I've chosen to only list here commentaries that are freely available online in English. It's not perfect, but I've worked hard to make this list more complete than others I have seen online. For more free Bible commentaries, check here. And for an earlier version of this post with more comments on each book, click here.Continue reading
Below are listed over 100 commentaries on Genesis that are free online, in various formats and platforms. All of them were published before 1920 but are preserved, mostly through large-scale repositories like Internet Archive, HathiTrust, Early English Books Online, and Google Books, in addition to Sefaria. I've numbered them in loose order based on my recommendation of them; I've commented on those that I've consulted. This list was a bit of an experiment; in the future, I will try to order these by language and author. This list is pretty extensive, but if you know Latin, German, or French, you can find even more over at PRDL.Continue reading
I have been spending some time collating lists of free Bible commentaries. But first, I want to share where others have worked tirelessly to make them available.
Many readers will know that you can compare a dozen English Bible translations side-by-side on BibleHub; you can see even more by clicking “Additional Translations”; but did you know that you can also search a dozen commentaries on a verse?
The nearly “infinite scroll” can be taxing on a mobile device, but BibleHub is still the fastest and easiest way to get a sense for what classic Protestant commentaries have said about a verse. If you are just getting started on a verse and don’t have access to a big theological library, I definitely recommend starting there.
BlueLetterBible is a great website for checking the Hebrew and Greek quickly. On the mobile app, you can download several translations easily, and you have access to a nice variety of resources, somewhat similar to BibleHub. It also has a few classic commentaries like Matthew Henry, and a few contemporary commentaries like Chuck Smith, David Guzik, and J. Vernon McGee. BLB seems to follow a specific theological school so the commentaries there are constrained by this.
CatenaBible.com includes verse-by-verse comments on the Bible, mostly from Church Fathers like Ambrose, Augustine, and Chrysostom. You can easily look up a verse and see quite a few comments, all (amazingly) in English. It is difficult to find collections of Church Fathers’ writings in English, and that makes this a very valuable resource.
In reality, a ‘catena’ (Latin for “chain”) is a collection of biblical commentaries, usually from Church Fathers, arranged together in canonical (or verse-by-verse) order for easy reference. Along with the Jewish Mikraot Gadolot, medieval “catenae” were predecessors of modern study Bibles. Lord willing, the mass digitization of world libraries will eventually make apps and repository websites like Catena, BibleHub, and BlueLetterBible into unbelievably rich sources of information; for now, all of them draw from different public domain material.
My one complaint about CatenaBible is that it is not easy to see the source documents that these comments are drawn from. This is confusing if you want to buy a print version, or read the comment in the original language. I am honestly surprised by how difficult it is to find the works of the Church Fathers, and CatenaBible is a step in the right direction.
Post-Reformation Digital Library (PRDL)
PRDL is an impressive resource for finding books between 1500 and 1800. Similar to the Online Books Page and Reformed Books Online, PRDL is not a repository, but a collection of lists showing where other websites give access to commentaries. What’s special about PRDL (unlike Reformed Books Online) is that it is organized as a database, which means that you can use a variety of different search terms to find a book: date, author, topic, title, etc. Unlike others, it is also a funded academic research project (though it incorporates and vets contributions from volunteers).
As one instance of PRDL’s value, I spent an hour looking for commentaries from the 1500s which I saw cited in a theology book: Brenz, Musculus, Pellikan, and others. After an hour of searching for (Wolfgang) Musculus on archive.org, Google Books, worldcat.org, and Google, I could not find a digital copy of his commentary on Genesis. There is great difficulty because the title used medieval orthography, so his name could be spelled Mvscvlsvs, and library websites may or may not update that to Musculus, etc. To my great relief, you can type his name into PRDL, and you can see 178 of his works on his author page, including several editions of his Genesis commentary. What a brilliant website!
Unlike all the other sites listed here, PRDL is multilingual, so you can find commentaries in English, Latin, German, French, Dutch, and probably a couple of other European languages. PRDL is part of a funded research project which explains its tremendous erudition and quality—it is much more than a blog. I highly recommend checking it out if you are looking for contemporaries of Luther and Calvin; but it is very incomplete when considering the English Victorian era, which was a very rich time for the publishing of Christian books.
