Thursdays With Spurgeon—Comments On Commentaries

This is a weekly series with things I’m reading and pondering from Charles Spurgeon. You can read the original seed thought here, or type “Thursdays With Spurgeon” in the search box to read more entries.

Comments On Commentaries

     It has been said that the passage I have taken for my text [Isaiah 7:1-17] is one of the most difficult in all the Word of God. It may be so. I certainly did not think it was until I saw what the commentators had to say about it, and I rose up from reading them perfectly confused! One said one thing, and another denied what the other had said. And if there was anything that I liked, it was self-evident that it had been copied from one to the other and handed through the whole of them! 

     One set of commentators tells us that this passage refers entirely to some person who was to be born within a few months after this prophecy….

     Well, that seems a strange frittering away of a wonderful passage, full of meaning, and I cannot see how they can substantiate their view when we find the evangelist Matthew quoting this very passage in reference to the birth of Christ [Matthew 1:22-23]….

     I find, moreover, that many of the commentators divide the sixteenth verse from the fourteenth and fifteenth verses, and they read the fourteenth and fifteenth verses exclusively of Christ, and the sixteenth verse of Shear-Jashub….

     Then another view, which is the most popular of all, is to refer the passage, first of all, to some child who was then to be born, and afterward, in the highest sense, to our blessed Lord Jesus Christ. … 

     But I think that if I had never read those books at all, but had simply come to the Bible without knowing what any man had written upon it, I would have said, ‘There is Christ here as plainly as possible! Never could His name had been written more legibly than I see it here.’ 

From The Birth Of Christ

Spurgeon was not advocating that we never consult commentaries because elsewhere he said about the use of commentaries: “I find it odd that he who thinks so highly of what the Holy Spirit teaches him speaks so little of what the Holy Spirit teaches others also.” 

But what I believe Spurgeon is advocating here is this important principle—The best commentary on a passage of Scripture is another passage of Scripture. Which is why he used the passage in Matthew to help him understand the passage in Isaiah.

God makes Himself clear in His Word. The same Holy Spirit that inspired the pen of those who wrote the words in the Bible is the same Holy Spirit in you that can illuminate those words to your heart and mind. 

Commentators have their place. I believe that place is after you have prayed through and wrestled with a passage of Scripture for yourself. Think of commentators as the answers in the back of your math book. After you have worked through the equations for yourself, go to the answer key to verify your answers. If you simply look up the answer before you wrestle with the problem, how have you benefitted yourself? 

And always remember that God’s Word is infallible, but men are fallible. Commentators may provide an insight that helps you see something more clearly, but they are never a substitute for God’s very own word on a matter. 

Should you use commentaries? Sure! Find a good one, but consult it only after you have asked the Holy Spirit to help illuminate the passage, and after you have allowed the commentary of Scripture itself to shine its light on the difficult verse or passage.


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