Results tagged “Matthew Henry” from Reformation21 Blog

God Helps Those Who Help Themselves?


I've heard it uttered dozens of times. Friends, family members, and strangers have looked at me, a Presbyterian pastor, and said, "Well, you know what the Bible says, 'God helps those who help themselves.'" I politely smile, but inside I've just died a little. If you find that phrase in your Bible, it is only because it's on the other side of your bookmark with the poem about the footprints in the sand. But if you're reading a website like Ref21, you probably already know that.

A majority of Americans believe that this is a biblical phrase. Even those who know it isn't a biblical phrase usually attribute it to Benjamin Franklin. Franklin's Poor Richard's Almanack includes this phrase in it. But Franklin was not the originator of it. Some would point back to early Greek and Roman folklore or Aesop's fables where versions of this saying are found. Versions of this saying also appear in George Herbert's poetry in the early 17th century. Others see it as originating in Algernon Sidney's Discourses Concerning Government (1680). But the form in which it usually appears today most likely originated with the Reformed and Puritan Bible commentator, Matthew Henry--yep, that Matthew Henry.

Matthew Henry was one of the most published and widely read authors in the early 18th century. At that time, it was common that if you had three books, you had the Bible, John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress, and Henry's Exposition of the Old and New Testaments or The Complete Commentary. Spurgeon, Whitefield, and Wesley all commended Henry's commentary. It was noted that Whitefield read through it four times, the last time on his knees. And Spurgeon said, "Every minister ought to read it entirely and carefully through once at least."1 Matthew Henry's writings were thoroughly saturated and filled with Scripture.

Henry's commentary on Joshua 5:13-15 reads, "God will help those who help themselves." In his 2015 Twin Lakes Fellowship lecture on Matthew Henry, Ligon Duncan speculates that one reason people think this phrase is in the Bible is because Henry's writings were so thoroughly biblical, if he wrote it, it might as well be in the Bible. People began to assume that it was actually in the Bible; therefore, it entered into popular biblical vernacular.

But the way Henry intended this phrase is most decidedly not the way most people use it today. Michael Horton has pointed out repeatedly that this phrase is usually used in an entirely unbiblical way. The broadly evangelical use of this phrase is usually freighted with American exceptionalism, a healthy dose of what Christian Smith calls "Moralistic Therapeutic Deism," and Arminian theology. The result is something that means do better and try harder. Pull yourself up by your bootstraps. God will work out everything for those who try hard. Do your best and God will do the rest. In salvation, it tends to mean that at the end of time, God will pull out the cosmic scales of justice. He'll empty out all of your good works on one side. He'll empty out all the bad things on the other side. And then he'll place his thumb on the good side to give everyone a healthy nudge in the right direction. God is going to grade on a curve. Get yours and God will work it out.

Perhaps this fit well with Franklin's deism. Do good and God will intervene when necessary. If Matthew Henry meant the phrase in this way, then he was most certainly wrong. But this was not how Matthew Henry intended it. Henry was certainly no Arminian or deist. Duncan pointed out that Henry mentions over 40 times in his commentary that we are unable to help ourselves toward salvation. We are spiritually dead. We do not initiate, assist, or respond to something before regeneration and then God responds to our work by saving us. Salvation is thoroughly and completely monergistic.

So what did Henry mean when he said, "God will help those who help themselves?" In this passage Henry points out that just before the city of Jericho was conquered, Joshua was "by Jericho." It was here that Joshua met the Commander of the Lord's Army. Joshua was in Jericho by "faith and hope, though he had not begun to lay siege to the city. He was in it in thought and expectation." Joshua went through the front line and up to the enemy city to pray, plan, and prepare. Without fear Joshua stood by Jericho knowing that soon those walls would fall and the city would be taken.

"There he was meditating and praying; and to those who are so employed God often graciously manifest himself." Joshua was there because the Lord had promised victory. He was sure of that victory. He had no fear. He knew what God was going to do. And yet, he went up to the city to prepare, because Joshua also knew that God uses means. God executes his will through means, and sometimes we are those means. God uses us as his instruments to affect his will in this world. And when he does, God will help us accomplish those ends. God will graciously manifest himself to us as we seek to see his will be done on earth as it is in heaven. God will help us as we do what he has called us to do. "God will help those who help themselves. Vigilantibus non dormientibus succurrit lex - The law succors those who watch, not those who sleep." 

