Using Commentaries In Your Devotions?

Occasionally, I am part of discussions about whether or not it is helpful or appropriate to use commentaries as part of personal devotions. Here is Princeton theologian B. B. Warfield’s (1851-1921) opinion which was originally delivered in a lecture to new students on September 20, 1903. Special thanks to Pastor David Hanson who passed this on after reading it in The Savior of the World. The chapter is titled: “Spiritual Culture in the Theological Seminary.”

“You must assimilate the Bible and make it your own, in that intimate sense which will fix its words fast in your hearts, if you would have those words rise spontaneously to your lips in your times of need, or in the times of the need of others.  Read, study, meditate on your Bible: take time to it– much time; spend effort, strength, yourselves on it; until the Bible is in you.  Then the Bible will well up in you and come out from you in every season of need.”

“It is idle to seek aids for such reading and meditation.  The devout and prayerful spirit is the only key to it.  Nevertheless there are helps which may be temporarily used as crutches if the legs halt too much to go. … [He then goes with a paragraph listing and commenting on various devotionals and commentaries like Matthew Henry] … In the use of such aids it is wise to be constantly on guard, lest on the one side, we permit the aid to supplant the direct use of the Word of God as the basis of our meditation, and on the other, we grow so accustomed to the crutch that we never learn to walk alone.  Let neither Matthew Henry nor Charles Spurgeon supplant either the Word of God or the Spirit of God as the teacher of your soul.”


  1. timbloedow December 8, 2011 at 1:30 am #

    Interesting. I would think one could stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before in our devotions as well as other approaches to Scripture, obviously not letting them supplant the Word.

    The following is admittedly a rabbit trail, but since Matthew Henry is mentioned… I’ve not read much of him, but have looked at him recently in leading a study on I Corinthians. On ch. 3 about building with gold, silver and precious stones, or with hay and stubble, he contends, if I read him correctly, that this chapter is addressing all Christians and how we build our lives, whereas Calvin says it’s speaking to Church leaders and how they build the Church. (I would align with Calvin on this point.)

    I found Matthew Henry’s comments on earlier portions of I Corinthians to be very repetitive and devoid of “worldview” application, so my first serious forays into his commentaries hasn’t been particularly positive.

  2. TFish December 12, 2011 at 8:51 pm #

    James, this is interesting. It puts me in mind of the fact that Christians sometimes listen to sermons online as part of their personal devotions. Would this practice be deserving of the same criticism?

    • James Faris December 13, 2011 at 3:15 pm #

      Tom, thanks for the question. I listen to recorded sermons regularly. I know that listening to the word preached is used of God, and people do it when they are captive. Some listen while driving; for me, it’s while I run. The benefits are wonderful.

      That said, I think Warfield’s words would apply here. Divine power comes from the word. I think that’s why Joshua was to meditate on the word itself (Joshua 1:8) and the Psalmist says “your testimonies are my meditation.”

      Before the printing press, most people couldn’t read the word regularly, if at all. The word read publicly and preached was their only intake in some cases. Yet, their calling was to meditate on the word and to pass it on to their children in all aspects of life.

      Warfield obviously knew the essential nature of the preached word and the place of great commentaries. The post isn’t meant to diminish either of those, but simply to encourage people to read, study, and meditate on the word personally every day.

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