Please respond by 12 Noon, Thursday, March 1, 2012. I will notify the winner to get your mailing address at that time.
The question, this time posed by my friend Mark Fowler, concerns what commentary sets would be most helpful. The logic is that sets would give more coverage than accumulating individual volumes. So I approached the question as if my library burned down and I had to begin again, what would I first buy. (That, of course, assumes I could survive my library burning down. I probably couldn’t, but I’ll play along for this blog’s sake.) We are not suggesting that anyone would be satisfied with only sets as usually an author who specializes in one book of the Bible will often write the best commentary on it, but sets give me something on every book of the Bible (I plan a future blog posts on favorites for each book of the Bible). If I had few study books available, sets would then give me the most bang for my buck. I have more emphasis here on older sets.
The First Five Sets I Would Buy
1. The Expositors Bible Commentary edited by Frank Gaebelein in 12 volumes
As with any set by multiple authors, quality varies. But this gives you some depth as these would qualify as exegetical commentaries. Some are written by world-class scholars. Fortunately, the commentators are all conservative. (Remember a conservative scholar may not be as conservative as you and I, but I speak comparatively to their own world of scholarship). These volumes have been a blessing to me. Most authors in the set are premillennial, which is rather uncommon. Faithful searching may turn up the used set for $100-125. You could also build your set one at a time. This set is under revision by a different editor, but it is not complete, is more expensive, and so far volumes are only sold individually.
2. The Wycliffe Bible Commentary
Here’s a 1-volume commentary covering the entire Bible. Many such commentaries are of little worth, but you will find this one helpful. Read it at the beginning of your studies to take off correctly. This volume can be found cheaply.
May come in 3 volumes, or 1 volume in small print. Solid.
4. Bible Knowledge Commentary edited by Walvoord and Zuck in 2 volumes
Superior. No passage will be dodged.
5. Expositions of Holy Scripture by Alexander Maclaren
Just because he is my favorite. Check out MacLaren here.
With these 5 I would at least have something on every passage.
Other Sets I Would Try To Get Over Time
1. The Pulpit Commentary
A big set in 23 volumes. You will either really like it or you will think it is worthless. Preview before you buy. There’s a exegetical commentary section and a homiletic section.
2. The Preacher’s Homiletic Commentary
Another big set (31 volumes), but it reads a little quicker than the Pulpit Commentary. A few friends have told me they like it better. Both could help at the end of your studies when all that is left is adding homiletic spice. I’ve enjoyed owning both.
3. The Biblical Illustrator in 23 large volumes
Massive. Condenses in varying degree great sermons of the past. If you are this far down the list you better have some nice shelving.
4. Lange’s Commentary in 12 volumes
A fine set. Perhaps should have been in the first 5 above. Think older, but still helpful.
5. Barnes Notes in various sets
Some sets cover the OT, but Barnes only did a few of them. He did all of the NT. Well worth having.
6. Keil & Delitzsch in 10 volumes (OT only)
A little Hebrew to work around, but as good as any scholars of their day and they cover all the OT. A little dry.
7. Lenski’s Commentaries on the NT
It’s funny how dogmatic he can be at times–it reads like he’s right and you are wrong. Still, it’s really good.
8. Through The Bible by J. Vernon McGee
I have a soft spot in my heart for this set. As a teenager it was the first set I ever bought. He reads easy and says nice things. Pay attention to when he is off topic. Don’t emulate him there.
9. Bible Exposition Commentary by Warren Wiersbe
This is the nicer and quicker way to get his “Be” series. The OT volumes are better as he wrote them later. He grew as a writer over time.
10. The Expositor’s Bible
An old set that varies widely. Some are very poor while other volumes are outstanding. A few might rank as the best you’ll ever have.
11. Hendriksen and Kistemaker covering the NT
Superb! But doesn’t cover the OT. These scholars are reformed, but there is such a warmth to their writing (especially Mr. Hendriksen). They love the Scriptures they write about. I wish more scholars would use them as a role model.
12. John Phillips Commentaries
Steady and consistent in quality. I heard him preach once and was blown away. His volumes on Psalms and Proverbs are standout volumes.
13. Calvin’s Commentaries in 22 volumes
Don’t expect a treatise on Calvinism at all. The man was a brilliant commentator and we must give him his due even if we couldn’t subscribe to the theological system that bears his name. Yes he sees election as you would expect a Calvinist to see it, but he isn’t driven to find Calvinism under every rock as some modern Calvinist commentators do. He wants to discuss what the text actually says as a good commentator should.
14. John Trapp’s Commentary in 5 large volumes
Spurgeon loved this set. He said we could use it to spice up the whole dish. Rare and expensive. I got a deal and have enjoyed it.