This is a very Reformed understanding of God's providence and sovereignty. God will bring His sovereign will to pass and he will so orchestrate all of human history in such a way as to use us to accomplish his purposes. As we help ourselves in doing these things, God will help us succeed. Trust in God's calling on your life. Do the things God has called you to do. And God will help you in those works. God helps those who help themselves.


1. Samuel Macauley Jackson and Lefferts A. Loetscher, eds., The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, vol. V (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1953), 229,

Matthew Henry's Method for Prayer

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We know that we are called to pray. 1 Thessalonians 5:17 instructs us to "pray without ceasing". Then why do we find it so difficult? Perhaps we feel that our prayers are not sufficiently eloquent or compelling. There can be many reasons for our struggles with prayer. Doesn't it make sense to turn to God's Word for help? is a free, donor-supported resource from the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals that delivers Matthew Henry's A Method for Prayer, currently available in ten languages, to modern Christians worldwide who might not otherwise have access this exceptional material. It equips Believers to pray in a way that reflects Scripture back to God and brings Him glory. Resorting to a more scriptural pattern of prayer may be a simple (but profound) answer to many problems in our practice of prayer. 

There are a number of reasons that could be given as to why Christians should "Pray the Bible," but the ones below combine to make a rather convincing argument:

  1. Praying scripturally will teach us what prayer is, even while we do it.
  2. It will correct "shopping list" views of prayer which abound in the Christian community.
  3. It will begin to solve in our own minds the question of "unanswered prayer."
  4. It will remind us of just how much there is to pray about day by day.
  5. It will teach us of the extreme urgency of prayer.
  6. It will return proportion to prayers long on petition, but short on adoration, confession, and thanksgiving.
  7. It will instruct us how best to pray for ministers, missionaries, and one another.
  8. It will show us the proper way to approach God in prayer.
  9. It will remind us of the good things that God does for us (which we, more often than not, take for granted).
  10. It will remind us to always give thanks to God (which, paradoxically, is so important for our own assurance of His faithfulness in answering prayer).
  11. It will begin to engrave in our minds biblical patterns of thought which can help immunize us from the enticing folly of the world's view of life.
  12. It will force us to rehearse the solemn warnings and precious promises of God (which will do eternal good to our souls).
  13. It will move us from our inherent man-centeredness in prayer to a biblical, God-centered way of praying.
The aim of the online publication of this "old-made-new" monograph is to assist and encourage modern Christians in both public and private prayer.

Sign up for daily Method for Prayer emails. Work your way through Matthew Henry's "6 parts of prayer" and his elaboration of the Lord's Prayer by signing up to receive daily devotional emails. Each day you'll receive a self-contained unit of a particular chapter of Henry's book, about 1 to 1.5 book pages long. Instead of moving you through the book consecutively, the emails will cycle you through the different parts of prayer nearly every week: Adoration, Confession, Petition, Thanksgiving, Intercession, and Conclusion (coupled with the chapter on the Lord's Prayer). These emails will take you through the heart of the book (Chapters 1-7) twice in a single year. 

Praying the thoughts, concerns, and language of the Scriptures back to the true and living God who breathed them out: What a great way to root your heart and mind in truth as you begin each day!

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The Christward Collective is an attempt to help introduce the reader to various aspects of theology, together with the experiential benefits that ought to flow from them. Whether systematic, biblical, exegetical, historical, or pastoral theology, we seek to help further equip believers for growth in their relationship with Christ and other believers. We hope you enjoy these highlights from

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Many of us have heard the Lord's prayer, but have you heard Jesus' other prayer? The Christward Collective contributor, Tim Brister, writes about Jesus' prayer on the behalf of His disciples. This prayer is commonly called His High Priestly Prayer. This prayer teaches us how Christians are supposed to walk in this world. Continue Reading...

