Reformation Commentary Philippians 90

Instead of just consulting something more recent, why not give these ancients a voice at the table?

Reformation Commentary on Scripture: New Testament XI – Philippians, Colossians
Editor: Graham Tomlin
Publisher: IVP Academic (
Pages: 297

The rich devotional insights that grace every page may be the best reason to use any of the volumes in the Reformation Commentary on Scripture series. These ancient Christian commentators are concerned primarily with how Scripture relates to the Christian life. If they were merely engaging in academics it would seem a betrayal of the spirit of their time. Reformers like William Tyndale sought to make the Scriptures accessible to everyone. It reminds me of his famous retort to a bishop that had criticized this life ambition, “If God spare my life, ere many years, I will cause a boy that driveth the plow shall know more of the Scripture than thou doest.” In reading this volume, I get the sense that these commentators are drawing from the deep wells of their own piety as they seek to faithfully expound these texts for the benefit of all, from the ploughman to the highly educated.

Covering Philippians and Colossians, the writers eloquently address favorite topics like righteousness by faith and Christology. In addressing the former, Henry Airay suggests that faith leads God to even reckon desire to our credit, “For such is the fruit of our communion with Christ, that being engrafted into his body and made bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh, through him and for him, our faith in him is accounted to us for righteousness, and our very desire to live godly in this present world is accounted to us for holiness of life. If there were no other proof for this point but this which I speak, that the apostle here reckons the Philippians as having always obeyed, though they lacked much in their obedience, because they believed in Christ and desired to live godly, it would be enough. But the Scriptures everywhere reckon the same” (56). Astonishing! How often has this valuable insight been overlooked?

Is it possible to ever think too highly of Christ? How could finite minds ever fully grasp the glory in whom all the fullness of the Godhead dwells? As Huldrych Zwingli points out, in relation to Christ being the image of God, “By image it means the exact image. That is, he resembles the Father in everything, and not merely like an engraving or a picture” (153). John Owen adds, “He is glorious in this—that he is appointed as the only means of exerting and expressing all the treasures of the infinite wisdom of God toward his creatures” (169).

The perspective of these reformation saints is shaped by their proximity to the events of the reformation. In choosing selections for this series, the editors use passages as far back as the 1400s, and stretch all the way to the mid-seventeenth century. If one was to date it from the time of Luther posting his Ninety-five Theses at Wittenberg in 1517, and ending it with the death of Calvin in Geneva in 1564, this range gives voice to both pre- and post-reformation believers. If the thought in every age is corrected by those outside of it, Christians today can benefit from how their understanding can enrich our own. Just as the Word of God can be like cleansing for the soul, the devout exposition of these commentators can be a source of refreshment in our toxic environment.

Their writings are wordier, but they are also imbued with a loftiness, which is often missing today. Communicators in our time focus on clarity and being practical, which is beneficial. This approach, however, can leave out majesty and beauty because it is not as valued as it was in the past. Older writings like this make even simple truths seem grander. Thankfully, commentators like Michael Card are recognizing the value of nurturing the imagination.

As a Logos Bible Software user, I note that three volumes in the series our available as electronic books, which makes them searchable and adds to their value. Hopefully, the publisher will eventually put the complete set in this format. In any form this scholarship is a worthwhile addition to any library.

Instead of just consulting something more recent, why not give these ancients a voice at the table?

Michael Dalton


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