The New Zealand Evangelist
Biographical Sketches. No. VIII — Rev. Philip Henry, M. A.
Biographical Sketches. No. VIII.
Rev. Philip Henry, M. A.
Minister of the Gospel, near Whitchurch, Shropshire.
The following sketch of the Rev. P. Henry is an abridged compilation from the deeply interesting Memoirs written by his son, the Rev. Mathew Henry, author of the celebrated commentary on the Holy Scriptures.
Philip Henry was born at Whitehall, Westminster, August 24, 1631. His father's name was John Henry, the son of Henry Williams, of Britton's Ferry, in Glamorganshire. According to the old Welsh custom the father's Christain [sic: Christian] name was the son's sirname. When young he was brought to Court by the Earl of Pembroke, and was afterwards made page of the backstairs to the King's second son, James, Duke of York. He lived and died a Courtier, a hearty mourner for his royal master, King Charles I., whom he did not long survive.page 155
His mother was an excellent woman. She was dead to the vanities of the Court, though she lived in the midst of them. She looked well to the ways of her household; prayed with them daily; catechised her children; and taught them the good knowledge of the Lord betimes. Mr. Henry often spoke with thankfulness to God, for having such a mother. She died of consumption when he was in his 14th year. A little before she departed she said to those near her, “My head is in heaven, and my heart is in heaven: it is but one step more and I shall be there too.”
Prince Charles and the Duke of York being about his age, he was often one of their playmates, and they promised him preferment. Archbishop Land took a particular kindness to him also. But the breaking up and scattering of the Court by the calamities of 1641, at once dashed the expectation of Court preferment, and prevented the danger of Court entanglement. One advantage, however, he seems to have derived from his Court-education—an uncommon degree of that good breeding, that almost indescribable agreeableness of manners, and behaviour, which the world calls politeness; the Scriptures courtesy. Never was any man farther from the rudeness and moroseness which some scholars, and too many that profess religion, either wilfully affect, or carelessly allow themselves in, to the reproach of their profession. Sanctified civility is a great ornament to Christianity. It is one of the laws of our religion, exemplified in the conduct of this good man, to honour all men.
At twelve years of age he entered Westminister school, under Mr. Vincent and Dr. Bushy [sic: .] Here he profited greatly in school learning, and all his days retained his improvements with surprising exactness. His usual recreations were either reading the printed accounts of public occurrences, or attending the Courts at Westminster-Hall, to hear the trials and arguments there, which he often did, he was wont to say, to the loss of his dinner, and oftener of his play.
There was then a daily morning lecture set up at the Abbey Church, between six and eight o'clock, and preached by seven of the worthy members of the assembly of divines in course. It was the request of his pious mother to Dr. Busby, that her son might attend that lecture daily, which he allowed. The Lord was pleased to make good impressions on his soul, by the sermons he heard there. His mother also took him with her to Mr. Case's lecture every Thursday. On the Lord's Day he sat under the powerful ministry of Mr. Stephen Marshall. He also attended constantly upon the monthly fasts at St. Margaret's where the best and ablest ministers of England preached before the House of Commons. The service of the day lasted from eight in the morning till four in the afternoon. At the monthly fasts he had often sweet meltings of soul, and many warm and lively truths came home to his heart, and he daily increased in that wisdom and knowledge which are unto salvation.
It was his constant practice, from eleven or twelve years old, to page 156 write as he could, all the sermons he heard, which he kept very carefully, transcribing many in a fair hand, and, notwithstanding his many removals, they were always preserved.
It was the ancient practice at Westminister School, that all the King's scholars who stood candidates for election to the University, were to receive the Lord's Supper before, which he did with the rest, in 1647, in the 16th year of his age. Dr. Busby took great pains with his scholars who were to approach that holy ordinance, for several weeks before, at stated times, with great skill and seriousness of application, and manifest concern for their souls, instructing and exhorting them. Mr. Henry's profiting by these exercises appears from his own words. After relating his preparatory exercises of self examination, repentance, and self dedication, he says, “After which coming to the ordinance, there, there, I received him indeed, and he became mine, I say mine! Bless the Lord, O my Soul!”
From these early experiences of his own, he would bear testimony to the benefit and comfort of early piety. He would often witness against that wicked proverb, A young saint an old devil; and would rather have it said, A young saint an old angel. He observed, concerning Obadiah, that he feared the Lord from his youth; and it is said of him that he feared the Lord greatly. Those that would come to fear the Lord greatly, must fear the Lord in their youth. No man did his duty so naturally as Timothy did, who from a child knew the Scriptures. He would sometimes apply to this subject that common saying, “He that would thrive must rise at five.” In dealing with young people, how earnestly would he press this upon them. “I tell you that you cannot begin too soon to be religious, but you may put it off too long. Manna must be gathered early, and God who is the first must have the first.
He would also recommend it to the care of parents to bring their children betimes to public ordinances. He would say, that they are capable, sooner than we are aware, of receiving good by them. The Scripture takes notice more than once of the little ones in the solemn assemblies. He would also recommend to young people, a practise which he himself continued through life, that of writing sermons, as a means to engage their attention in hearing, to prevent drowsiness, and to help their memories when they came either to meditate on what they had heard, or to communicate them, to others, and many have cause to bless God for his advice and instruction therein.
