Essay / On This Day

Happy Birthday to Matthew Henry: Read the Bible and Pray

Today (October 18) is the day Matthew Henry (1662-1714) was born. The right way to celebrate his birthday is to read the Bible and pray. Henry left a literary legacy that helps you do both.

His commentary on the Bible is a remarkable achievement: a one-man show, available in one volume (though the classic form is six volumes). Generations of Bible students have found it to be a helpful guide. This is the work he’s famous for, and rightly so.

But he also wrote a book that teaches you how to pray in a Biblical and powerful way. Henry’s Method for Prayer, while much less famous than his commentary, has nevertheless gathered generations of grateful fans. To see the original text, check out the scanned version at Google Books.

You probably won’t want to use that version, though, even if your eyes are sharp enough. Instead, check out the deluxe online edition hosted by the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, prepared by Ligon Duncan, William McMillan, and Dan Arnold. It’s a site with plenty of bells and whistles. I especially appreciate the way Henry’s constant Scriptural allusions have been incorporated into the site design.

Duncan and company have entitled the online edition “Pray the Bible,” and that is an apt description of what Henry trains you to do. His remarkable fluency with Scripture informed his prayers, and this book trains you to incorporate Scripture itself into your own prayers. If you want a quick introduction to this tour-de-force of Scriptural allusiveness, check out his expanded paraphrase of the Lord’s Prayer. To see him pull in all the major references to God’s fatherhood is to watch the first line of the Lord’s Prayer blossom with all the richness of a full biblical theology. This is the real stuff: This is what “Father” meant on the lips of Jesus himself as he taught his disciples to pray it.

Henry’s book is especially helpful for rescuing your private devotions (rather than “common prayer” or congregational prayer) from the vagueness and redundancy that we are all prone to. But if you take a few months to learn the habit of praying God’s words back to him, you will also find yourself a more helpful intercessor whenever you pray aloud with others.

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