It was in 1957 that I was appointed to my first country school — a one-teacher school at ‘Iron Pot Creek’, about 30 miles from the nearest town in northern New South Wales, Australia.
I was not a Christian, but had my Bible packed with my belongings (I had attended worship with my parents each Sunday while living at home).
When I was dropped off by the mail-man at the home where I was to stay, the householder met me with the question: ‘Do you have a Protestant Bible with you?’ To my answer he replied, ‘I don’t want to see it in my home!’
He was a Roman Catholic and his question made me open my Bible and read carefully to gain some understanding of why he would say such a thing. The Holy Spirit used this incident to open my eyes to my sinful state and my need of a Saviour.
A Christian friend visited me and told me to purchase Calvin’s Institutes, Hodge’s Systematic Theology and Ryle’s Commentaries on the Gospels. I read and prayed, and some eight months later the truth of the gospel became clear. I was a new creature — born again.
Understanding God’s Word
At that time I had been transferred to another small school, appropriately named ‘Repentance Creek’. Next to the Bible, the books that had the greatest influence upon me were Ryle’s Commentaries on the Gospels.
Over the years I also came into contact with the Welwyn Commentaries and found them to be excellent material for use when preparing sermons — and just to read to enlarge my understanding of God’s Word.
I made the decision about two years ago that by the grace of God I would read every volume of the Welwyn Commentaries.
Several weeks ago I completed the thirty-sixth volume and am anxiously awaiting the arrival of new books that will complete the series.
Why read commentaries?
Some of my Christian friends asked why I set myself such a task — reading commentaries! A few thought that commentaries should be opened only when they needed help with some obscure text.
But in my reading of the Welwyn Commentaries I have not only found a clear interpretation of Scripture portions that had previously puzzled me, but I gained insights into the Word that I had never before imagined.
Another reason for my undertaking was a conversation I had with an aged man. I found him with an open Bible on the table and asked: ‘What are you doing?’
His reply was simple: ‘I’m studying for my finals’. Oh, that all who profess the name of Christ would echo those words!
Every day I am getting closer to a personal meeting with my Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, and I want to glean as much information from the Scriptures as I can — to know more of the God I worship and what he requires of me.
God’s inerrant Word
What I thought would be a daunting task, I soon discovered was not a task at all, but a joyful undertaking.
I can only highly commend the Welwyn Commentaries to all Christians, and to those who find themselves convicted of their sinful state before God.
Many Bible scholars have been involved in writing the series, all of whom have the same conviction — that the Scriptures are indeed the words of the living, eternal and holy God, who ensured that the biblical writings were inerrant and infallible.
The authors are scholars who could say, ‘Amen!’ to what was taught concerning the Bible in the Westminster Confession of Faith, the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith, and other such great works of the Reformation period.
Hugh J. Blair, Emeritus Professor of Old Testament, Language and Literature at the Reformed Theological College, Belfast, made a statement in his Foreword to Andrew Stewart’s commentary on 1 Chronicles (A family tree) that applies to all the Welwyn Commentaries.
He writes: ‘An essential requirement for anyone who would venture to write a Bible commentary is a constant remembrance of the Bible’s own definition of what it is and what it does: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16).
‘That awareness of Scripture and its purpose is clearly the hallmark of the fine series of Welwyn Commentaries published by Evangelical Press.’
The authors are all men of faith, well aware that Scripture says, ‘My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgement’ (James 3:1).
The books are excellent material for adults and even mid-teens. They are written in a style and at a reading level that the mind can easily comprehend. And I found that they did what Ryle’s Commentaries on the Gospels did to me those many years ago — they spoke to my heart.
The Welwyn Commentaries are what I wanted more than anything else — devotional material at its very best, delectable food for the soul! What makes this series so acceptable is that they are the outcome of pastors teaching their flocks in a systematic manner.
In his preface to Patience of hope, the commentary on1 and 2 Thessalonians, J. Philip Arthur thanks ‘the regulars who attend the mid-week Bible study’ and declares: ‘This book would never have been written were it not for the stimulus given by their enthusiastic and discriminating reception of a series of Bible studies’.
Michael Bentley writes in his preface to Shining in the darkness (on Philippians): ‘This book is based upon a series of Sunday morning sermons’.
Message for our times
In Stuart Olyott’s commentary on Daniel (Dare to stand alone) he says, ‘If you want to read all the boring theories that scholars have dreamed up, you must look elsewhere … This book does not deal with such matters.
‘Its aim is much more straightforward. It is to excite you to read Daniel for yourself, and to see what its message is for our times.’ This series of commentaries come from the coal face, not the ivory tower.
Having made the decision to read the Welwyn Commentaries, I sat at my table with both the commentary and the Scriptures before me. I like to leave my ‘footprints’ on what I read, so beside me were my highlighters ready to mark interesting comments.
First, I read the required section of the Scriptures and followed this by reading the appropriate section of the Commentary.
I made my marks — ‘footprints’ — on the pages of my Welwyn commentary. I thought about and prayed over what I had read. This was good instruction for my mind and soul.
How often, when reading the Scriptures, we come to a section that is difficult to understand and simply ignore it! But here I discovered scriptural truths I had never before seen, truths that excited my heart.
Every believer should have available reading material that they can call upon when needed. Several generations ago, Christians read Matthew Henry’s Commentary, but sadly we live in an age where people do not read much.
I sometimes wonder if professing Christians read their Bibles daily and understand what the Lord is saying to them through his Word.
Could I suggest that Christians make the effort to surround themselves with all of the Welwyn Commentaries, and use them in conjunction with their daily Bible reading?
Often the cry goes up, ‘I haven’t time for that!’ Friend, if you cannot make time to read your Bible and to pray each day, you must surely ask of yourself, ‘Am I a Christian?’
Why do many Christian parents take great pains over educating their children, yet neglect to teach them of the Lord Jesus, God’s only way of salvation?
Bible study groups
If Christians could purchase one volume each month, they would have a complete set within three years or so. Every church library should have a set, and congregations should ensure that their pastors have them too.
Behind the Welwyn Commentaries lie much prayer, study, analysis, writing and checking — effort that the Christian world should use to advantage. It is foolish to neglect all that effort when for a small outlay you could possess the product of so much scholarship.
The Welwyn Commentaries magnify the name of Jehovah, glorify the saving work of the Lord Jesus Christ, and teach of the gracious work of the Holy Spirit in bringing sinners to a saving knowledge of the gospel.
Many Christians are involved in Bible study groups and a helpful commentary gives greater understanding to all involved.
The commentaries are soft covered, but my volumes have not fallen apart — despite being thrown into the car, carried about in my briefcase or under my arm, and even taken to the beach to read while keeping an eye on the grandchildren!
Evangelical Press is to be commended for producing this fine series. I look forward with much anticipation to obtaining the newly published volumes.