Commentary on the Psalms
COMMENTARY ON THE PSALMS
By John Calvin, abridged by David C. Searle
Banner of Truth. 660 pages. £18.00
David Searle has reminded me what gems I will miss, if I neglect Calvin’s commentaries. I find Anderson’s mid 19th Century translation of Calvin long and difficult reading. He assumes I understand words like pleonasm, or what Calvin meant by people who erect their crests. Searle has done us the immense service of reducing Calvin on the Psalms to about a quarter of its original length, in a very readable pr?cis, which clearly shows what a gifted commentator Calvin was.
Searle strips away all the undergrowth to reveal a crop of pastoral gems, such as: faith receives many blows before she at length gains the victory (22.1); …philosophers weave veils for themselves lest they should be compelled to acknowledge the hand of God in his works (29.5-8); Satan hardly bothers with the indifferent and careless, but arrays all his forces against those who are resolved to be godly (39.3); none of us will ever truly praise God unless we are persuaded that God never lays aside his Fatherly love, even when he is angry with us (89.2); …the enormity of our sin must never prevent us from seeking reconciliation with God (89.33);how foolish to shrink from him who tenderly sympathises with our sorrows (145.8).
As Searle says in his introduction, ‘...the practical applications given throughout this book are as relevant as they have ever been since our first parents were alienated from their Creator’. And what Searle helps us to see is how Calvin derived all these applications from the text. Expository preaching is no innovation, it was Calvin’s method.
Is this just a Reader’s Digest version, a Calvin in sound bites? Well, Searle isn’t afraid to use terms like Lady Luck, or wishy-washy theologians, but he certainly doesn’t ‘dumb down’. Even his re-writing can occasionally be difficult reading. And while he does explain what pleonasm means, he retains those crests and a few other difficult sayings, without explanation. But these are minor quibbles. Overall the book is excellent.
An expositor probably still needs the originals, because Searle cuts out so much. But I am now re-reading this book in my daily quiet times, and finding it heart-warming, and very helpful in opening up the Psalms to me, as I am sure EN readers will too. As Searle quotes Calvin on Psalm 18.22 (in half his number of words), ‘…it is daily study of the Word of God which provides us with the armour to resist Satan’s assaults, for it is when we neglect instruction that we fall prey to stupidity and the fear of God vanishes from our minds’.
It helps to use an ESV Bible with this book, as Searle does throughout, which has prompted me to re-evaluate that version. But that’s for other reviewers!