The "Again" of Freedom in Christ, by Joe Holland
The luxury of the unexamined life is never the luxury of the Christian. Self-examination and preaching of the Gospel to your own heart is the duty of every Christian-always. The times during which Christians find themselves in most trouble are the times when they think that they have arrived at a new plateau of spiritual maturity--where self-examination is no longer necessary (or at least is not viewed as something as necessary as it had been in times past). Continue Reading... 

Forgiveness and the Christian's Piety, by Donny Friederichsen 
Before I was a pastor I served with the college ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ. During my New Staff Training, we had the opportunity to hear from Bill Bright, the founder of Crusade. Our new staff class was actually the last class to be addressed by him before he died. by this time Dr. Bright was suffering from significant respiratory problems and was on oxygen and in a wheelchair. Continue Reading...

Your prayer-life is a measure of your spiritual maturity. Just about any decent book on prayer will tell you so. Your prayer lives exposes you to the reality that what is nearest and dearest to your hearts are those things for which you pray the most. It's an inescapable rule. In this respect, your prayer life may betray the public image which you, in turn, portrayed to others. Continue Reading...

Recommended resource on prayer: Matthew Henry, Method for Prayer. This is the collection par excellence of biblical passages that may rightly be used in prayer. The book covers every conceivable item of prayer and is of profound use to the Christian.

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Matthew Henry

Matthew Henry was born on 18 October 1662, not long after Black Bartholomew's Day (24 August 1662), the date on which his father - in common with about 2000 other ministers of the gospel - was ejected from the Church of England for refusing to compromise his conscience by taking the Oath of Uniformity (binding those who took it to the prescribed forms of rite, ritual, administration of the ordinances, and prayers of the Church of England of its day). 350 years since his birth, what can we learn of his life and take from his legacy?

His life

Matthew Henry was the son of Philip Henry, a gifted scholar and faithful pastor with English and Welsh blood in his veins. Philip married a woman called Katherine Matthews who lived at Broad Oak in Flintshire, not far from Whitchurch. Matthew - born at the farm in Broad Oak which had become the family home - was the second child and second son.

Marriage had given Philip an advantage over many other ejected ministers - the blessing of private means - and so he and his family did not face some of the privations suffered by other ejected ministers. As a result, Matthew grew up in a loving, stable and comfortable home, with both parents concerned for the spiritual well-being of their children and where the worship of God had a daily and a weekly rhythm.

Born weak and sickly, Matthew nevertheless had a vigorous intelligence and it was vigorously trained. From the age of about ten he began to feel the convicting influence of the Spirit through the Word, and made a public profession of faith at the age of sixteen or seventeen.

In July 1680 Matthew was sent to Thomas Doolittle's Dissenting academy in Islington, London, where he had a good testimony among his fellows. When sickness swept through the city, Matthew returned home to continue his studies. In 1685 he returned to London to study law at Holborn Court, Gray's Inn. Thus Matthew obtained a good education at a time when Dissenters were at best second-class citizens and at worst rebellious schismatics: persecution was fierce (Philip spent three weeks in custody at Chester during this period). By the end of his training, Matthew knew Greek, Hebrew and Latin, with some French. He was a converted man with a sound grasp of theology, quick and plain with his pen and learning to speak slowly and clearly. When he returned to Broad Oak in June 1686, his thoughts went again and more earnestly toward gospel ministry.

God's blessing on Matthew's early preaching efforts confirmed his desire. Before long, in January 1687, a group of saints in Chester (spurred on by rumours of greater religious freedom) called the twenty five year old to be their pastor. Matthew headed first to London, where on 9 May he was ordained by six Presbyterian ministers, stating his convictions in language adapted from the Westminster Confession. His first sermon in his new charge was preached on Thursday 2 June 1687.

The new pastor set to work systematically and warm-heartedly. Each service included - alongside prayer and sung praises - both an exposition of the Scriptures and a sermon, and in this way the people were exposed repeatedly to the whole counsel of God from both Old and New Testaments. Under God's blessing, Matthew saw several new communicants joining the church every month, with thronged services. He married - despite her mother's initial opposition - a lady called Katherine Hardware in July 1687, but his wife died of smallpox after eighteen months, leaving an infant daughter. On 8 July 1690 he married again to Mary Warburton; their first two daughters both died in infancy.

