Review of A Method For Prayer: Freedom in the face of God, by Matthew Henry
Author: Matthew Henry
Title: A Method For Prayer: Freedom in the face of God
Publisher: Christian Focus Publications Ltd.
Location: Geanies House, Fearn, Ross-shire Scotland
Date: 1994 (Reprinted in 1998, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012)
Before diving into this work, we must understand a little about the author. Matthew Henry was a pastor, theologian, and biblical scholar of the highest order. His upbringing and adult life (1662-1714) were thoroughly puritan of the non-conformist variety. His ministry consisted of the simple yet solid practice of verse-by-verse exposition. As a result of his faithful handling of the scriptures he left behind him a verse-by verse- expositional commentary on the entire Bible, Genesis through Revelation, which is still in print today. This simple book may pale in comparison to his better-known work as it handles only the topic of prayer. But what would you expect from a book written by a man who wrote a commentary on the entire Bible? I would expect that it would be thoroughly biblical and saturated with scripture quotations and references. If that is your expectation, you will not be disappointed.
This book is actually very simple; it seeks to define and model prayer. The majority of the book falls into the second category. It is important to remember that the author was never an academic who never left his library or was locked away in an ivory tower. Henry was a pastor who wrote and preached so that people would understand the scriptures and thus be changed by them. This work reflects that emphasis. It’s one thing to intellectually understand prayer, but quite another to put it into practice. As you read, you can almost hear Henry say, “Let me show you what the Bible says about prayer…”
This work is more or less divided into two parts. The main part of the book is contained in chapters 1-9 (p. 17-163), which is devoted to examples of prayer in their various forms. I am not sure where the acronym A.C.T.S (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication) originated, but Henry follows a similar model.
For example: The first chapter is devoted to the explanation and examples of prayers of adoration (giving glory to God). What that looks like and how one accomplishes that through prayer is handled within that beginning chapter. Each chapter that follows handles a different aspect of prayer in much the same manner.
The second part of the book is broken up into three “discourses,” which function much like appendices. Each discourse is aimed at giving practical advice and application on how to fill your day with prayer. The three discourses focus on 1) Beginning your day in prayer, 2) Filling your day in prayer, and 3) Ending your day in prayer. The pastor’s heart is clearly seen as Henry encourages his readers to put into practice what they have already read.
An obvious highlight is the complete saturation of Holy Scripture throughout this work. When Henry models a particular aspect of prayer, he doesn’t just make up a fictitious prayer for a hypothetical situation. Rather he cobbles together various Scripture passages that speak to exactly what he’s addressing. When dealing with confession, he simply prays the words of Scripture that confess sin. You must understand the magnitude of what Henry has done here. The chapters are not long (around 20 pages per chapter) yet containing an average of 200-300 scriptural references. EACH. When you’re reading through these chapters, what you’re actually seeing is a single sentence that articulates Henry’s point followed by an entire paragraph of biblical examples.
For instance, the first reason given by Henry to give God adoration (p. 17-18) is stated as “We must solemnly address ourselves to that infinitely great and glorious Being with whom we have to do, as those that are possessed with a full belief of his presence, and a holy awe and reverence of his Majesty; which we may do in such expressions as these.”
He continues with a model of such adoration: “Holy, holy, holy Lord God Almighty, which art, and wast, and art to come (Rev. 4:8). O thou whose name alone is Jehovah, and who art the most High over all the earth (Ps. 83:18)! O God, thou art our God, early will we seek thee (Ps. 63:1); our God, and we will praise thee; our fathers’ God, and we will exalt thee (Exod. 15:2). O thou who art the everlasting King (Jer. 10:10), The Lord our God, who is one Lord (Deut. 6:4).” Don’t you just love the old English?
The man knows his Bible, prays his Bible, and urges his readers to do the same.
Any work that quotes, alludes to, and teaches upon this much Scripture is going to find multiple areas of disagreement between Bible students. There are several passages that Henry seems to either interpret or apply in a mystical fashion rather than taking the text at face value, but such is the case with nearly all of his contemporaries. Rather than picking a bone with Henry, I want to affirm his intention as well as his method. Therefore my only critique of this fine and thoroughly biblical work is not against the author, but against the reader.
As the reader you MUST understand that Henry’s intention was never to give a rote prayer for you to memorize and repeat. His chapter on the Lord’s Prayer should evidence his desire to provide a model to emulate rather than a fixed pattern to blindly mimic. His later chapters could easily be misconstrued as set prayers to pray for any given circumstances. That is not the author’s intention at all. Henry simply provided specific examples in specific circumstances to “prime the pump” as it were.
This book should encourage and exhort the reader to pray in like manner as Matthew Henry (i.e. with Scripture flowing from your tongue) but not exactly as Matthew Henry.
I recommend that this book be read slowly and thoroughly with an open Bible next to it. Let Henry’s words be supported by the Scripture that he claims and then allow the Holy Spirit to apply them were necessary.
I unreservedly recommend this book to every Christian. None of us pray as we ought and too many professing Christians simply don’t pray at all. This is a supplemental tool that can help the believer to understand prayer, pursue prayer, and excel at prayer.
Prayerlessness is an epidemic that is sweeping through churches; prayerlessness from the pulpit and the pew alike. Please understand that this lack of prayer is nothing less than sin and must be confessed and repented of. My prayer is that the Lord will use this book to help you both understand and put into practice true biblical, God-glorifying, Christ-exalting, Spirit-dependent prayer.