Charles Spurgeon has influenced my library (and my reading) more than any other man. Not only are his sermons very valuable and edifying, but he also had some great advice and recommendations on other books for which I am thankful. Here’s what he wrote about the use of commentaries in sermon preparation.
“In order to be able to expound the Scriptures, and as an aid to your pulpit studies, you will need to be familiar with the commentators: a glorious army, let me tell you, whose acquaintance will be your delight and profit. Of course, you are not such wiseacres as to think or say that you can expound Scripture without assistance from the works of divines and learned men who have labored before you in the field of exposition. If you are of that opinion, pray remain so, for you are not worth the trouble of conversion, and like a little coterie who think with you, would resent the attempt as an insult to your infallibility. It seems odd, that certain men who talk so much of what the Holy Spirit reveals to themselves, should think so little of what he has revealed to others. My chat this afternoon is not for these great originals, but for you who are content to learn of holy men, taught of God, and mighty in the Scriptures. It has been the fashion of late years to speak against the use of commentaries. If there were any fear that the expositions of Matthew Henry, Gill, Scott, and others, would be exalted into Christian Targums, we would join the chorus of objectors, but the existence or approach of such a danger we do not suspect. The temptations of our times lie rather in empty pretensions to novelty of sentiment, than in a slavish following of accepted guides. A respectable acquaintance with the opinions of the giants of the past, might have saved many an erratic thinker from wild interpretations and outrageous inferences. Usually, we have found the despisers of commentaries to be men who have no sort of acquaintance with them; in their case, it is the opposite of familiarity which has bred contempt. It is true there are a number of expositions of the whole Bible which are hardly worth shelf-room; they aim at too much and fail altogether; the authors have spread a little learning over a vast surface, and have badly attempted for the entire Scriptures what they might have accomplished for one book with tolerable success; but who will deny the preeminent value of such expositions as those of Calvin, Ness, Henry, Trapp, Poole, and Bengel, which are as deep as they are broad? and yet further, who can pretend to biblical learning who has not made himself familiar with the great writers who spent a life in explaining some one sacred book? Caryl on Job will not exhaust the patience of a student who loves every letter of the Word; even Collinges, with his nine hundred and nine pages upon one chapter of the Song, will not be too full for the preacher’s use; nor will Manton’s long-metre edition of the hundred and nineteenth Psalm be too profuse. No stranger could imagine the vast amount of real learning to be found in old commentaries like the following:—Durham on Solomon’s Song, Wilcocks on Psalms and Proverbs, Jermin on Ecclesiastes and Proverbs, Green-hill on Ezekiel, Burroughs on Hosea, Ainsworth on the Pentateuch, King on Jonah, Hutcheson on John, Peter Martyr on Romans, etc., and in Willett, Sibbes, Bayne, Elton, Byfield, Daillé, Adams, Taylor, Barlow, Goodwin, and others on the various epistles. Without attempting to give in detail the names of all, I intend in a familiar talk to mention the more notable, who wrote upon the whole Bible, or on either Testament, and I especially direct your attention to the titles, which in Puritan writers generally give in brief the run of the work.”
C. H. Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students: Commenting and Commentaries; Lectures Addressed to the Students of the Pastors’ College, Metropolitan Tabernacle., vol. 4 (New York: Sheldon & Company, 1876), 11–13.