He preached widely and pastored effectively. His preaching was, in some ways, as methodical as his expounding. His first series was on the misery of the sinner, followed by one on conversion, then Christian conduct, then comforts for saints, with closing sermons to summarise the key points of the whole series. His notes were careful, his language plain, his texts varied, his applications close and searching, his structures memorable and engaging. He was an energetic and earnest pulpit presence.

During this period, Matthew also began to publish, beginning with polemical pamphlets and including a selection of psalms and hymns. His first major work was his father's biography, published in 1697 (Philip died in 1696). On 12 November 1704, Matthew started work on his written exposition of the Old Testament (completed on 18 July 1712, moving to the New Testament and reaching the end of Acts by 17 April 1714). The first volume was published in 1706.

In the face of discouragements and difficulties, some typical of any age and some peculiar to the times, the congregation grew and flourished, but Matthew's health began to suffer. He also began to receive repeated invitations to move to another sphere of pastoral labour. For years he declined such invitations, but London was calling. In 1710, a Hackney church which had initially approached him in 1699 came knocking once more. Tentatively and slowly the relationship developed, and - after much agonising of soul - Matthew's last Lord's day at Chester fell on 11 May 1712. He finished expounding Joshua and Matthew that day, preaching on 1 Thessalonians 4.17-18 in the afternoon service. On his arrival in Hackney he began expounding Genesis and Matthew, preaching on the first Sunday from Acts 16.9.

The move to London increased his labours, but he made regular visits to Chester. The last of these was in June 1714, when he preached to his previous congregation and to others, though evidently struggling with ill-health. Returning toward London, he reached Nantwich on Monday 21 June, where he preached without much vigour. A restless night followed. He suffered a stroke at 5 o'clock in the morning of 22 June, and died shortly afterward, being fifty-two years old. On Friday 25 June his body was returned to Chester, where his body was interred in the Anglican church building, Trinity, alongside his first wife. Little is known of the reaction of the Hackney church or his surviving family, merely a few hints of abiding grief and sweet memories.

His writings

When the name Matthew Henry is mentioned, the mind of many turns first to his commentary, a fitting monument to this man of the Word. Here, his intimate personal acquaintance with the Scriptures, his Puritanical upbringing and training, and the discipline of his weekly expounding all come to fruition.

It was a long-term labour of love. Henry chipped away at his work at all available hours, feeling the pressure to accomplish as much as he was able. As mentioned, he completed his exposition to the end of the Acts of the Apostles, with substantial work on Romans and Revelation also completed. Others took up the work and completed it from his notes under his name, although anyone familiar with Henry's style will notice a subtle shift as we move from his voice to that of others.

His exposition is often dismissed today as - at best - a sort of devotional trawl through the Bible, lacking a proper critical apparatus, sacrificing academic nous for catchy alliteration and apposition, with a little something to be said for its pithy pungency. To judge him thus is self-defeating nincompoopery of a high order. Henry's scholarship is of his time, but for his time he had the cutting edge and - besides - the display of learning is not his aim. He combines thoroughness with terseness, explanation with application, scholarly insight with popular tone. One may trawl through countless modern commentaries and come away with a technically accurate but potentially arid grasp of the sense; Henry drives engagingly at the heart. When you feel you know what the text says, he helps you to say it. Others tell you what it means; Henry presses home what it means to you and to others. Henry's Exposition carries you relentlessly from understanding to appreciation.

As such, these are sermonic storehouses which no preacher should be without as he studies not just what the Bible means but how to communicate it. Henry's admirers and students are legion, from Archibald Alexander - "taking it as a whole, and as adapted to every class of readers, this commentary may be said to combine more excellencies than any work of the kind which was ever written, in any language" - through Whitefield - who read it repeatedly (the last time, apparently, on his knees) and drew on it constantly in his sermons - to Spurgeon, who urged, "Every minister ought to read it entirely and carefully through once at least."

We have barely time to mention his other writings, including a wonderful study of daily communion with God, a cheering treatment of the pleasantness of a religious life, a methodical survey of Scriptural thoughts to employ in prayer, together with biographical studies and a variety of sermons - including funerals and ordinations - covering topics as diverse as meekness of spirit, sober-mindedness, and pastoral labour.

