Excerpt taken from Song of Songs (REC) by Iain M. Duguid

The following excerpt was taken from the Introduction to Song of Songs by Iain M. Duguid — the newest book in our Reformed Expository Commentary series — to be released May 31st.

Interpreting the Song

Part of the difficulty of the Song of Songs comes from the fact that it is a song, and therefore poetry. Poetry is the art of condensation: expressing maximum meaning in the minimum number of words. As a result, poetry is often more evocative than explicative. It doesn’t take the time to unpack its figures of speech or to explain its analogies. It relies on the reader to fill in the blanks. Poetry tends to be open-ended, leaving us pondering and wondering rather than tying up every loose end with a watertight argument. Yet at the same time, poetry has a remarkable ability to address the whole person and to move our souls with a power that prose can rarely match.

The second challenge is to decide what precisely the Song is about. On one level, that is an easy question to answer: it is about love. But whose love? Some scholars have argued that it is an originally secular love song about two people that acquired a religious cast simply by being included in the Bible. On the opposite end of the spectrum, others have insisted that it was composed as an allegory of God’s love for his people that really has nothing to do with human love at all.

Historically speaking, an allegorical approach that sees the Song of Songs as being about the love of God for his people has certainly been the most popular among preachers. It is not hard to see why. Without having to descend to the embarrassing matter of talking about sex from the pulpit, hearers can be encouraged and directed in their spiritual lives with all kinds of edifying observations about prayer and Bible reading. Don’t worry: it is all about Jesus! So according to Cyril of Alexandria, writing in the fifth century a.d., when the woman describes her lover lying between her two breasts like a sachet of myrrh, what she is really talking about is Jesus coming between the two Testaments, Old and New. This allegorical approach enabled Bernard of Clairvaux to preach eighty-six sermons on the opening chapters of the Song of Songs to a congregation of monks!

Graeme Goldsworthy illustrates the problem of this approach, however, by the example of the Australian Sunday school teacher who was concerned that her lessons were becoming too predictable. So one week she started out by asking her children, “What’s gray, furry and lives in eucalyptus trees?” No response. So she asked again. Still no response. In desperation, she asked the pastor’s daughter, “Suzie, don’t you know what the answer is?” She replied slowly, “Miss, I know the answer must be Jesus, but it sure sounds like a koala to me.”*3  Sometimes a koala really is just a koala, not a picture of Jesus.

The kind of free association that Cyril of Alexandria engaged in is, of course, the problem with allegorical interpretation. Given enough imagination, you can get radically different messages out of the same passage: the Song can relate to Yahweh and Israel, God and the church, or wisdom and the individual soul. Equally, you can get the same message out of radically different passages: in that case, why do we need the Bible at all, when by using the same technique you could preach edifying messages from Winnie the Pooh?

On the other hand, a more typological form of interpretation pays attention to inner biblical connections. It sees the hero of the Song as Solomon, the son of David, the king of Israel. If that is the case, then it is not just a random connection to see the man as pointing to Christ and his bride as pointing to the church. Other biblical passages seem self-evidently to point beyond themselves to a coming greater Son of David, even if they were originally written for Solomon or another Old Testament king—for example, Psalm 45, a psalm written for a royal wedding, and Psalm 72, which speaks of the Son of David’s ruling from shore to shore.

There are two potential dangers with such a typological approach, however. The first is that in its eagerness to draw positive connections between the hero of the Song and Christ, it might overemphasize the similarities between them and overlook the differences. In practice, this tendency frequently pushes typology in the direction of the free-association kind of allegory in order to find Christ in the passage. The other problem is that this approach tends to downplay or even ignore the specifics of the surface-level meaning of the text in favor of a general connection to Christ. The message that a passage such as Psalm 72 might have had for the Davidic kings themselves, or even for us as we think about our own rulers and political structures, gets completely lost. So, too, any message that the Song of Songs might have about human relationships and earthly marriage tends to get lost or downplayed in favor of its immediate application to the relationship of Christ and the individual believer.

