Just this past week, I finally completed my collection of Matthew Henry writings: in addition to a one-volume unabridged edition of Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible, I also ordered The Complete Works of Matthew Henry: Treatises, Sermons, and Tracts. After having receiving this treasured out-of-print collection of Matthew Henry's works, I was reading through one of his treatises called On the Right Management of Friendly Visits, and I felt an awareness that I was sitting at the feet of a wise and learned mentor. He had 4 points of warning, and 4 points of encouragement, on visiting with friends. On the warning side, (1) not to let friendly visits become the waste and consumption of our precious time; (2) not to let them become the gratifications of pride and vain curiosity; (3) not to let them be 'the cloak and cover of hypocrisy'; and (4) not to make them into an opportunity for slandering and 'tale-bearing'. On the encouragements, he wrote exhortations (1) to make friendly visits the proofs and preservatives of brotherly love; (2) to make them the helps and occasions of Christian sympathy; (3) to let them furnish us with matter for prayer and praise; (4) to improve them as opportunities for doing good to the souls of our friends.
All of this was great. I also enjoyed an earlier part of the treatise, where he pointed out that truly Christian visits are those made to 'the poor, the widow, and the orphan in their distress' and that we must make sure that our visits aren't only spent with friends.
Learning From My Mentor's Failures, Too
But, as with every mentor, I have also learned to take lessons from Mr. Henry's failures as well as his successes and wisdom. Matthew Henry was a workaholic, and kept up a demanding schedule that injured his already weak health, took large portions of his time away from family, and sent him to the grave at a young 51 years old (born October 1662, died June 1714). When he wrote "It is not only necessary that part of our time be spent in actual preparation for another world, but all our time must be spent with an habitual regard to it' (p.274), one gets the feeling that his grueling 18-hour days, with 7 sermons a week, including study and pastoral visits, was a gross workaholic application of the rule. Towards the end of his life, he spent so much time working that his friends pleaded for the sake of his health for him to stop (p. vii). Here is a quote from an article titled The Life of Matthew Henry:
'Henry's health, however, soon became visibly impaired. His friends appealed to him to lighten his schedule, but he would not listen. He believed he had been placed in the vineyard to work, and he was determined to be a faithful servant. He also knew that to stop preaching would do violence to his physical as well as his moral being. SO he continued, "instant in season and out of season," preaching the word at every opportunity until summoned home by his Master. Then he would obey with perfect submission and complete confidence. In June 1714 after visiting old friends in Cheshire, Henry returned home and was suddenly taken ill at Nantwich. He recovered quickly, but the next day he came down with apoplexy. He lay speechless for three hours, then "fell asleep." He was buried in Trinity Church, Chester.'
How Matthew Henry's Failures Point to Jesus
Keep in mind, this in no way takes from Matthew Henry's warmth and wisdom. But, like figures of the faith as notable as Abraham and Peter, he was not a perfect man and some of the lessons I take from him have to do with his failings. There is only one perfect Man, the Lord Jesus Christ, and the failures of those who came before and after Him just point us back towards Jesus as the perfect example, the saviour, the one real hero of the faith. Were there any other perfect people in Church history, we would be tempted to just follow them and forget about the example of Christ. Instead, the failures of those who came before us (Henry was a workaholic; Calvin ruthless; Luther crude and caustic) serve to make us more reliant on the person of Jesus. He was their saviour, and they needed Him. He is also ours, and we need Him too.