Reading Commentaries

Acts 8:30, 31
       Understandeth what thou readest? And he said, How can I, except some man guide me?

C. H. SPURGEON (1834-1892): I commend to you the judicious reading of commentaries! These are called “dead men’s brains” by certain knowing people, who claim to give us nothing in their sermons but what they pretend the Lord reveals direct to themselves.

W. T. P. WOLSTON (1840-1917): I do not believe in books, except the Bible.

JOHN WESLEY (1703-1791): Then you ought to teach others to read only the Bible, and, by parity of reasoning, to hear only the Bible. But if so, you need preach no more.

HENRY C. TRUMBULL (1830-1903): D. L. Moody told me of the surprise expressed by a man who found him in his study with his books open before him. “You don’t mean, Moody, that you use commentaries, do you?” he said.
      “Of course I do,” Moody answered.
      “Then I shan’t enjoy your sermons as I have, now that I know that,” the man replied.
      “Have you ever liked my sermons?” Moody asked him.
      “Of course I have.”
      “Then,” said Moody, “you’ve liked Moody’s commentaries, haven’t you?”

JOHN CALVIN (1509-1564): Some, which trust too much in their own wit, will vouchsafe to hear no man, and they will read no commentaries. But God will not have us to despise those helps which he offereth unto us.

MRS. BETHAN LLOYD-JONES (1898-1991): I had been brought up not to read commentaries. My father felt very strongly about it. You must think for yourself and compare scripture with scripture and use your sanctified intelligence, and not read and swallow other people’s thoughts and ideas and teaching about the Bible, and so on…So I had never read commentaries. But [when I began teaching a Sunday School class] I discovered something…If you are leading a class, the more you read the better. So now I read commentaries. We had a good collection of them on all parts of the Bible, and I would read them all on the passage in hand―yes, and revel in them, too―Welsh and English, the meditations of great men of God on God’s Word. I was thus enriched and far readier to meet the questions and demurrings of my class on Sundays. If there was disagreement over any point among the commentators, I would find my patient mentor in the study, and “Doctor”*―[my husband]―would always be ready to sort things out for me, reveal the real nub of the disagreement, and give his opinion for me to take or reject.

MARTYN LLOYD-JONES (1899-1981): We must not swallow automatically everything we read in books, even from the greatest men. We must examine everything.

C. H. SPURGEON: To many men thinking is an unusual employment. Yet it is a distinction of man that he can think. No wonder that when thought is forced on some men they are troubled―the last thing that most people will do is to think.

JOHN BUNYAN (1628-1688): Expositors I reverence, but I must live by mine own faith (Habakkuk 2:4). God hath nowhere bound Himself to them more than others, with respect to the revelation of His mind in His Word.

HULDRYCH ZWINGLI (1484-1531): I study the doctors* with the same feelings with which one asks a friend, “What do you understand by this?”

C. H. SPURGEON: Richard Cecil says his plan was, when he laid a hold of a Scripture, to pray over it, and get his own thoughts on it, and then, after he had so done, to take up the ablest divines who wrote upon the subject, and see what their thoughts were. If you do not think and think much, you will become slaves and mere copyists. The exercise of your own mind is most healthful to you, and by perseverance, with divine help, you may expect to get at the meaning of every understandable passage. So to rely upon your own abilities as to be unwilling to learn from others is clearly folly; so to study others as not to judge for yourself is imbecility.

JOHN ROBINSON (1575-1625): Make use of the commentaries and expositions of such special instruments, as God in mercy hath raised up for the opening of [the Scriptures], and edifying the Church thereby: remembering always, that “the word of God neither came from him nor to him alone,” (I Corinthians 14:36). He that depends too much upon other men’s judgment, makes it as if the Word of God came not to himself at all: he that neglects it, as if it came to him only.

A. W. PINK (1886-1952): Two extremes are to be guarded against: slavery to human authority and tradition; the spirit of self-will and pride. On the one hand we are to avoid blind credulity, on the other hand an affectation of independence or the love of novelty, which disdains what others believe, in order to obtain a cheap notoriety of originality. Private judgment does not mean private fancy, but a deliberate conviction based on Holy Writ. Though I must not resign my mind and conscience to others, or deliver my reason and faith over blindfold to any church, yet I ought to very slow in rejecting the approved judgment of God’s servants of the past. There is a happy medium between limiting myself to what the Puritans and others taught, and disdaining the help they can afford me. Private judgment is to be exercised humbly, soberly, impartially, with a willingness to receive light from any quarter. Ponder the Word for yourself, but mortify the spirit of haughty self-sufficiency; and be ready to avail yourself of anything likely to afford you a better understanding of the truth.

JOHN CALVIN: We must use all helps, which the Lord offereth unto us, for the understanding of the Scriptures…and here we must remember, that the Scripture is not only given us, but that interpreters and teachers are also added, to be helps to us.

JOHN NEWTON (1725-1807): I am glad to be beholden to such helps, either to explain what I do not understand, or to confirm me in what I do.

C. H. SPURGEON: As a rule, my experience is that, if its teaching is perfectly plain, the commentators, to a man, explain it at great length whereas, with equal unanimity, they studiously avoid or evade the verse which Peter might have described as “things hard to be understood.” I am much obliged to them for leaving me so many nuts to crack; but I should have been just as grateful if they had made more use of their own theological teeth or nut-crackers. However, among the many who have written upon the Word, I generally find some who can at least help to throw a side-light upon it…Every minister ought to read Matthew Henry entirely and carefully through once at least.

GEORGE WHITEFIELD (1714-1770): How sweetly did my hours in private glide away in reading and praying over Mr. Henry’s Commentary upon the Scriptures! Whilst I am musing on and writing about it, the fire I then felt again kindles in my soul.

J. W. ALEXANDER (1804-1859): As the Bible is the best of books, so the next best is that which is most like it, that which teaches the same thing—or explains the Bible.
*Editor’s Note: “Doctor,” was a nickname given to Bethan Lloyd-Jones’ husband Martyn, because after his conversion to Christ, he had given up a promising medical practice to become a pastor of a small church in Wales. In Huldrych Zwingli’s time, “doctor” was a common academic title of learned theologians.


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