he, who composes a book.” “He that ruleth his spirit is better than he that taketh a city.” “It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the Lord. He sitteth alone, and keepeth silence, because he hath borne it upon him. He putteth his mouth in the dust, if so be there may be hope.” To be as a weaned child is a great attainment.

Plumer continues this train of thought for several more pages, discussing the truths that God has told us in order that we might behave wisely and quietly under trials, and the several things that we learn by way of application from Hebrews 12:1-2 in particular. If you are teaching or preaching through Hebrews or Romans, take advantage of Plumer!