Reformed Books Online
Reformed Books Online claims for itself that it is the “best and largest” collection of Bible commentaries online—I suppose the authors mean in English. It is very useful in that it includes organized links for a large number of commentaries, many taken from PRDL. But it leaves out quite a number of commentaries, especially comments from Church Fathers, medieval commentaries, and any of the great Jewish writers. The site omits or downplays many useful Arminian resources and, following their great father Spurgeon, takes great care to “warn” readers of any Arminian authors. It is clear that most of the bibliography work was done by consulting other works by Spurgeon and Cyril Barber, not by scanning through libraries or digital repositories, which include many works not listed here.
Reformed Books Online also sets up Spurgeon as sole arbiter of which old commentaries should be read, the authors not taking time to write their own reviews. Spurgeon’s 1876 book on Bible commentaries is routinely quoted as the only authority on the quality of a work, so that even his admirers must tire of hearing of it. Sometimes I think “only Spurgeon” is the sixth sola, as Reformed readers seem to know no other preacher or writer between Whitefield (d. 1770) and the present day. We would do well to bear no heroes on our shoulders, and to test everything by the testimony of two or three witnesses.
The Sefaria Digital Library is a Jewish resource, and I highly recommend it to Christians who want to find historic Jewish wisdom on the Hebrew Bible. If you are totally unininitiated, you may want to start by reading a few passages from the Midrash Rabbah (6th century), or Ramban (13th c.). You can also read the Talmudim here, which are important though not exactly “commentaries”.
Sefaria is amazingly well-indexed, so you can click a Bible verse and find upwards of 100 comments, ranging over many centuries—which is unbelievable, when you consider that Reformed Books Online lists only 70-odd commentaries on Genesis, and the sources listed in Sefaria don’t overlap with those. Most on Sefaria are from medieval Jewish writers, but some, like the Targumim and some of the Midrashim, are much older.
Sefaria does have many books that are in Hebrew only, so you may have to do some scrolling to find those that are translated into English (especially on mobile devices). This is great if you’re learning Hebrew; if you’re not, it may be a chore. In any case, any student of the Hebrew Bible should be aware of this wonderful repository.
StudyLight.org has 128 (mostly Protestant) Bible commentaries (in HTML) including many that I have not found anywhere else, even in PDF format. Examples of less-noticed commentaries here include Adam Clarke (early Methodist), Ellicott’s Commentary (late Victorian), Paul Kretzmann (an early 20th-century Lutheran author whose biography of Krapf we published), and Charles Simeon (an Anglican who was extremely influential in early modern missions in a number of ways).
StudyLight is impressively thorough and well-indexed, and reading on a mobile device is seamless, apart from the ads. Aside from older, public domain commentaries, it also incorporates several modern commentaries that are used by permission. I recommend scrolling through these to see what’s there.
I have one caveat: the commentary given there as “Thomas Coke” (a Methodist) is in fact just a plagiarized reprint of William Dodd. I am not sure if Coke’s commentary includes some original material or is entirely a reprint, but students of the Bible should just consult Dodd’s 1770 commentary.
For fun, I decided to post my all-time top 25 Christian non-fiction books. I could not order the biographies together with the others, so they are in two groups.
What about you? Are there any that I missed?
- Unspoken Sermons (3 vol.)
- Power through Prayer
- The Pursuit of God
- Orthodoxy (Chesterton)
- My Utmost for His Highest
- Spiritual Depression (Lloyd-Jones)
- Christianity Is Jewish
- The Unshakable Kingdom and the Unchanging Person
- A Tale of Three Kings
- The Problem of Pain
- The Call (Guinness)
- The Practice of the Presence of God
- The Christ of the Indian Road
- The Company of the Committed
- Exodus (vol. 2 of The People’s Bible)
- The Life of Adoniram Judson (by his son Edward)
- Bruchko (originally titled For This Cross I’ll Kill You)
- God’s Smuggler
- George Müller of Bristol
- Oswald Chambers: Abandoned to God
- The Peace Child
- James Gilmour of Mongolia
- The Hiding Place
- The Footsteps of Divine Providence
Some honorable mentions would be The Blue Flame (Boreham), G. Campbell Morgan’s expository sermons, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment (Burroughs), Vanya (a biography), many lengthy Puritan books which are admirable but difficult to finish, and the rest of The People’s Bible (28 volumes of Joseph Parker’s sermons, hard to classify as one whole).