In response to this approach, other preachers have interpreted the Song of Songs simply as a celebration of human love and sex. Instead of comparing it to passages such as Psalm 45, they read the Song against the backdrop of passages such as Proverbs 5, in which the father says to the son, “Rejoice in the wife of your youth, a lovely deer, a graceful doe. Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight; be intoxicated always in her love. Why should you be intoxicated, my son, with a forbidden woman and embrace the bosom of an adulteress?” (Prov. 5:18–20). We might call this the “Solomon on sex” approach to the Song, to quote the title of one popular book.*4 The Song now becomes simply a divine dating and marriage-counseling manual. To use the Goldsworthy analogy, this time the koala is just a koala, and the Sunday school lesson becomes simply a Christian biology class about the birds and the koalas. In the process, the applications to human relationships can become as imaginative and strained as anything ever dreamed up by the earlier allegorists.

There is certainly nothing wrong with biology classes or practical tips about dating and marriage. But when Jesus unpacked the central message of the Old Testament to his disciples on the road to Emmaus, he didn’t focus on its value in providing practical teaching for their marriages. He declared that the central message of the Old Testament is the sufferings of Christ and the glories that will follow—that is, the gospel.*5 What is more, the title of the book, “The Song of Songs,”*6 is a superlative: it indicates that this poem is the finest of songs, in the same way that the Holy of Holies was the very holiest of places in the temple. Is human love, even within marriage, the worthy subject of the very best of songs? The Bible tells us that true love is not that we love one another, nor even that we love God. Rather, it is that God loved us and sent his Son as the atoning sacrifice for our sins (1 John 4:10). So the finest of songs surely has to point us in some profound way to God’s love for us in Christ, the love that entered our fallen world, lived the perfect life in our place, and suffered and died for our sins.

In fact, even a passage such as Proverbs 5 is not merely about human faithfulness in marriage, because as we read on in Proverbs we discover that the fundamental choice that faces all of us in life lies between Dame Wisdom, whose home is built on the foundation of the fear of the Lord, and Lady Folly, who seduces fools away from true worship to the worship of idols. Adultery is never just about sex in the book of Proverbs, any more than the idea of “building a house” in that book is just about bricks and mortar.

I believe that it is possible to steer a middle ground between the allegorical and literal extremes: to recognize the Song of Songs as wisdom literature that celebrates a great mystery in life, the mutual love of a man and a woman (Prov. 30:19), yet that in this celebration will not only shape our thinking about human relationships but also show us profound insights into the love that Christ has for his bride, the church. To change the Goldsworthy analogy, suppose that the Sunday school teacher had described a sparrow and then gone on to teach her students about God’s care for the little sparrow and his far greater fatherly care for us. The sparrow is not Jesus; it remains just a sparrow. Yet the lesson that is drawn from the sparrow can and must still center appropriately on Jesus, as the One who shows us the full extent of God’s fatherly love and care for us. So, too, we don’t need to make the man in the Song of Songs into an allegory or a type of Jesus to see how the book points us to “the sufferings of Christ and the glories that will follow.”

*3. Graeme Goldsworthy, Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), xi.

*4. Joseph Dillow, Solomon on Sex (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982).

*5. See Iain M. Duguid, Is Jesus in the Old Testament? (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2013).

*6. This biblical book is sometimes referred to as “The Song of Solomon.” Both titles are abbreviations of the fuller title in the superscription of the book itself, which is literally “The Song of Songs, about that which belongs to Solomon.” Given the complexity of determining the relationship of Solomon to the Song, which I discuss in more detail below, I have chosen to use the simpler title, “The Song of Songs.”

Excerpt taken from pages xv-xix, Song of Songs by Iain M. Duguid, copyright 2016, P&R Publishing.

BOOK HIGHLIGHT – Uprooting Anger by Robert D. Jones

Uprooting Anger: Biblical Help for a Common Problem by Robert D. Jones

208 pages | List Price: $13.99 | Paperback


Grandma was right. You’ve got to get the weeds by the roots, or they’ll just grow back. So too with deep-rooted anger. Moralistic efforts to be patient with your coworkers won’t cut it. Regret-riddled resolutions to stop yelling at your kids won’t last. You must rip out those angry roots.

But is uprooting sinful anger a realistic goal? Can it happen? God’s answer in the Bible is “Yes!” Whether you tend to simmer or strike out, whether you implode or explode, there is biblical help for you. Robert Jones shows us how to effect godly change in our lives in this practical Christ-centered resource.


“Far and away the best material on anger I have read, thoroughly biblical and immensely practical. Jones does a masterful job of helping us identify anger in our lives, then gives us biblical steps for uprooting it. Every Christian ought to prayerfully read this book and apply its teaching.”