As a man and as a minister, in private and in public, in preaching and in writing, in his family, among his people, and further afield, Matthew Henry was a man delighted and governed by the Word of God. A man of such conviction and spirit is surely a man to be appreciated and emulated, to be read and enjoyed. I hope that this brief memorial will encourage you to do just that.

This short article first appeared in the
Evangelical Times. If you are interested in learning more, and will be in the London area on Monday 29 October at 1pm, I will be giving a lecture on Henry at the Evangelical Library. You can find many of Henry's writings available at WTS, or Apologies that a botch on my part meant that I managed to prepare but not post this on 18 Oct - it is backdated accordingly.

Ligon Duncan has prepared an updated version of Matthew Henry's Method for Prayer online.

Review: "Matthew Henry: His Life and Influence"

Matthew Henry: His Life and Influence
Allan Harman
Christian Focus, 2012, 208pp., paperback, £8.99
ISBN 9781845507831

While Matthew Henry's commentary, though sneered at in some quarters, remains rightly esteemed, the man himself is often little more than a cipher. Though in a style that is not always lively, Allan Harman puts that right in this accessible biography by putting the writing in the context of the life. A good two thirds of the book is devoted to the life, with a fair amount of weight on the relationship Matthew had with his father, Philip. Philip's household provided the environment in which Matthew flourished as a Christian and as a scholar, and we trace Matthew through his early life, his call to preach, and his ministries at Chester and Hackney. It is occasionally disconcerting in this section to have the author follow a tangential theme to its chronological end before returning to the main chronological stream of the central narrative, but not so much as to wreck the flow. The last third of the book is more analytical, considering Henry as preacher, commentator and writer, together with his legacy as a whole. This is a thorough, insightful and helpful section. In the 350th anniversary year of Matthew Henry's birth, we would do well to consider his life and draw from it the valuable lessons to which Harman points us.

From father to son

Despite the temptation to rise to Dr Trueman's bait - I can only assume that the man who wrote a book called Histories and Fallacies had his tongue firmly in his cheek when he whiffled out that tosh about Baptists "executing Dutch nudists," otherwise one wonders precisely how reliable is the historical-theological instruction being offered in seminaries these days . . . but more of that anon - I offer something of what I hope is greater substance. I am working on a piece on Matthew Henry, born 350 years ago this year, and came across some gems of advice from his father, Philip Henry. I pass them on in turn, hoping that they profit others, and that Dr Trueman appreciates my readiness to "follow peace and holiness," even with him.

From a pious aged father to his son a minister newly married

Dear Pair, whom God hath now of two made One
Suffer a Father's exhortation.
In the first Place see that with joynt indeavour -
You set yourselves to serve the Lord together,
You are yoakt to work but for work Wages write,
His Yoak is easie, & his burden light,
Love one another, Pray oft together, and see,
You never both together Angry bee -
If one speak fire t'other with water come,
Is one provok'd be tother soft or dumb -
Walk low, but aim high, spotless be your life
You are a Minister, and a Minister's Wife
Therefore as Beacons set upon a Hill -
To angels and to men a spectacle -
Your slips will falls be calld, your falls each one
Will be a blemish to Religion -
Do good to all, bee affable and meek
Your converse must be Preaching all the week -
Your Garb and Dress must not be vain or Gay,
Reckon good works your richest, best array -
Your House must be a Bethel, and your Door
Always stand open to receive the Poor
Call your estate God's, not your own, ingrave
Holiness to the Lord on all you have
Count upon suffering, or you count amis,
Sufficient to each day its evil is,
All are born once to trouble, but saints twice,
And as experience shews Min[iste]rs thrice,
But if you suffer with and for your Lord,
You'l reign with him according to his Word.

M . H. Lee, Diaries and Letters of Philip Henry (London: Kegan Paul, Trench & Co., 1882),  359-60, quoted in Allan Harman, Matthew Henry: His Life and Influence (Fearn, Ross-shire: Christian Focus, 2012)

Incidentally, Philip Henry, from his deathbed, gave Matthew further advice in response to his son's request, "Oh, sir, pray for me that I may but tread in your steps." Philip replied, "Yea, follow peace and holiness, and let them say what they will."