I’ve intentionally left out theology and commentary which I think need to be handled based on subject matter (in the case of theology) or by canonical order (in the case of biblical commentary). I may start posting more commentary recommendations soon!
Missionary biographies are, in one sense, a dime a dozen. Thousands or perhaps tens of thousands of Christians have held that title in some capacity since the days of the Moravians, and hundreds have published their own stories in English alone. In another sense, I believe that, despite their commonality, missionary stories are worth their weight in gold, and I collect and read all of them that I can; I would say the exception is when their stories are not worth reading.
But there are some missionary stories that give us a lens into a greater work of Christ in history. The apostle Paul said that he disposes the times and places of men and women for the purposes of the glory of his kingdom, but seldom are we able to see such obvious evidence of his sovereignty as when the gospel message brings transformation to an entire culture. If that is our subject of study, we can do no better than to begin with the following five stories of national and cultural transformation.
Outside influences in Africa were, from the beginning, most strongly felt along the coastlines. After David Livingstone led to an explosion of missions work in Africa, Uganda became a major beachhead. Alexander MacKay was among the most famous of the Christian workers there; James Hannington, appointed Anglican Bishop of East Equatorial Africa, was martyred on his arrival to Uganda (or Buganda), leading British Christians to respond by sending even more Christian workers there.
Fiji, like Uganda, is a story of national revival. Like Uganda, it is also the story of a place that was organized into chiefdoms, and it was not always clear who held what territory. James and Mary Calvert were at the storm-center of a national revival that overtook Fiji when the chief who ruled much of the islands chose to become a Christian.
During their lifelong stay in Fiji, Mary Calvert boldly challenged the age-old custom of wife-burning at the death of a patriarch. She and others put themselves in danger to save the lives of other women who would have been killed in the funeral celebrations of their husbands, thus playing a key role in the ending of a dark and ancient custom.
If you haven’t heard this thrilling story, Vernon’s Dawn in Fiji is a must-read. If you prefer a book with more facts and details, Rowe’s James Calvert of Fiji gives the best account that I have found.
3. The Karen peoples of Myanmar
The story of the Judsons themselves carries interest far beyond their status as the first American missionaries. Right through from their shaky beginnings—when they committed to overseas work, there was no agency to support them—they amply vindicated the title of “missionary” by doing apostolic work that has impacted Myanmar (then Burma) for two centuries.
This story, first told in Edward Judson’s masterful biography of his father, was re-popularized for twentieth-century readers by Don Richardson in his bestselling book Eternity in Their Hearts; however, there is much more to the story than Richardson’s quick survey. After meeting a liberated slave, Adoniram Judson heard that the Karen people would be receptive to Christ’s message of forgiveness. Little did he know that two centuries later, millions of Karen people would consider themselves Christians because of this one meeting.
Readers of this story will think it no coincidence that the first American missionaries stumbled into a people group so utterly primed for the gospel of Christ. The Karen people had unique myths and customs that pointed to a future message that would bring them freedom. Wylie gives the fascinating details of these pre-Christian myths in her classic book, The Gospel in Burma.
4. The Huaorani people of Ecuador
The Huaorani became the dinner conversation of the entire Western world after they speared five missionaries to death on a remote riverside in 1959. Those five men had come, fully aware of the Huaorani’s violent tendencies, hoping to make peaceful contact and eventually share the gospel with this people. After all five were martyred while venturing for the gospel, in another stunning turn of events, their surviving family members, Rachel Saint and Elisabeth Elliot, were able to accomplish that dream of sharing the gospel with them.
The End of the Spear tells the continuing story in the 1990s, when God called Steve Saint and his family back to the jungle to serve where the people that had killed his father. Steve saw the Westernization and the dependence that had crippled the Huaorani, and he has spent the past 25 years working to give indigenous peoples independence and freedom through both the gospel and education.
Books: The End of the Spear (by Steve Saint), Through Gates of Splendor (by Elisabeth Elliot), The Journals of Jim Elliot.
