Matthew Henry Gives Us His Grand Commentary

This is the day that Matthew Henry was born in a Welsh farmhouse in Shropshire, England, close to the border of England and Wales, in 1662.

His father, Philip, had been ejected from his church for refusing to ‘bow the knee’ to the king’s demands. His non-conformist views would not allow him to recognize the king as “Head of the Church” nor be compelled to use the Prayer Book. Submitting to ordination by a bishop was also anathema to him.

Along with nearly two thousand other ministers, Philip Henry had refused to submit to the Act of Uniformity, which had come into effect on 24 August 1662 and was radically opposed to all that Puritans like Henry stood for.

So young Matthew grew up in a godly home where Christian principles and conscience were adhered to – regardless of the consequences.

Matthew apparently suffered from a weak constitution during his childhood. But what he lacked in physical health he made up for in spiritual vigour. There is credible evidence that he could read the Scriptures when only three years old. His conversion took place before he turned eleven. Ion Henry’s words, one of his father’s sermons ‘melted’ him and caused him to ‘enquire after Christ’.

Taught at first by his father, an excellent educator, Matthew gained further education from nonconformist schools and at one time studied law. But he kept his focus on the ministry calling, taking occasion to preach where ever he could. The dissenters of Chester liked what they heard and invited him to be their minister.

Henry began his ministry with Presbyterian ordination on 9 May, 1687. Over the course of the next two decades his Chester congregation increased to more than 350 members. Not surprisingly, his success as a pastor caused other churches to seek him as their minister.

His first wife died in childbirth, in 1689. The following year he wed Mary Warburton – and all three children born to them died in infancy.

For 25 years he ministered at Chester. After rejecting many calls by other churches he finally chose to pastor a dissenting church in Hackney, London, so he could be closer to printers, in view of the large commentary he was composing.

Ill health plagued him. He suffered from diabetes and repeated attacks of kidney stones.

In June, 1714, while on a preaching tour of Cheshire, he was thrown from his horse and taken to the house of a nearby parson, where he died the following morning, 22 June, 1714, aged 52.

While Henry wrote a number of worthy works, his memory lives on in his monumental Commentary, The Exposition of the Old and New Testaments. Henry had begun this massive work in November 1704. By the time of his death ten years later, the project had got as far as the end of the book of Acts. It would be finished by a number of ministers after his death.

The commentary is quintessentially Puritan. It focuses on biblical spirituality and is alert to the need to glorify God in the whole of life. It is also chock-full of the terse and piquant aphorisms that the Puritans delighted to use to penetrate the hearts of their hearers and readers. Here are a few examples:
‘God’s grace can save souls without preaching, but our preaching cannot save them without God’s grace, and that grace must be sought by prayer’ (on Ezekiel 37:1-14).

‘Ministers may be serving Christ, and promoting the great ends of their ministry, by writing good letters, as well as by preaching good sermons’ (on Acts 18:7-11).

‘It is easier to build temples than to be temples to God’ (on 2 Chronicles 24:1-14).

‘The pleasures of sense are puddle-water; spiritual delights are rock water, so pure, so clear, so refreshing — rivers of pleasure’ (on Exodus 17:1-7).

‘The beauty of holiness is that which the grave, that consumes all other beauty, cannot touch, or do any damage to’ (on Psalm 49:6-14).

George Whitefield, we are told, read Henry’s commentary through four times … on his knees!

Spurgeon speaks of Matthew Henry’s Commentary as “first among the mighty” – and recommends that every minister of the gospel should read it through “once at least”.

Charles Wesley (1707-1788) was so moved by Henry’s comments on Leviticus 8:35 that he based one of his most famous hymns on them. Henry had written: ‘we have every one of us a charge to keep, an eternal God to glorify, an immortal soul to provide for, needful duty to be done, our generation to serve; and it must be our daily duty to keep this charge, for it is the charge of the Lord our Master, who will shortly call us to an account about it’. Gripped by this comment, Wesley sat down to write “A charge to keep I have”.

One does not have to agree with everything this great Puritan said to be blessed indeed by his Scriptural reflections.

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History, which I previously considered to be a little stuffy and of little practical value. I find in the process of updating Don’s Christian Diary that I am being constantly refreshed, illuminated or challenged by the lives of those who have gone before.

William Bramwell Brings Revival

This is the day that … William Bramwell died, in 1818, at the age of 59.

The exact date of his birth, in February 1759, is unknown. But the amazing results of his evangelism around England are well documented.

