Jul 29, 2011

Matthew Henry on Family Religion

Many Christians are familiar with Matthew Henry’s  Commentary on the Whole Bible. That work has continued to be a great help to Christians even as we approach the third centennial of its original publication. As his 1704 sermon ‘On Family Religion’ indicates, Matthew Henry was a strong proponent of the spiritual leadership of the male head of the household. This excerpt from volume I of The Complete Works of Matthew Henry (Baker Book House: Grand Rapids, 1978) treats Bible reading and teaching in the family.
Men who would benefit from using a Bible with text notes should consider the ‘new’ Matthew Henry Study Bible. This study Bible takes some of the best passages from his commentary and places them in study notes. It is fitting that fathers should use Henry in this way since his commentary was in fact based on the notes which he made while listening to his father, Philip Henry, teach the Bible in daily family worship.
In the concluding words of this excerpt Matthew Henry recommends that masters of families who are not ministers might add to family worship a reading from a reliable commentary. In my view, men would be better to learn these lessons for themselves, consulting Scripture to explain Scripture. For this purpose a topical study Bible, such as the New Open Bible or the Thompson Chain Reference Bible, is useful. Men should gradually build up a library of reference tools and call their minister as often as a question arises in their Bible study:
‘Masters of families, who preside in the other affairs of the house, must go before their households in the things of God. They must be as prophets, priests, and kings in their own families; and as such they must keep up family-doctrine, family-worship, and family-discipline: then is there a church in the house, and this is the family religion I am persuading you to.
First, Keep up family doctrine. It is not enough that you and yours are baptized into the Christian faith, and profess to own the truth as it is in Jesus, but care must be taken, and means used that you and yours be well acquainted with that truth, and that you grow in the acquaintance, to the honor of Christ and his holy religion, and the improvement of your own minds, and theirs that are under your charge. You must deal with your families as men of knowledge, 1 Pet. 3:7  that is, as men that desire to grow in knowledge yourselves, and to communicate your knowledge for the benefit of others, which are the two good properties of those that deserve to be called men of knowledge.
That you may keep up family-doctrine,
1. You must read the scriptures to your families, in a solemn manner, requiring their attendance on your reading, and their attention to it: and inquiring sometimes whether they understand what you read? I hope that there are none of you without Bibles in your houses… But what will it avail you to have Bibles in your houses, if you do not use them? to have the great things of God’s law and gospel written to you, if you count them a strange thing? You look daily into your shop-books, and perhaps converse much with the news-books, and shall your Bibles be thrown by as an almanac out of date? It is not now penal to read the scriptures in your families as it was in the dawning day of the reformation from popery, when there were those that were accused and prosecuted for reading in a certain heretical book called an English Bible… You have great encouragements to read the scripture; for notwithstanding the malicious endeavors of atheists to vilify the sacred things, the knowledge of the scriptures is still in reputation with all wise and good men. You have a variety of excellent helps to understand the scripture, and to improve your reading of it; so that if you or yours perish for lack of this knowledge, as you certainly will if you persist in the neglect of it, you may thank yourselves, the guilt will lie entirely at your own doors.
Let me therefore with all earnestness press it upon you to make the solemn reading of the scripture a part of your daily worship in your families. When you speak to God by prayer, be willing to hear him speak to you in his word, that there may be a complete communion between you and God. This will add much to the solemnity of your family-worship, and will make the transaction the more awful and serious, if it be done in a right manner — which will conduce much to the honor of God and your own and your families’ edification. It will help to make the word of God familiar to yourselves, and your children and servants, that you may be ready and mighty in the scriptures, and may from thence be thoroughly furnished for every good word and work. It will likewise furnish you with matter and words for prayer, and so be helpful to you in other parts of the service. If some parts of scripture seem less edifying, let those be most frequently read that are most so. David’s psalms of daily use in devotion, and Solomon’s proverbs in conversation; it will be greatly to your advantage to be well versed in them… When you only hear your children read the Bible, they are tempted to look upon it as not more but a school book; but when they hear you read it to them in a solemn, religious manner, it comes as it ought, with more authority. Those masters of families who make conscience of doing this daily, morning and evening, reckoning it part of that which the duty of every day requires, — I am sure they have comfort and satisfaction in so doing, and find it contributes much to their own improvement in Christian knowledge, and the edification of those that dwell under their shadow; and the more, if those that are ministers expound themselves, and other masters of families read some plain and profitable exposition of what is read, or of some part of it.’

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