5. The Motilone people
Unlike many authors who gain traction through mainstream publishing, Bruce Olson has remained utterly outside the limelight. His wonderful biography begins with his own conversion and his family’s harsh disapproval. Led specifically to reach the remote Motilone people, Bruce ended up in Colombia, disowned by his family, unknown to any sending agency, and unable to communicate even a basic greeting in Spanish. The miraculous story of how, after years of patience, he was able to find the remote Motilone people, learn their language, and bring them the gospel, is one that is better told in the book itself.
Originally titled For This Cross I’ll Kill You, Bruce’s autobiographical story of bringing the gospel to the Motilone brought him a hailstorm of criticism for his unusual tale in which he acted as a missionary apart from any denomination or agency. The same criticisms have been resurrected after the death of John Allen Chau in 2018. But God calls each of us to walk the unique path that he gives us, and wisdom will be finally justified by her children. I, for one, think that Bruce’s story is remarkable evidence of the hand of God in our day.
Books: Bruchko (Bruce Olson).
Historically, poetry has always had an important role in the Christian spiritual life. The longest book in the Bible is a book of verse; many of the Bible’s prophetic books, though they are not translated as poetry, are poetry in their original language. In addition, the New Testament’s writers quoted from the wisdom of secular poets and from early hymns.
Although I am a lover of music, it is sad when music overshadows the truths about which we are singing. If you start reading these works, you will find that the best musicians of today are those that draw from the vast treasures of Christian verse in English.
- John Donne (1572-1631)
A Spiritual Romantic
Literature students will read a few of Donne’s angsty poems that can be read alongside Sylvia Plath and Emily Dickinson. But Donne’s Holy Sonnets and Divine Poems have a depth of work that set the foundation for English devotional poetry. His poems deal with suffering, the cross, and longing for God. Donne was a flighty and romantic soul, but in his lifetime ws better known as a pastor than a poet.
Samuel Johnson classes Donne as a “metaphysical poet,” because of his flare for difficult metaphors (with no relation to the present trend of “metaphysics” as a religious study). Today critics class with him George Herbert, Henry Vaughan, and Richard Crashaw—all seventeenth-century poets who wrote on devotional themes, all inspired in part by Donne.
‘Twas much, that man was made like God before,
But, that God should be made like man, much more.
Selection of Divine Poems: vox
- George Herbert (1593-1633)
Lyricist of the Cross
Herbert follows very much along the line of Donne, but that does not mean his work is not valuable. He frequently contemplates scenes or passages from Scripture, and like Donne, he was a priest. He was also a lute-player, and many of his poems were set to his own music. Herbert died at 39.
He that cannot forgive others breaks the bridge over which he must pass himself; for every man has need to be forgiven.
Selected Poems (free): pdf
- John Milton (1608-1674)
Poet of Eden
Author of Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained. Although he is most well known for these two poems, he has many other poems, especially on the Nativity of Christ, that are worth a second look.
Milton also wrote a number of polemical tracts, one of which—the Areopagitica—is regarded as foundational to the Western concept of censorship and freedom of press.
Milton was blind in his later life. His biographer records that he had his daughter read the Scriptures to him in the original languages for hours every day. While he was writing Paradise Lost, he took comfort in what he considered his most significant literary work, a recent political tract, now all but forgotten in comparison to his poetry.
Peace hath her victories
No less renowned than war.
- Isaac Watts (1674-1748)
Pioneer of English Hymnwriting
In his lifetime, Watts was known as a logician more than his verse. In the early 18th century, he published The Psalms of David Imitated and several others books that set the foundation for English hymnody. Little known to most Christians, there was a time in Reformation England when there was a controversy over whether congregations should sing psalms or hymns. Authors and theologians like Benjamin Keach and Isaac Watts were instrumental—pun intended—in bringing freedom to Christian expression in music and worship, similar to many 20th-century musicians who challenged the Christians music industry to expand its art forms.
He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love.
- Charles Wesley (1707-1788)
Singer of the Methodist Revolution
Today John Wesley is known as the “founder of the Methodist movement,” and his brother as the songwriter of the movement. But are the brothers so different? Both brothers were in Oxford’s Holy Club, which Charles founded in 1729; both brothers went to Georgia in 1735; both brothers experienced conversion in 1738; both brothers began open-air preaching in 1739 after the style of George Whitefield; both brothers wrote thousands of hymns, and both preached evangelistically for decades.