—Jerry Bridges, author of The Pursuit of Holiness

“Most of us find it all too easy to use words like hurt, frustrated, and troubled to conceal the fact that we are often controlled by sinful anger. This book cuts through this disguise, exposes our bondage to anger, and marks a clear path to peace and freedom.”

—Ken Sande, President, Peacemaker Ministries

“Two things are hard to do with anger: face the fact that you have a problem with it and be hopeful as you do. This book will help you do both. Jones shows that the Bible is both shockingly honest about anger’s cause and wonderfully encouraging about its cure.”

—Paul David Tripp, author of Age of Opportunity

“From road rage to subterranean simmering, anger is a significant problem in many Christians’ lives. Jones brings counseling experience, a knowledge of his own heart, and the riches of the gospel to believers who seek to walk more worthily in the Lord. In Uprooting Anger you’ll find practical help as well as theological depth.”

—Elyse Fitzpatrick, author of Idols of the Heart

About the Author

Robert D. Jones is pastor of Grace Fellowship Church in Hurricane, West Virginia. He is assistant professor of biblical counseling at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and the author of the Resources for Changing Lives booklets Forgiveness, Angry at God?, and Bad Memories.


Brad Hambrick is pastor of counseling at The Summit Church in Durham, North Carolina, and adjunct professor of biblical counseling at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He provides many resources on counseling at www.bradhambrick.com. He is the author of 5 booklets in our The Gospel for Real Life series. The Gospel for Real Life booklet series by the Association of Biblical Counselors (ABC) applies the timeless hope of Christ to the unique struggles of modern believers.

Brad Hambrick


 1. God’s Attributes: Rest for Life’s Struggles

40 pages | $4.99 | Booklet | Gospel for Real Life Series | SAMPLE PAGES

Summary — A proper understanding of God is vital. However, many times what we observe from our own experiences (especially when they are difficult and painful) can affect the shape of that understanding. How do we know whether we have a true, balanced view of God?This study looks at sixteen attributes of God, grouped under the headings of his love, essence, wisdom, and power, to help challenge your understanding. It goes on to challenge how well you rest in each attribute (have faith and comfort in it) and emulate it in the struggles and experiences of your own life. So learn, through your struggles, about the One who gives those struggles meaning.

2. Vulnerability: Blessing in the Beatitudes

32 pages | $4.99 | Booklet | Gospel for Real Life Series | SAMPLE PAGES

Summary — We do not like to be vulnerable. It makes us feel defenseless and opens the door to being hurt. But, as difficult as it may be, vulnerability is necessary for us to be loved by others and is a healthy character trait when it leads us to take risks for God’s glory. So how can we grow in the kind of vulnerability God wants us to have?

Brad Hambrick offers a study of vulnerability from an unexpected source: the Beatitudes. He takes us through an examination of each one, highlighting what it says about vulnerability and helping us come to terms with our struggles with it. He also brings encouragement, giving us ways to reflect on and begin implementing these teachings on vulnerability in our own lives.

Learn from the Beatitudes how blessed it is to be vulnerable and how to pursue vulnerability in your life.

3. Burnout: Resting in God’s Fairness

40 pages | $4.99 | Booklet | Gospel for Real Life Series | SAMPLE PAGES

Summary — Burnout occurs when the things that once gave us life and energy become discouraging and draining instead, sacrificing our pleasures and accomplishments to the continual onslaught of “next.” While a common danger for Christians who dedicate their efforts to God’s kingdom, burnout eventually makes us choose cynical numbness over the “caring exhaustion” of Christian service. How do we avoid this pitfall?

Brad Hambrick argues that burnout is actually a consequence of our life management, and he shows us how to create a time budget to avoid living beyond our means with the time God has provided. He helps us remember to rest in God’s fairness rather than try to gain his acceptance.

4. Romantic Conflict: Embracing Desires That Bless Not Bruise

32 pages | $4.99 | Booklet | Gospel for Real Life Series | SAMPLE PAGES

Summary — Few spouses have desires that are evil—but even the good desires of two well-meaning people do not always match up. Fulfilling one person’s desires often means we must neglect another’s, which can lead to conflict and bitterness. So how do we enjoy the blessings of marriage without being consumed by our desire for the blessings we prefer?

Brad Hambrick shows us that Jesus addressed this very issue in his foundational call to be a disciple. In this plan for dealing biblically with marital conflict, he walks us through Jesus’ words and their implications, outlines a typical marital conflict, gives us strategies for how to “interrupt” our conflicts with grace and love, and gives us further tips on how to reignite romance going forward.

