Contemporary Trends, Christianity

Sermons and Secondary Literature

John Piper lets pastors know what it’s important to study the Bible for themselves and carefully:

We must be like Jonathan Edwards, who resolved in his college days and kept the resolution all his life, “Resolved: To study the Scriptures so steadily, constantly, and frequently, as that I may find, and plainly perceive, myself to grow in the knowledge of the same.” Growing, advancing, increasing—that is the goal. And to advance we must be troubled by biblical affirmations.
It must bother us that James and Paul don’t seem to fit together. Only when we are troubled and bothered do we think hard. Paul told young pastor Timothy to think hard: “Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything” (2 Tim. 2:7). And if we don’t think hard about how biblical affirmations fit together, we will never penetrate to their common root and discover the beauty of unified divine truth—what David calls “wondrous things out of your law” (Ps. 119:18). The end result is that our Bible reading will become insipid, we will turn to fascinating “secondary literature,” our sermons will be the lame work of “second-handers,” and the people will go hungry.

Brothers, We Are Not Professionals (93)

He’s right. It is all too easy for preachers to simply parrot their guys from the pulpit without original thought pertaining to their congregation’s circumstance or ancient thought derived from the Scriptures themselves. On the other hand, in our society of individuals hoping to be original, the temptation to learn nothing from others is strong. Charles Spurgeon, in his Lecture on Commenting and Commentaries, provides a balance:

In order to be able to expound the Scriptures, and as an aid to your pulpit studies, you will need to be familiar with the commentators: a glorious army, let me tell you, whose acquaintance will be your delight and profit. Of course, you are not such wiseacres as to think or say that you can expound Scripture without assistance from the works of divines and learned men who have laboured before you in the field of exposition. If you are of that opinion, pray remain so, for you are not worth the trouble of conversion, and like a little coterie who think with you, would resent the attempt as an insult to your infallibility. It seems odd, that certain men who talk so much of what the Holy Spirit reveals to themselves, should think so little of what he has revealed to others. My chat this afternoon is not for these great originals, but for you who are content to learn of holy men, taught of God, and mighty in the Scriptures. It has been the fashion of late years to speak against the use of commentaries. If there were any fear that the expositions of Matthew Henry, Gill, Scott, and others, would be exalted into Christian Targums, we would join the chorus of objectors, but the existence or approach of such a danger we do not suspect. The temptations of our times lie rather in empty pretensions to novelty of sentiment, than in a slavish following of accepted guides. A respectable acquaintance with the opinions of the giants of the past, might have saved many an erratic thinker from wild interpretations and outrageous inferences. 

A Chat About Commentaries

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