Faith, mighty faith, the promise sees,
And looks to God alone;
Laughs at impossibilities,
And cries it shall be done.
Hymns and Sacred Poems: pdf
- William Cowper (1731-1800)
Minstrel of Abolition
Cowper and Newton arranged Olney Hymns for Newton’s congregation in Olney, England; this was the first work to include “Amazing Grace” (by Newton) and many other now famous hymns.
Cowper’s The Task is often called the best of his poetry, probably because of its defense of a Reformed theology. But his other long poems like “Charity” have equal merit and are loaded with theological content.
God moves in a mysterious way,
His wonders to perform;
He plants his footsteps in the sea,
And rides upon the storm
- F. W. Faber (1814-1863)
The Muse of God’s Character
Faber was a prolific Catholic writer of both poetry and prose. Although his theology works are strongly flavored by his Catholicism, today many Protestants know and love his verse through the writings of A. W. Tozer. Tozer was so greatly moved by Faber’s poetry, that in his compilation, The Christian Book of Mystical Verse, Faber figures more prominently than any other poet. Tozer also quotes Faber multiple times in his devotional books like The Knowledge of the Holy.
Faber’s hymns deal preeminently with the nature and character of God, which is why Tozer liked them so much. Faber also deals with themes of death, the prayer life, and spiritual dryness. Protestant readers can also get our edition of Faber’s Hymns which has been culled down from his best works.
Shoreless Ocean! who shall sound Thee?
Thine own eternity is round Thee,
- Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861)
She was often quoted simply as Mrs. Browning, and her husband Robert was, of course, a famous poet in his own right. In some books of the period, she is introduced as “Mr. Browning’s wife,” but, ironically, I see her quoted more often in devotional readings.
Though she shies from comparing her Drama in Exile to Milton’s Paradise Lost, she follows a similar line by starting where Milton left off.
Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God:
But only he who sees takes off his shoes.
We have published two new paperbacks about pioneer missionaries!
Samuel Zwemer’s Biography
Apostle to Islam: A Biography of Samuel Zwemer by J. Christy Wilson is the authorized biography of Samuel Marinus Zwemer. J. Christy Wilson not only was a missionary in the Muslim world for 22 years, but he succeeded Zwemer as chair of Princeton’s Institute of Theology.
If you are interested in reading about pioneer missions in the Middle East, I would look no further than this book. Zwemer was connected everywhere. He started in pioneer missions in Iraq, Bahrain, and Egypt; he set up missions conferences specifically for reaching Muslims in India, China, and Indonesia; he taught theology and missions at Princeton, and wrote nearly fifty books while doing all this. No wonder Zwemer’s close colleague called him “a steam engine in breeches!”
Zwemer’s Lucknow conference in 1911 is considered a major turning point in missions to the Muslim world.
Ludwig Krapf’s Biography
The Life of Ludwig Krapf: The Missionary Explorer of East Africa by Paul E. Kretzmann
(Johann) Ludwig Krapf was trained for missions in Basel, Switerland. He was first-class linguist, studying Semitic languages like Hebrew, Arabic, and Ethiopic in addition to European languages. When he went to East Africa in 1827, he found these skills to be in no small demand. He published research, dictionaries, and Bible portions in no less than seven East African languages with his colleagues, including a Bible translation in Swahili. Although he tragically suffered the loss of his family on the mission field, he did not lose his indomitable and courageous spirit. It was then that he famously wrote that, since the church conquers over the graves of its workers, then the evangelization of Africa was at hand.
Paul E. Kretzmann, author of the Popular Commentary of the Bible, honed this biography from hundreds of pages of Krapf’s journals and his past biographers to create an accessible and page-turning story with a broad appeal.
As Lent approaches, here are three recommendations for getting into the spirit of the season:
- When God Died by Herbert Lockyer
Herbert Lockyer wrote these 12 meditative sermons specifically for the Lent season, which culminates in the commemoration of the Holy Week and the death and resurrection of Jesus. The sermons focus, though, on the meaning of the crucifixion of Jesus. These classic sermons by Herbert Lockyer were out of print for more than 75 years, and have been republished by Pioneer Library.