Fifteen hundred converted in Sheffield (1795); 500 converted in Leeds (1801); 450 converted in Hull (1804) – and so it goes.

Born to a Church of England family Bramwell’s quest for spiritual reality led him to the Catholic Church for a season, during which he mutilated his finger tips as a act of piety. He returned to the Church of England but was drawn to the dissenters, the Methodists, through a friend. He finally agreed to hear a Methodist preacher and was instantly excited by the experience. It was under the preaching of John Wesley, himself, that Bramwell found the glorious liberty of being a child of God. Thus he spent the rest of his life proclaiming the Methodist sanctification message.

In the years following Wesley’s death, Bramwell was the leading Methodist preacher, even though there were many who opposed him.

His first revival came after a year of earnest preaching, home visitation and prayer in Dewsbury. He enlisted the assistance of a woman of prayer, whom he had earlier led to Christ, Miss Anne Cutler, who came to be known as “Praying Nanny”.

When revival broke out and many were converted, also experiencing ‘entire sanctification’, it set the stage for many such revivals to follow.

Interesting anecdotes abound in the life of this early Methodist preacher. For example, he would not speak to “a lazy, pre-occupied congregation! If they did not give him their undivided attention he would close the service … because a sort of insult had been poured on the gospel” (They Dared to be Different, page 119).

“He married a holy woman whom he saw about once every six weeks, his travelling and preaching keeping him away so constantly…” (Men and Women of Deep Piety, page 52).

And the story is told of two women who had been to hear Mr Bramwell preach (Life-Changing Evangelism). “How is it,” asked one, “that every time we hear Mr Bramwell preach, he tells us things we never knew before?” “Perhaps,” replied the other, “it is because he lives much closer to God than we do … and God tells him things He tells nobody else…”

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com.

Thomas Kelly Irish Preacher and Hymnwriter

This is the day that … Thomas Kelly was born in Ireland, in 1769.

After graduating from Dublin University he set his mind to practise law. But an evangelical conversion took place, and from henceforth his steps were directed toward the Christian ministry.

Ordained by the Church of Ireland in 1792 his strong evangelical preaching soon aroused the opposition of the Archbishop. Pulpits of the churches were closed to Thomas Kelly. So he became a Dissenter – building places of worship and preaching in independent chapels – and seeing the Lord bless his ministry with many turning to Christ.

“He was an excellent Biblical scholar and a magnetic preacher”, writes John Telford (Methodist Hymn Book Illustrated, page 169).

His able pen composed 765 hymns, several of which “rank with the finest hymns in the English language” (Dictionary of Hymnology, by Julian). These include:
The head that once was crowned with thorns
Is crowned with glory now…

And –
We sing the praise of Him who died,
Of Him who died upon the cross…

Possibly his most well-known would be :
Look, ye saints, the sight is glorious,

See the Man of Sorrows now;
From the fight returned victorious,

Every knee to Him shall bow;
Crown Him! Crown Him!
Crowns become the Victor’s brow.

At the age of 85 he suffered a stroke, which resulted in his death the following year (14 May, 1855). His last words were: “The Lord is my everything” (Who Wrote Our Hymns, page 106).

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com.

The Wigton Martyrs

This is the day that …Margaret McLaughlin, aged 60, and Margaret Wilson, aged 16, were martyred for their faith, in 1685.

“Use the Prayer Book – or else!” Such was the substance of the new Act of Uniformity passed in May, 1662. As a result, persecution broke out with fury against all who refused to conform. In Scotland these dissenters were named “the Covenanters” – so called because they had signed a manifesto known as the “Solemn League and Covenant”. “They were outlawed, their worship forbidden, and all who were caught were executed. Even the use of torture was not unknown” (Valiant in Fight, by B. Atkinson, page 141).

Another historian comments: “These Scottish Protestants were hunted with bugles and blood-hounds like so many deer. Those who gathered secretly in glens and caves to worship God were hanged; or drowned without mercy” (The Church in History, by R. Kuiper, page 255).

Thus it was that these two women were tied to stakes at low tide at “Solway Firth in the waters of Blednoch”, and there left to drown as the tide rose, for refusing to renounce the Covenant (Songs About Heaven, by E. Emurian, page 22). As the waters came closer, young Margaret sang Psalm 25 and quoted Romans 8:35-39: “What shall separate us from the love of Christ … tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or distress, or persecution? Nay!”

History refers to them as the Wigton Martyrs, godly folk who, like Moses, “endured as seeing Him Who is invisible” (Hebrews 11:27). A memorial to these two faithful women may still be seen at Wigton today.