On 14 August 1836, a young man, who was later to have a remarkable ministry, preached a sermon as a candidate for the position of minister in a new congregation. He chose to expound a passage from the Song of Solomon (2: 8-17). His opening words may have startled his audience. Here is what he said: There is no book of the Bible which affords a better test of the depth of a man’s Christianity than the Song of Solomon.
(1) If a man’s religion be all in his head – a well-set form of doctrines, built like mason-work, stone above stone, – but exercising no influence upon his heart, this book cannot but offend him; for there are no stiff statements of doctrine here upon which his heartless religion may be built.
(2) Or, if a man’s religion be all in his fancy – if, like Pliable in the Pilgrim’s Progress, he be taken with the outward beauty of Christianity –if, like the seed sown upon the rocky ground, his religion is fixed only in the surface faculties of the mind, while the heart remains rocky and unmoved; though he will relish this book much more than the first man, still there is a mysterious breathing of intimate affection in it, which cannot but stumble and offend him.
(3) But if a man’s religion be heart religion – if he hath not only doctrines in his head, but love to Jesus in his heart – if he hath not only heard and read of the Lord Jesus, but hath felt his need of Him, and been brought to cleave unto Him, as the chiefest among ten thousand, and the altogether lovely, then this book will be inestimably precious to his soul; for it contains the tenderest breathings of the believer’s heart towards the Saviour, and the tenderest breathings of the Saviour’s heart again towards the believer.’
Who was the young candidate for the ministry and where was the new church? The preacher was Robert Murray McCheyne and the church was St. Peter’s in Dundee, Scotland. In fact, during his ministry, which was not very long in terms of years, he would preach from almost every verse in the Song of Solomon.
Excerpted from the introduction to Royal Company: A Devotional on the Song of Solomon by Malcolm Maclean (Christian Focus, 2012)