- The Loneliness of Christ by Robert Keable
This Catholic author wrote a stirring devotional about a seldom-explored side of Jesus’ life: loneliness. Lent is typically focused towards the cross and resurrection of Christ, but it also commemorates his temptation in the desert. Jesus’ loneliness is part and parcel of his work as our Forerunner, our Captain, and our Savior.
- Concerning Christ’s Temptations by Thomas Fuller
If you love Puritan literature, you should definitely check out Thomas Fuller. He is a 17th-century Chesterton, combining unexpected insight with a witty turn of phrase. Puritan writers love to turn Scripture over and over, drawing all that they can from it. These twelve sermons were originally published more than 350 years ago, but they have been edited and footnoted to make them a little easier for modern readers.
- Sign up for Lent devotions from Pioneer Library
This Lent, Pioneer Library will be publishing short Lent devotionals to encourage meditation on the temptations of Jesus. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” (Heb. 4:15) This is the key verse to this devotional, which takes an inward look at the experience of Jesus in each of the three temptations. If the Holy Spirit led him to and through temptation in victory, he can do the same for us.
If you want to receive devotionals on the desert temptations of Jesus, you can sign up your email address by typing it in the sidebar to this page.
It was 5:00 a.m. on one of the coldest days of winter. I was a freshman in college. My friend Mitch Mitchell had told me that the first ten people to a local coffee shop got a free drink. I didn’t know what coffee tasted like, but free sounded good.
I ordered a mocha latte. Mitch proceeded to chug four shots of espresso before falling asleep on the opposite side of a chess set.
I have never liked ‘drip’ coffee, and still don’t drink it often—but since that morning I have loved espresso drinks.
Espresso is unique. Invented in Italy, it requires high temperature and high pressure to saturate the water with coffee. Once it is exposed to oxygen, the composition of espresso begins to change, which is why it is usually either combined with water or milk, or drank immediately. But that’s not what I want to talk about. I want to talk about the high-pressure concentration of truth: spiritual espresso. I discovered that potent and concentrated spiritual truth can come in a very small package. Here are three examples:
My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers
“Beware of posing as a profound person; God became a Baby.”
Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, November 22
This classic devotional has been in print since 1924 in 39 languages. An old friend gave me My Utmost for His Highest as a high school graduation present, and I came to know Christ about two months later. The gift, at first unwanted, was not a waste. I was recently carrying one of Chambers’ books at a conference, and a friend told me “that’s a four-pages-at-a-time book.” I told him, “yeah, I can barely read one subsection before I have to stop and think and pray.” That’s what I mean when I call these writings spiritual espresso.
Oswald Chambers died at 43, but his wife Biddy had transcribed hundreds of his talks verbatim and spent the rest of her life publishing them. He was a YMCA chaplain to British soldiers during World War I in Egypt. He believed in a concept he called “seed thoughts”: simple but true statements about God and life could change your entire way of thinking. He had a bulletin board on which he posted a thought daily. (When the camp flooded, he posted, “Closed during submarine maneuvers.”) While My Utmost shows this tendency, his wife compiled an even briefer devotional called Run Today’s Race which better illustrates Chambers’ tendency for potent, concentrated thought.
George MacDonald: An Anthology by C. S. Lewis (compiler)
“The Lord cared neither for isolated truth nor for orphaned deed.”
C. S. Lewis, George MacDonald: An Anthology, Entry 54
Oswald Chambers said about George MacDonald that it was “a striking indication of the trend and shallowness of the modern reading public that [his] books have been so neglected” (Christian Discipline, vol. 1, pp. 44-45). C. S. Lewis compiled MacDonald’s best “seed thoughts” into an anthology, which I facetiously call “C. S. Lewis’ best book.”
Systematic statements take you to a conclusion; once you arrive at that conclusion, you find your thought finished for you. Seed thoughts are different. They live and grow over time, and are not conclusions in themselves. This is one thing Chambers and MacDonald had in common; they asked questions as well as they answered them. The goal here is not to produce in you a thought, but to get you to think.
Knowledge of the Holy by A. W. Tozer
“What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.”
A. W. Tozer, Knowledge of the Holy, p. 1
A third book that packs a lot of depth in a few words is Knowledge of the Holy. But then, Tozer has an unfair advantage here: if you want to go deep, there is nothing deeper to write about than God Himself. All of these authors are at their best when they take you to the Source of our faith without speculating, arguing or equivocating. “The knowledge of the Holy One is understanding” (Prov. 9:10).
