by JM. Boice
3 Volume Set
I first heard about this ‘commentary’ in the course of a regular home visit. The lady of the house told us that she kept it beside her bed and she was in the habit of reading a chapter every evening. “Wonderful reading”, she said “Personal and direct; With the Gospel of grace always central, while still speaking to our lives”. Soon afterwards I came across it in a bookshop. Three volumes. About 1300 pages (including all volumes). The price was about $70.00 for the set (or about $30.00 per book). I took it home.
The author, James Montgomery Boice, was the senior pastor of a Presbyterian Church in the United States until his death in 2000. Because he preached through entire books of the Bible passage by passage, he could turn many of his sermons into commentaries. Boice does not read like a regular commentary though. He does not go through the psalms, verse by verse, explaining as he goes, like normal commentaries do. Instead, the text of the Psalm (New International Version) stands at the head of every chapter; the introductory paragraph then divides the psalm into logical sections; and finally these sections are discussed, one by one. Longer psalms or psalms of special note are generally divided into sections. For example, Psalm 110 is covered in two sections because it is the psalm most quoted in the New Testament. Similarly Psalms 107, 118 and 139 are also divided in two. Psalm 119 is divided into 14(!) sections. Most chapters are about five to eight pages long, perfectly suitable to be read in a single sitting.
For my own sermon preparation I always find myself going back to John Calvin, because he always brings us back to the basics of the Gospel. What Calvin lacks, though, is a connection to the world we live in. Calvin speaks about the issues of his time, especially issues like justification; the authority of the pope; and the worship of saints. Boice, on the other hand, addresses the issues which Christians face today. He boldly challenges those who claim that Jesus is their Savior even while they reject Him as the Lord of their life. But more than criticizing ‘Christians’ who live in sin, Boice lambastes “a type of evangelical theology that refuses to face the fact that such persons are not Christians.” Boice challenges us to accept the Gospel as the ultimate solution to all our needs and the absolute rule for our whole lives.
Actually Boice does much more than explain the meaning of the psalms and apply them to our lives. Instead he repeatedly refers back to heroes of Church history, and describes how the psalms impacted on their lives. Boice explains how Luther found Paul’s gospel of justification by faith in Psalm 130; and how John Wesley was greatly encouraged by that same psalm. The title that Boice gives to Psalm 131 is Like a Satisfied Child. In the paragraphs that follow, Boice gives special attention to these words of David: “But I have stilled and quieted my soul: like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me.” Says Boice: “When David says that his soul is ‘like a weaned child,’ he is not saying that he has always been content with God or even merely that he is content with God now. He is reflecting on the difficult weaning process in which a child is broken of its dependence on its mother’s milk and is taught to take other foods instead. Weaning is usually accompanied by resistance and struggle on the child’s part … and it is difficult for the mother. But weaning is necessary if the child is to mature.” - Wonderfully imagery of David, powerfully explained by JM Boice.
This commentary set is recommended especially for younger readers who want Christian answers to the challenges of the world. For university students; for recent graduates; for those who have just joined the work force; for those who have just made profession of faith; I would highly recommend these books. Buy them, and place them beside the bed of the 18-25 year olds. But feel free to read them yourself first. You could do much worse.
Review by Rev R. Eikelboom