Part 1 of the series, Sayings and mottos that sound pious but aren’t. #1: “Let Go and Let God”
Part 3 of the series “I’m too humble to think that I could ever know what the Bible really means”
Part 4 of the series Pray Big Because We Have a Big God
Part 5 of the series He’s so heavenly minded he’s no earthly good
Some sayings sound legitimate on their surface. They sound pious. They sound biblical. Like this one: “Cleanliness is next to Godliness”. Only problem is, that one isn’t in the bible. At all.
It is sometimes hard to tell what truly is Christian and what merely sounds Christian. Charles Spurgeon wisely said, “Discernment is not a matter of simply telling the difference between right and wrong; rather it is telling the difference between right and almost right.” So what is right, and what is almost right (AKA ‘wrong’) about the following sayings which have become such cliches?
Some of these mottoes are:
- “Let go and let God”
- “I don’t use commentaries because they’re men’s wisdom. I only use God’s Word when I study.”
- “We can’t know for certain what the bible means, I’m not that smart”
- “Pray big because we have a big God.”
- “He’s so heavenly minded he’s no earthly good”
In part 1 we looked at “Let go and let God.” Now let’s look at #2,
“I don’t use commentaries because they’re men’s wisdom. I only use God’s Word when I study.”
“It has been the fashion of late years to speak against the use of commentaries…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.”
CH SpurgeonBeth Moore says this a lot. It sounds like she’s being diligent and pious, doesn’t it? The phrase actually has a legitimate root. It’s called biblicism. GotQuestions defines biblicism as “Biblicism: a high regard for and obedience to the Bible as the ultimate authority” and this is a good thing.
However, many people take biblicism to an unintended end by rejecting all supportive works recognized as legitimately helpful by the Christian historical record.
It is less than pious to reject the wisdom of the faithful men God has raised up for our learning. God took time to mold men, justify them, install the Spirit in them, educate them, and empower them for good works. When we say “I don’t need commentaries” what we’re saying is that though we believe we have all the power necessary to learn all we need from the bible, (and we do, by the Spirit) it means we also totally reject God’s work in these men. It’s like saying, “I don’t need to listen to my pastor’s sermons because they are a man’s wisdom. I only need God’s Word” and then cover your ears in the pew and go la la la the entire sermon.
Who doesn’t need to read Jonathan Edwards’ sermon Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God? Who isn’t blessed in reading SPurgeon’s sermon on God’s Providence? Who doesn’t need to listen to Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ sermon series on the Great Biblical Doctrines? Who can’t use a Matthew Henry or a John MacArthur commentary? Do the people who make this impious claim really understand what they are saying? More to the point, do they realize what they leave themselves open to? Solid biblical and theological scholarship that comes from seminaries and universities or from church fathers obviously in the Spirit (such as Spurgeon who never went to college OR seminary) who remain adherent to God’s word, is teaching that actually guards us against heresy and helps us to remember of the hard lessons of church and martyrdom history.
“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.“ ~Charles Spurgeon
In almost every book or Bible study since Breaking Free, when Moore began to depart from the bible, Moore relates experiences of direct revelation from God or conversations with God. This is what will tend to happen as one rejects solid teaching supplements, begins to slack off in personal study, and fall into the trap of mystical intuition. We need as much help as we can get to remain on the right side of sound doctrine. (Titus 2:1)
“The best commentators are those who have written upon only one book. Few men can comment eminently well upon the whole Bible.” Charles SpurgeonAnd there are also a few logical facts to consider…
In and of ourselves, we aren’t the end of all wisdom about God’s Word. So sometimes we need a little help. That’s what commentaries are for, to help us understand the Bible better. Now, of course studying the bible alone is preferable. It is THE starting point. But it shouldn’t be the only method. Be discerning. But don’t neglect the historical wealth of God’s work in good men.
In this issue of the student magazine, The Encourager, the author William J. Brown wrote, “To say the written wisdom of Spurgeon, Whitefield, Wesley, Calvin, Luther, Augustine and others have no bearing on our lives shows a bit of arrogance on our part. All we have left of these men is what they wrote. Their pastoral voices cry from the pages of ink-stained books. These men were wise (in many ways much wiser in their times than we are in ours.) We need to listen to these men and the things they desire to teach us about God’s Word.
One caution: Do not allow commentaries, sermons, books, or other notes to dictate to you about what the bible says and means. Begin with the Word of God itself and allow the Spirit room to work in illuminating it to your mind.
Here are some resources for you:
John MacArthur essay: How to Enjoy Bible Study
Kay Arthur’s study “Titus…Living with Integrity in a Hostile Culture” begins with an explanation about
inductive bible study- what it means and how to do it. [note: link is to .pdf]
In keeping with Spurgeon’s exhortation that the best commentaries are ones where the author focused his heart, mind and attention on one book, the standout which comes to mind is Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ exposition on Romans. As The Banner of Truth explains, “All over the world in the most diverse situations are to be found Christian men and women who owe an incalculable debt to the ministry of Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones who for thirty years was the minister of Westminster Chapel, London. His longest series of expositions was this 14 volume set of Romans, the greatest of New Testament Epistles.”
Martyn Lloyd-Jones sermons on Romans (free)
Martyn Lloyd-Jones commentary on Romans, 14-volume set for purchase
Pastor & book reviewer Tim Challies often makes recommendations on good commentaries. This link leads you to his page titled Best Commentaries on Each Book of the Bible
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To be sure, we strike a delicate balance between relying on the Spirit to illuminate the scriptures to us and consuming work the Spirit previously did in other men. We acknowledge that while He is all-sufficient for leading us into all truth (John 6:13), He is always working (John 5:17) and His work includes illuminating the meaning of scripture in others, too, who wrote it down for us.
Ultimately, the important thing is to actually read the bible. One may be surprised at how few people actually read it. I understand lives are busy. There’s a tendency to rely on one’s intuition, or at the other extreme, other people’s commentaries. Reading the bible is hard. Moms are busy, Dads are tired. Satan wants us to set daily reading aside ‘just for today.’ Soon you realize it has been two months.
When you begin, sometimes the text itself is hard to read. I just finished 1 & 2 Kings, and man, it was rough going. I hardly understood anything. The history was unfamiliar to me, the names were difficult to read and pronounce, the list of kings was confusing. I wanted to revert to the Prophets so many times, texts I love! But it’s important to just keep reading. Next time I read something from 1 or 2 Kings, it will be a bit easier. I needed to break that trail.
And now for something completely different, I think I’ll read Galatians next.
I use commentaries after I read a text, Vines Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, old and new maps (I love seeing where these things are taking place), natural histories (if animals are mentioned or if the topography is important to the story), a Lexicon, Strong’s concordance, parallel verses, and more. I want to understand as much as possible about the text after I read it.
For example, it was helpful to know a simple thing like when I read “A Psalm of Ascents” to hear Phil Johnson explain that when the Israelites had to go to Jerusalem for a feast, it was uphill all the way. So they sang these song as they ascended. I looked up the topography and now I can better hear their singing in my mind and feel the dust under their feet and their tired legs as they ascend. Or when Elijah fled Jezebel from Mt Carmel to Beersheba to Mt Horeb, to see where he ran to and how far it was on a map.
Rely on scripture as your authority to learn the word of God and His revealed nature, and use supporting texts to expand your understanding for context and historical meaning. Don’t be abusive with them but don’t be ashamed, either. But above all, read the bible.
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