But there is another connection that I have omitted. Chambers was an avid reader and quoter of poetry. MacDonald wrote volumes of poetry himself, as did C. S Lewis. Tozer compiled his Christian Book of Mystical Verse, stating that his best devotional times were alone with a Bible and a hymnbook. What is there about poetry that relates to the spiritual life?
One American poet laureate said that “poetry is language at its most distilled and most powerful.” Bad poetry, like bad stories, have a lot of words with little meaning. The best poetry has few words with great meaning. Even Bible expositors often quote hymns or Christian poetry to add something that an exposition can’t. The apostle Paul quotes Greek poetry at least three times in the New Testament. He encouraged the use of song as part of Christian teaching in Colossians 3:16: “…teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.” Songs often communicate our deepest thoughts the most simply. They can contain the gospel in a concentrated form, capable of being understood by children.
Embedded in a few of Paul’s letters are extremely concise statements of Gospel which some people think were actually early Christian hymns. Two examples include Philippians 2:5-11 and 1 Timothy 3:16, quoted below in verse:
God was manifest in the flesh,
Justified in the Spirit,
Seen by angels,
Preached among the Gentiles,
Believed on in the world,
Received up in glory.
Most amazing of all, Jesus quotes the ancient hymnbook of his people from the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Psalm 22:1) As today, Jewish hymns were often titled after their first line. (If I shout “amazing grace” in a room full of Christians, a few might erupt, “how sweet the sound!”) So some scholars think Jesus could as well have shouted “Psalm 22” from the cross, pointing the Jews to a song that prophesied nearly a dozen circumstances pertaining to his crucifixion and resurrection. In just four Aramaic words, Jesus communicated great truth about who he is, his own death, his victory over it—and the prophetic power of one ancient worship song written in a heart of affliction.
I recently finished publishing (in Kindle format) a sermon set called The People’s Bible by Joseph Parker, also published in 1970s as Preaching Through the Bible. Joseph Parker was a contemporary and friend of Spurgeon and, like Spurgeon, gathered thousands of Londoners in the late 19th century. His published sermons number well over 1000. The People’s Bible is a homiletic journey through the entire Bible, comprising about 1200 sermons, preached over the course of seven years.
Spurgeon called The People’s Bible “a work of genius” and said that its innovative method would outlast the many copycats of his day.
What is unique about Joseph Parker’s sermons are their dynamic nature, their ability to surprise. He meditated on Scripture during the week, and his preaching was the outflow of that meditation. He gave his messages with few notes, and the man who copied them down said that Parker was at his best when he strayed farthest from his notes.
Alexander Whyte—himself among the most famous British preachers—after hearing Spurgeon and Dean Stanley in London, later heard Joseph Parker on another visit. After hearing him twice he wrote:
“He is by far the ablest man now standing in the English-speaking pulpit. He stands in the pulpit of Thomas Goodwin, the pulpit genius of all the Puritans, and a theologian to whom I owe more than I can ever acknowledge of spiritual light and life. And Dr. Parker is a true and worthy successor to this great Apostolic Puritan.”
Another prominent preacher and writer, Ian MacLaren, wrote the following:
“Dr. Parker occupies a lonely place among the preachers of our day. His position among preachers is the same as that of a poet among ordinary men of letters. … The power of his preaching lies in the contact of a mind of perpetual and amazing originality with the sublime truths of the Gospel, and the faculty which Dr. Parker possesses with all men of intellectual genius of discovering the principles which lie behind what seems the poorest detail, and which resolve all things into a unity.”
His biographer, Margaret Bywater, called him “the most outstanding preacher of his time.”
Below are the links for the new Kindle editions of The People’s Bible. These include active table of contents and linked footnotes.
Exodus – sample
Judges & Ruth
1 & 2 Samuel
1 & 2 Kings
1 & 2 Chronicles
Ezra, Nehemiah & Esther
Song of Songs
Jeremiah & Lamentations
Ezekiel & Daniel
The Minor Prophets – sample
Matthew (3 vol.)
Mark & Luke
Acts (3 vol.)
Romans to Galatians
Ephesians to Revelation