Precious Jesus

"Afresh, precious, precious Jesus, I resign this body to You, for doing or suffering, for living or dying. Will You accept it? Will You use me for Your glory more than heretofore, that You may have some little return for all the benefits You have done to me? Oh, do grant this request; my heart longs for it, my spirit pleads for it; and "if You will, You can." You know the hot temptation of which I am the subject. Bring Your glory out of it, and keep me from the evil, and it shall be well." - Ruth Bryan

Thursday, April 7, 2016

The great Mr. Henry

That desire of the Henrys to “Mark providences that they might have providences to mark,” must have been often reflected upon in relation to those sad days of 1662. Philip Henry moved with his family to Broad Oak towards the end of the September of that year; three weeks late there was born into the family the second son whom the father and mother named Matthew. “Moses my servant is dead, now therefore, arise, Joshua ...” “Today you are cooking a goose,” said old John Huss at the stake, “but tomorrow a swan (Martin Luther) will rise out of the ashes.” And with the birth of Matthew Henry, whose voice was to go out into all the world, the Lord was, surely giving a blessed token that His Word will never be bound nor silenced no matter how violently men may rage against it. God was raising up “the pen of a ready writer,” and that diligence and faithfulness of Philip Henry in expounding the whole counsel of God where God had set him, was to be the human instrument in putting an edge to that pen. Like his father, Matthew Henry had a great capacity for learning at a young age, and this was exploited to the full. However, it is with regards especially to his growing “in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ,” that the prayers and efforts of Broad Oak were directed. One of the greatest joys, surely, that the Christian parents can be afforded is to learn that they have been used of the Lord in the conversion of their very own children. On the 7th December 1678, this joy began to dawn upon the ejected minister of Worthenbury. It was a Lord's Day afternoon that the young Matthew approached his father to be “examined”, as he puts it, as to whether or not he had “the marks of true grace” within his heart. “I told my father my evidences,” he says, “he liked them, and told me, if those evidences were true (as I think they were) I had true grace.” A few years earlier, Matthew Henry, still only a boy of thirteen, had begun to draw up “A Catalogue of God's Mercies” towards him. In that Catalogue, he looks back three years, to a time when he was only ten years old, and traces the day that he first began to feel that God was stretching out His hand in salvation towards him. “I think it was three years ago,” he writes, “that I began to be convicted, hearing a sermon by my father on Psalm 51:17, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.” That text smouldered and burned in the young boy's heart until, that day, some five or six years later, it burst into flames by the fanning of God's Holy Spirit when the rejoicing father was taken up to glorify God even in the life of his own flesh and blood. 

Shortly after this, Matthew was sent to London to study under that “holy, faithful minister, Mr Thomas Doolittle, who then lived at Islington.” From there he moved to Gray's Inn during the Spring of 1685 with the intention of studying law and spending his life in that occupation. During this Gray's Inn period, however, we find him ever-straining at the leash to be away and about his father's business of preaching, and when things began to ease around the year 1687, his call to the Christian ministry and to the church at Chester had been extended and accepted. 

Of his “work of faith, and labour of love” at Chester, volumes could be written. At the time of his ordination, he had prepared “A Serious Self-examination Before Ordination”, this runs to ten pages, but seems to have formed the basis of all that he did during his twenty five years with the Chester congregation. His heart was knit to the people of that place, although the shadow of death fell across his path on numerous occasions. Married in August of 1687, he was bereft of his young wife eighteen months later, at the young age of twenty-five. He was urged by his in-laws to remarry, which he did in 1690, but death soon visited the home in the removal of their little daughter in 1692. An entry in his diary at this time sums it all up, “I have been this day doing a work I never did before, burying a child:” Sadly, it was a work that was to become familiar for April of 1693 was to see him lay another infant daughter in the grave, and November 1698, yet another, while in between those two events had come one of the saddest visitations of death in the home call of his father. Although absolutely reconciled to the nature of life and death, time and eternity, Matthew Henry's true heart felt the blow upon it; “And now, what is this that God hath done unto us?” he writes. This was recorded in no bitterness, but in honest enquiry as to what God had to teach those who remained. The lesson finally applied itself to the young man's heart, to make himself more and more ready for the hour of death, “that when it comes,” he resolved, “I may have nothing to do but die.” 

