Review: Notes on the Psalms

Rating: ★★★

Author: G. Campbell Morgan was a British Congregational preacher, active from 1883 to 1943, mostly at Westminster Chapel in London. Nicknamed “the Prince of Expositors,” Morgan’s accessible expository preaching gained him a wide audience on both sides of the Atlantic. During his long life of ministry, he published more than 60 books, many of which were sermons.

Overview:

The first edition of Morgan’s Notes on the Psalms (1947; posthumous) contains brief notes on all 150 psalms, as well as the full English text of the Psalms (in a metrical layout, two columns). I believe the Bible version used is the American Standard Version. For each psalm, Morgan gives a kind of outline or summary, with a few devotional comments. Most psalms have only one or two paragraphs, meant to give you the core of the psalm. Where needed, he sometimes adds brief notes related to translation problems.

Meat:

I really liked the way this book was laid out. Including the full text of the Psalms, while unusual, made the book extremely useful as devotional reading. I was amazed how much poignant historical and textual information he was able to fit in such a short book. I also felt that his summaries of each psalm were weighty. I did not feel—as I often feel in reading a modern Bible with headings—that the heading given to each psalm was overly modern and fell short of the author’s intended theme.

Bones:

Probably the most distracting thing about this book (for me) is the charts that divided the psalms into sections or “books”. Morgan himself admits in his preface that attempts to classify the psalms are “arbitrary,” but I felt that the book divisions in particular did not provide any helpful index to interpreting the individual psalms within them. There are differences in authorship and perhaps linguistic differences, but thematic differences were just too broad to detect over as many as 30 or 40 psalms. It distracts the reader from the fact that each of them has a unique origin, and even the traditional grouping and ordering was probably, to some extent, arbitrary.

For this reason, in my own summary of the Psalms, I recommend a variety of methods of classifying the Psalms, the best of which was the one I found on Dennis Bratcher’s website.

Read: At the time of writing, this book is freely available in PDF format here.

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