I apologize for the disjointed and incoherent organization here, but I need to squeeze this out; maybe I can clean it up later, or hash things out in the comments…
Last time, I asserted (hopefully convincingly) that Solomon’s lack of perseverance (1 Ki 11) demonstrates that he was reprobate. “But what about,” I hear the optimist cry, “all the inspired scripture he wrote?” Let’s look at what Solomon wrote, and consider how it fits in the canon. Proverbs of course, Ecclesiastes (although I’ve heard it hypothesized that maybe Solomon didn’t write this after all), Song of Solomon (although I’ve heard it hypothesized that SoS was actually written against Solomon and his way with wimmins), maybe Psalm 72 (but just as likely written by David for Solomon).
It is my contention that Solomon’s writings are non-redemptive, which is even to say, non-Christian (not explicitly, exclusively Christian). There is nothing in them (that I’ve ever found) that any Jew or Muslim or Mormon or even Buddhist would take issue with (common grace gives us all common sense). And some passages I would even consider anti-Christian. The doctrine of death in Ecc 9 is entirely lacking in Christian understanding of resurrection, eschatological hope, or even dread of final judgment. Proverbs 17:15 might actually be my least favorite verse of the bible (I bet Finney loved it though):
He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous are both alike an abomination to the LORD.
What hope is there then, if the Righteous one is not condemned, so that my wicked self can be justified?
Some would also point to Solomon’s “last words” as evidence that he repented late in life:
The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil. (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 ESV)
That absolutely does not say to me “Gospel,” but only law. I know “Fear God” doesn’t mean “be scared of God,” but still, “revere and respect God” is a far cry from “trust in God’s mercy.” Indeed, the last sentence precludes any hope for mercy. No, Solomon’s final words of, “All this I must do” do not convince me that he trusted in a messiah to come.
My usual go-to source for biblical wisdom, Calvin’s Commentaries, reveals that Calvin never wrote a commentary on any of Solomon’s works. Could that be an indication that Calvin considered them of less (or at least different) value? In the introduction to his commentary to James, we see that this does appear to be the case. Calvin addresses the accusation that James “seems more sparing in proclaiming the grace of Christ than it behooved an Apostle,” not by demonstrating that James really does proclaim the grace of Christ, but by reminding us that
it is not surely required of all to handle the same arguments. The writings of Solomon differ much from those of David; while the former was intent on forming the outward man and teaching the precepts of civil life, the latter spoke continually of the spiritual worship of God, peace of conscience, God’s mercy and gratuitous promise of salvation.
A few posts ago, James Jordan had quite an amusing take on Proverbs and (vs.!) Ecclesiastes:
[Ecclesiastes] never became the bestseller that Proverbs had been. It got included in Hebrew One Year Bibles, but never as a daily reading. … In Proverbs, Solomon had said that life makes sense: You can figure it out. In Ecclesiastes, Solomon said that life does not make sense, and you can’t figure it out. Both are true. But like the Israelites and Pharisees of old, Americans really don’t want to hear Ecclesiastes. …
How can both statements be true? I’m sure J. J. wouldn’t approve, but isn’t the solution to this Gordian knot to affirm with Meredith Kline that Israel was in a republication of the covenant of works, so they earned (Deut 28) blessings or cursings as a condition of performance under the law (as Proverbs describes); whereas in Ecclesiastes, Solomon is describing the arbitrary nature of life under common grace, outside God’s special covenant arrangement with Israel?
So what good are Solomon’s writings? Well, they fit the bill of the typical evangelical view of scripture nowadays: a user’s manual for life; Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth. That doesn’t mean they’re not scripture, or not canonical; God gave them to us, and they are indeed inspired, inerrant, infallible. “Yet are they not sufficient to give that knowledge of God, and of His will, which is necessary unto salvation.” They are inspired, inerrant, and infallible guidelines for 2nd kingdom life.
Put more directly, they are not Gospel, they are Law. So they can be used profitably as long as they are recognized as such. For instance, a while back, my church included a chapter of Proverbs every week as a liturgical reading of the Law, leading into confession of sin and declaration of pardon. I love WSCAL, and I love that they teach seminarians to preach Christ in all the scriptures. But there’s preaching Christ, and there’s preaching the Gospel. From Solomon’s writings, we can see perhaps that Christ is the Wisdom of God, a mark that we fall short of, but we must turn to other books to find the remedy. One of the benefits of this view of Solomon and his contributions to the canon (if it is correct) is that advocates of Redemptive-Historical preaching can avoid the Where’s Waldo-like absurdity of trying to preach Christ and all his benefits, from the writings of an apostate — one who was very wise, but only in the wisdom of this age.