5. Self-Centered Spouse: Help for Chronically Broken Marriages

40 pages | $4.99 | Booklet | Gospel for Real Life Series | SAMPLE PAGES

Summary — Anyone who is married is already a self-centered spouse . . . but when this all-too-common sin becomes severe and chronic, it results in a marital environment of abuse or neglect—leaving the victimized spouse feeling trapped and hopeless. But how might this hopelessness change if we knew that Jesus addressed just such chronically broken relationships?

Brad Hambrick examines Jesus’ teachings about relationships to show us how we can turn the other cheek while keeping away from unhealthy and destructive paths. He identifies different types of self-centered spouses to show us what we are dealing with, shares strategies for interacting with them, and points to evidences of genuine change to bring hope to anyone living with a chronically self-centered spouse.

Excerpt taken from How Jesus Runs the Church by Guy Prentiss Waters

Here is an excerpt taken from the Introduction to How Jesus Runs the Church by Guy Prentiss Waters.


wHat tHis book is—and is not

What is this book supposed to be? This work makes no claim to give exhaustive treatments of the full range of the topics of Presbyterian polity. It will not try to give the definitive word on some of the nagging questions relating to church polity that have been with the church for decades, even centuries. Neither does it try to offer thorough rebuttals of such other forms of church government as episcopacy and congregationalism. Nor is this work an extensive commentary on the Book of Church Order of the PCA or on the forms of government of other Presbyterian bodies. The book is not intended exclusively for members and officers of the PCA. While the author is part of the PCA, my goal is that non-PCA Presbyterians would learn from this work and apply what they learn from the Scriptures in their own denominational settings.

This book, rather, intends to accomplish two related goals. It offers a biblical case for the Presbyterian form of church government. I believe that the government that Christ has appointed for his church is Presbyterian in nature, and that the Scriptures bear out this fact. In saying this, I want to be clear that I do not believe that every (or even most) of the details of, say, the Book of Church Order are explicitly taught in some passage of Scripture or another. As we shall argue, this claim itself is rooted in biblical teaching.

In making this case, I make no claim to originality or ingenuity. I stand on the shoulders of giants. My debt to older writers on the subject of church government will be everywhere evident. My desire is to give classic arguments their biblical expression for a contemporary audience. If I am able to articulate Presbyterianism from the Scriptures to the church at the dawn of the twenty-first century, then I have accomplished what I have set out to do.

My second goal is to make this case as accessible as possible. I have above urged that knowledge of the church’s government is beneficial not only to the officers of the church, but also to each of her members. I realize that ministers, elders, and seminary students have particular interest in the government of the church. My desire in writing this book, however, is that members and officers, Presbyterians and non-Presbyterians alike would read, study, consider, and weigh its contents.

For those who come to the Presbyterian church from a non-Presbyterian background, church polity can be something of a puzzle. This was certainly true to my own experience as a non-Presbyterian new believer coming to Presbyterianism. What’s more, there are few contemporary resources available that lay out the biblical foundations of Presbyterian polity. I have intended this book to be just such a resource.

I am privileged to serve on the faculty of Reformed Theological Seminary, Jackson, and to teach church polity to seminary students each year. I hold membership, as a minister, in a PCA presbytery and am given opportunities to serve the church at many levels. I have witnessed Presbyterian government work to my own spiritual good and to the good of the church that I am privileged to serve.

It is my hope that readers will see both the biblical truth and the practical implications of the Presbyterian form of government. I am not arguing that Presbyterianism is true because it works. I am arguing, rather, that Presbyterianism is true and that, by the blessing of Christ, it can and does work to his glory and to the good of his people. It is my hope and desire that this work may play some role, however small, to assist and to equip the people of God in serving our great and glorious Savior and King.

Excerpt taken from pages xxviii-xxx, How Jesus Runs the Church by Guy Prentiss Waters, copyright 2011, P&R Publishing.

The Top 10 Books on Reconciling Divine Sovereignty and Free Will

By Scott Christensen


Chess Image

Trying to grasp the theological conundrum of God’s sovereignty and human free will is like pitting Batman against Superman. A standoff seems inevitable. Surely one of the two must be sacrificed.

