Commenting on Commentaries

Note the relevance for today of these excerpts from Charles H. Spurgeon (June 19, 1834 – January 31, 1892)

“In order to expound Scripture, you will need to be familiar with commentators. You are not such wiseacres as to think you can expound Scripture without assistance from learned men who have labored before you. It seems odd that men who talk of what the Spirit has revealed to themselves should think so little of what He has revealed to others.

The best commentators are those who have written upon only one book. There are sure to be weak points in colossal works. In one such set I’ve examined recently, a monkey, instead of the serpent, tempted Eve. This is a notable example. You cannot expect to deliver much teaching by picking out isolated verses. This process resembles showing a house by exhibiting separate bricks. What profit is the biblically illiterate preacher “unless some man guide him?” Translation demands exposition. It is a sad fact that today, so few read their Bibles at home. The ungodly, in England, scarcely read the Bible at all. This holds true for many ministers as well. Shake off this common slothfulness. Take your people to the summit of Mt. Nebo and show them the whole land—from Dan to Beersheeba—and prove that it flows with milk and honey!

The commenting minister will have to study twice as much as the mere preacher for he will be in demand as a preacher and as an expositor. You must seek the mind of the Spirit rather than your own. Anything which compels the preacher to search the Scriptures is time worthy. The vigorous use of your faculties within the Sacred Volume is a most healthy exercise. Mathematics may exhaust us, but not The Book.

Commentaries are called “dead men’s brains” by the elite who give us nothing in their sermons but what they pretend the Lord has revealed to them. Often their supposed inspiration is borrowed. When I listen to the senseless twaddle of certain wise gentlemen who boast of their intimate connection with direct revelation I am ashamed of their pretensions—and of them. It may be observed that those who know the least Greek are the most sure to air their rags of learning in the pulpit. They miss no chance of saying “the Greek says so and so”. It makes that man at least an inch taller by a foolmeter. He everlastingly refers to the Greek and Hebrew, even telling the people of the tense of the verb and the case of the noun. Those with the least learning merely display the pegs upon which learning ought to hang. Brethren, the entire process of interpretation is to be carried on in your study. You are not to show your congregation the process but to give them the result. It is the Lord’s own Word. Be careful not to pervert it.

My dear friends, God does not usually do for us what we can do for ourselves. If spiritual knowledge has been written down—and may be coupled with our own fresh revelations—why not make use of both past and present revelations? These are two wells. One is filled artificially. The other is a natural well and people will be refreshed by it. If you do not pray and ponder much, you’ll be a slave and a copyist. Nay, dust off these pictures the grand old masters have left us and hang them up in new frames! Great heaps of stones border the wheat field, gathered out by diligent hands to make room for the crops. Your duty, then, is to gather out the stones, and prepare the field of Scripture for your people to till and reap the harvest of truth.

Look, my friends, straight into the secret chambers of the human soul, and let fall the divine teaching so that light and truth may be carried to the heart and conscience. Flowers are good, but hungry hearts prefer bread. Your work is to fill men’s mouths with truth, not to cause them to hang open in wonder at your alleged profundities. 

Lastly, do not amend the Authorized Version. It is unwise to make every old lady distrust the only Bible she has ever known, or, more likely, mistrust you for desecrating her sacred treasure. Know the Word. Don’t become like a hunter who has lost his bearings, floundering aimlessly across unknown territory. Commentaries and expositions are all mere scaffolding. Seek the same Spirit Who inspired them. The Holy Spirit alone can help you to build the church of the living God.”   

Maxim of the Moment

If the shoe fits, you are not allowing for growth. - Vernon Law