There are other good ones. Grab John Kitto’s Daily Bible Illustrations if you can, as well as Bishop Halls Contemplations . You might like Gray and Adams, though I don’t use them as often. I just recently got the set Christ In The Bible by A. B. Simpson and he is good at seeing Christ. There’s The Expositor’s Greek Testament but my set stays pretty dusty. Alford on the NT isn’t too bad. The Speaker’s Bible is spotty, but at times a winner. Handfuls On Purpose by Smith and Lee is a set to look for sermon ideas, not a place to help you understand a text. Adam Clarke is well known, but I rarely consult his set of commentaries. Matthew Poole is better than you think. Bengel’s NT Commentary I find to be very good. A.T. Robertson’s Word Pictures is underrated in my opinion. Harry Ironside’s commentaries vary in depth of comment but are always good. Matthew Henry’s Commentary still has something to say after all these years.I may have forgot something. Perhaps there are a few sets I don’t have and so can’t comment on them. This blog post does not cover newer exegetical commentary series that are being written today. We are covering the old standbys here.
You must be diligent in searching for bargains to assemble all these sets. I find it best to prioritize my want list, but be ready to jump if something comes along for next to nothing. Happy Bible study.
That Charles Haddon Spurgeon is a legend is beyond dispute. Any pastor would have to be amazed by his pastorate and overall ministry. The crowds, the conversions, the influence stagger the imagination. Were we to know the depths of his suffering both physically and at the hands of other religious leaders, we might not want his ministry after all.
Perhaps the most amazing thing of all is that after 120 years his books and written sermons are as fresh as ever. There’s some phrasing peculiar to his day, but his sermons still grab the heart. His sermons come in 2 sets. There’s the 6 volume set called New Park Street Pulpit that were from the first years of his pastorate and are available reasonably priced used. Then there’s the 57 volume set published by Pilgrim Publications called Metropolitan Tabernacle Sermons that retails for $2000 (occasionally used sets come up for $1000-$1200). I was blessed to finally get an almost complete set! There’s some older used volumes, but these Pilgrim volumes have nice bindings that will last for generations. There are several other sets with various names (I have a few myself), but remember they are all taken from these 2 sets.
His sermons are often textual, sometimes expository, and rarely topical. Their greatest strengths include vividness, imagination, and most of all, gospel. No one can lift up Jesus Christ quite like he can. I’ve heard that Spurgeon’s sermons comprise the largest collection of writings by one person in the English language. Though Spurgeon was a Calvinist, only a handful of sermons really have much Calvinism in them. The truth is Spurgeon was much maligned by more ardent calvinists than himself. Read Iain Murray’s “Spurgeon Vs. Hyper-Calvinism” to learn this history. The truth is that Spurgeon constantly called on men to turn to Jesus for salvation, and he never spoke of being worried if you are elect–no, just flee to Christ. Personally, I think he is at his best in the parables and miracles. Wow, he makes them come alive!
He wrote other things as well. “Lectures To My Students” and “An All-Around Ministry” are still read by those in the ministry. Articles he wrote appreared in several small volumes. His last volume was a commentary on Matthew that I find very useful. His 3 large volumes on the Psalms are my very favorite on the Psalms. I would hate to be without them. He wrote several other volumes like Advice To Seekers, etc.
Be sure to read “Commenting and Commentaries” either for book suggestions or laughs. I’ve worked hard to obtain several of his recommendations. He favors the Puritans, and though I’ve read them some, I wish they were better at coming to the point. Spurgeon took good things they offered (especially application), but he in no way reads like them. Listen to some of his comments in this book:
65.”Too small to be of any use. You cannot put the sea into a tea cup.”
100. Thomas Pyle “A pile of paper, valuable to housemaids for lighting fires.”
435. “The author confounds rather than expounds.”
766. “We have frequently characterized this author’s writings. They are clear, cold, and dry, like a fine moonlight night in the middle of winter. A man needs a peculiar mind to enjoy Hengstenberg, but all educated students can profit by him.”
And there are many, many more zingers.
If you come to enjoy and appreciate Spurgeon as I do you will want to secure some of his biographies. I have Spurgeon: Prince of Preachers by Drummond (Kregel), The Life and Works of C. H. Spurgeon in 2 volumes by G. Holden Pike (Banner of Truth), Life of Charles Spurgeon by Russell Conwell (old, written shortly after his death), The Life and Works of C. H. Spurgeon by Henry Northrop (Sword), C. H. Autobiography in 2 volumes (Banner of Truth), From The Pulpit To The Palm-Branch (Solid Ground), The Unforgettable Spurgeon by Eric Hayden (Emerald), and The Shadow of the Broad Brim by Richard Day (Crown Publications). There are a few other small ones I have as well. He has been a popular subject for biographers.
The main thing about Spurgeon is the depth of his love for the Lord. As a preacher, his sermons challenge me. As a Christian, they move me.