Historically, Arminians and others have answered this dilemma by positing a version of free will known as libertarianism, which sacrifices a robust view of God’s sovereignty. Some Calvinists sacrifice free will altogether in order to preserve a high view of divine sovereignty. However, many others have championed an entirely different way of making sense of human freedom without compromising the sturdiness of God’s meticulous providence. This view is known as compatibilism, and it seeks to clarify the matter from a biblical perspective.

Given the long history and heated debates, you would think that libraries would be overflowing with books that exhaust this fiery topic. Alas, it seems a matter too hot to handle for most. Only a handful of treatments seek to explain God’s causal determination of all things, including our choices, without undermining human freedom and responsibility.

What follows is my definitive list. These books (or portions thereof) are in order of the date they were written. It is too difficult to grade their worth.

1) The Freedom of the Will by Jonathan Edwards (1754)

This classic work on Calvinistic compatibilism has retained strong appeal over recent years (mostly with scholars). It is densely written and requires tremendous concentration to read and comprehend, but diligence is a faithful rewarder.

2) The Doctrine of God by John Frame (P&R, 2002)

John Frame is my favorite theologian. The Doctrine of God is a massive but highly readable tome on theology proper. Frame devotes about sixty-five engaging pages to defending the classic Edwardsian view of divine sovereignty and human freedom with a particular application to the problem of evil.

3) Willing to Believe: The Controversy over Free Will by R.C. Sproul (Baker Books, 2002)

No list would be complete without the venerable Reformed theologian R.C.Sproul. In Willing to Believe, Sproul traces the notion of free will throughout church history, canvassing the thought of key thinkers: Pelagius, Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Arminius, Edwards, Finney, and Lewis Sperry Chafer. You don’t need to go far to see where Sproul stands.

4) The Benefits of Providence: A New Look at Divine Sovereignty by James Spiegel (Crossway, 2005)

The first two chapters of The Benefits of Providence dive into the deep end of the pool marked compatibilism. But Spiegel provides you with two flotation devices clarity and simplicity, to help you to keep your head above water .

5) How Long, O Lord: Reflections on Suffering and Evil by D. A. Carson (Baker Academic, 2006)

In about forty-five pages, Carson distills some of the weightier thinking from his work Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility. He carefully defines and defends Calvinistic compatibilism and provides many scriptural examples that show that every choice we make has a dual explanation—one divine and the other human.

6) No One Like Him: The Doctrine of God by John Feinberg (Crossway, 2006)

No One Like Him contains roughly one hundred pages defending Calvinistic compatibilism. The writing contains a good deal of technical philosophical and theological concepts. But if you want tight, carefully crafted arguments for this view, there is no better work.

7) A God Entranced Vision of All Things: The Legacy of Jonathan Edwards edited by John Piper and Justin Taylor (Crossway, 2008)

Few have a better grasp of Jonathan Edwards’s view of divine sovereignty and human freedom than Sam Storms. In A God Entranced Vision of All Things, Storms contributes an excellent chapter called “The Will: Fettered Yet Free.”If you plan to dive into Edwards’s Freedom of the Will, you better start here first.

8) Love, Freedom, and Evil: Does Authentic Love Require Free Will? by Thaddeus Williams (Rodopi, 2011)

I can’t tell you how much I treasure Thaddeus Williams’s little-known gem. This book critiques a common reason for adopting the libertarian view of free will: the belief that our relationship with God is meaningful only if we have the ability to equally love or hate him. Williams masterfully dismantles this argument with biblical compatibilism.

9) Whomever He Wills: A Surprising Display of Sovereign Mercy edited by Matthew M. Barrett and Thomas J. Nettles (Founders Press, 2012)

If you want only one shot at seeing how to reconcile God’s sovereignty with human freedom and responsibility, read Bruce Ware’s chapter in Whomever He Wills. “The Compatibility of Determinism and Human Freedom” is the clearest and most succinct defense of the dual explanation for our choices I am aware of.

10) What about Free Will? Reconciling Our Choices with God’s Sovereignty by Scott Christensen (P&R, 2016)

Okay, here we go. Scott Christensen (me) has done his best—standing wobbly on the shoulders of these and many other giants—while writing What about Free Will? Reconciling Our Choices with God’s Sovereignty. This is one of the few full-length books on the subject. In it, I tackle  answers to all the questions you wrestle with when walking into one of Christian theology’s trickiest mazes.

Would you like to learn more?

Along with What about Free Will? I’ve prepared a video Q&A, answering the most commonly asked questions about God’s Sovereignty and free will.

Scott Photo