Death, in fact, came relatively early for Matthew Henry, for he had only reached his fifty-second year when a fall from his horse proved fatal to his already failing and faltering health. Yet, how much was produced in that one shortened life is probably epitomised in the massive volumes of commentary that grace, and have graced, the shelves of generations of ministers and preachers, and the people of God everywhere. This “Exposition of the Whole Bible,” of course, was only part of his literary work in the gospel, but, standing as it does in all its width, probably overshadows everything else. “And now,” Mr Spurgeon seems to be saying as he takes a deep breath at the commencement of recommending expositions in his introduction to Commenting and Commentaries. “First among the mighty for general usefulness ...” Few would disagree with that. How often, when a passage has been exegeted in the study, expounded precisely to our minds, overlaid with all the science of hermeneutic and textual evidence, have we still lacked one thing needful – that clothing of the who with warm flesh and blood – and have found it in the pages of M.H.? And that's precisely what he intended his work to be; “When the stone is rolled away from the well's mouth,” he says, “by a critical explication of the text, still there are those who would drink themselves and water their flocks; but, they complain that the well is deep, and they have nothing to draw with; how then shall they come by this living water?” So, he explains, “Some such may perhaps find a bucket here, or water drawn to their hands; and pleased enough shall I be with this office of the Gibeonites, to draw water for the congregation of the Lord out of these wells of salvation.” that office has been well discharged, as the testimony of generations of able men witness: Isaac Watts, Philip Doddridge, John Ryland, William Romaine, Adam Clark, Robert Hall would all gladly take their stand on that. Robert Hall's biographer relates how that eminent pastor, “for the last two years (of his life) read daily two chapters of Matthew Henry.” Whitefield read through the commentary four times, and always on his knees; while Spurgeon designates William Jay of Bath as, “Matthew Henry preaching.” “The great Mr Henry,” Whitefield called him, and all should want to add an Amen to that. 

The last two years of Matthew Henry's life were spent in the pastorate of the Independent church at Hackney in London. To this he had moved in 1712 after much heart-searching and heart-rending in leaving the people at Chester. At Hackney, he completed the fifth volume of the Exposition – Gospels and Acts – but died before he could complete the final part of the work. He had, of course left much material in preparation for the last volume, and a group of friends took in hand to do this. But, as one writer has said, “they completed a sixth volume, but they did not continue Matthew Henry.” Nevertheless, what an output those completed volumes represent for those years since the Exposition's inception: he set his hand to it in 1704, issued the Five Books of Moses 1706, the Histories 1708, the poetical books 1710, the Prophets 1712, and the gospels and Acts in 1714 just before he died. We may well-remember that all this was accomplished in the midst of family and pastoral life and not simply executed in “the studious cloisters pale.” Let one extract from his diary show this clearly; “Between two and three o'clock this morning, while my wife was ill, I retired to seek God for her and the children. Being willing to redeem time, I did a little at my Exposition ...

“By little strokes, men fell great oaks.”

 So, Matthew Henry laboured on faithfully with an eye to heaven, so that, when it came for his time to die, by the grace of God, he had nothing to do “but die.” As mentioned, it was due to a fall from his horse on the way to Nantwich where he was heading to preach after two weekends with his old congregation at Chester. He fulfilled his preaching engagement after the fall, but the health that had begun to decline several years before due to diabetes, was insufficient to sustain his life after the injury, and he passed away on Tuesday 22nd June 1714. Neither persecution, nor death itself, can silence the Lord's voice through those that “He delights to defend” and to use for his purposes in grace.

from the Wicket Gate Magazine 


Darrel said...

As the Scriptures say of Abel "he being dead still speaks" I suppose it is fitting to say the same of MH and others that have been faithful to the Lord down through the ages. Thank God for the men He has raised up from the beginning to be a shepherd to His people.

It's hard, almost impossible to find such a man in today's climate of religion. Those that lay claim to such a designation are nearly 100% self-appointed (leaving room only for those who are 'called of God' and yet unknown to the masses). Then we have those in the "discernment ministries" most of which could not discern their way out of a wet paper bag but they have a "blog" for their soap box and nearly all of those lay claim, albeit tacitly, to infallibility---they know it all and refuse to hear Biblical instruction even when it's as plain as the nose on their face. "Discernment" is nothing more to these folk than a way to pass the time and 'show-off' their superior reasoning abilities to the underlings that read their trivial pursuits. Scripture is ignored except to 'prove' their own fantasy doctrines, the Character of God is unknown to them for all they can see is that "God is love" (which He is, but not by their definition) and they go about deceiving and being deceived. To them, the Gospel is up for debate, the endless discussions are more important to them than standing on the Solid Rock of the Word. Everyone has the 'right answer' irregardless of the fact that two diametrically opposing view points can both be found to be "true" (the 'Calvinism/Arminian debate' is a prime example) so take your pick. [There are only a few blogs that do not fit this description and yours is one of those bright spots.]

May the Lord be pleased to guide us day to day into His will. God help us to know when and what to speak and when to shut up.

lyn said...

Exactly Darrel - false teachings are embraced as long as you get parts of the Bible right. After all, no one has 'perfect' revelation right? This line of reasoning is from the pit of hell and has caused multitudes to embrace false teachings such as the free will gospel, the gospel of works-based salvation, which saves no one! This accursed gospel now fills America, and goes uncontested by most. We have a famine of truth and no man willing to stand up and call out error; too many celebrity preachers do not want to jeopardize their 'following' or their huge salaries.

Come quickly Lord Jesus!