In December 1647, he entered the University of Oxford. Some merciful providences in his journey affected him much, and he has recorded them with this thankful note, “That there may be a great mercy in a small matter.” His godfather, the Earl of Pembroke, had given him ten pounds to buy a gown, to pay his fees, and set out with. This, in his papers, he notes as a “seasonable mercy,” in regard of some straits, to which Providence, by the calamities of the times, had brought to his father. God had taught him from his youth that excellent principle, which he adhered to all his days, page 157 that “every creature in that to us which God makes it anil no more,” At the Universities he experienced many mercies; but was exposed to various temptations, from the society into which he was thrown, and the ardour of his youthful piety began to abate; but God preserved him, and his recovery from these snares led him to be more thankful and humble. It was a saying of his “He that stumbles, and does not fall, gets ground by his stumble.
He was a diligent student, and made good progress in learning. In 1650 he took his Bachelor of Arts degree; and he has recorded the goodness of God in raising up friends who helped him out in the expenses. He would often mention it with thankfulness to God, what great helps and advantages he then had in the University, for both learning and religion. Serious godliness was in reputation; and besides the opportunities they had, there were many of the scholars who used to meet together for prayer and Christian conference, by which they greatly assisted one another in working out their salvation, and preparing themselves for the service of the church and their generation. Dr. Owen and Dr. Goodwin preached the University sermons alternately. The sermons he had heard at Oxford he wrote down; not in the time of hearing, but afterwards when he came home, in his reflections upon them, which he found to be a good help to his memory.
In December, 1652, he proceeded Master of Arts, and in Jan, following he preached his first sermon. His great parts and improvement, notwithstanding his extraordinary modesty and humility, had made him so well known at the University, that he was chosen out of all the masters of that year to be junior of the act, that is to hold certain philosophical disputations, which he did with great applause; and especially in the very spirited and ingenious orations which he made to the University upon that occasion. Dr, Owen who was then the Vice-Chancellor, spoke with great commendation of these and other similar performances, to some afterwards in the University, who never knew him otherwise than by report. It was also matter of wonder to some that so polite an orator, should be come so powerful and profitable a preacher, and so readily lay aside the enticing words of men's wisdom which were so easy to him.
In 1653, in his 22nd year, he left the University and came to Worthenbury in Flintshire, North Wales. Here he resided in the family of Judge Puleston, of Emeral,—the principal family in the parish. The Judge's lady was a person of more than ordinary parts and wisdom; in piety, inferior to few; in learning; superior to most of her sex.
At Emeral he prayed in the family, was tutor to the young gentlemen, and preached once every Lord's Day at Worthenbury, but shortly afterwards he preached twice. Here be applied himself to a plain and practical way of preaching, as one truly concerned for the souls of those he spoke to. He used to say sometimes “We study how to speak that you may understand us.” And “I never think that I can speak plain enough when I am speaking about souls and their salvation,” His audience increased three for one page 158 in the parish, and five for one out of other places. He still, continued in the Emeral family and laid himself out very much for the spiritual good of all its members, even the meanest of the servants by catechising, repeating sermons, and personal instruction; and he had much comfort in the countenance and conversation of the Judge and his lady. The sphere was too narrow for such a burning and shining light. There were but forty communicants when he first administered the Lord's Supper there, and they never augumented to eighty; yet he had such low thoughts of himself, that he now only never sought for a larger sphere, but would not bearken to any overtures of that kind made to him. He was about eight years from first to last at Worthenbury, and his labours were not in vain. He saw in many of the travel of his soul to the rejoicing of his heart. He was often called upon to preach the week-day lectures which were set up plentifully, and diligently attended in those parts. The people called him the Heavenly Henry; by which title he was commonly known all the country over. He was noted for great piety and devotion, self diffidence and self abasement; this eminent humility put a lustre upon all his other graces.
He was ever forward to promote unanimity among Christians, and lamented the unhappy dissensions which prevailed is his time. He used to observe, “We may as well expect all the clocks in the town to strike together, as to see all good people of one mind in every thing on this side of heaven; but it is not so much our difference of opinion that doeth the mischief, as our mismanagement of that difference.”
While he was at Worthenbury, he constantly laid by the tenth of his increase for the poor, which he carefully and faithfully disposed of, in the liberal things which he devised, especially in the teaching of poor children; and he recommended it as a good rule to lay by for charity, and then it would be easy to lay out for charity; we shall be more apt to seek opportunities of doing good when we have the money lying by us of which we have said, “This is not my own but the poors,” To encourage himself and others in works of charity, he would say, “He is no fool who parts with what he cannot keep, when he is sure to be recompensed with that which he cannot lose.
In 1658, Lady Puleston died, “She was,” said he, “the best friend I had on earth, but my friend in heaven is still where he was, and he will never leave me nor forsake me.” Not long before she died, she said, “My soul leans to Jesus Christ; lean to me sweet Saviour.” In 1659, Judge Puleston died and all Mr, Henry's interest in the Emeral family was buried in his grave. He preached the Judge's funeral sermon, from Neh. xiii. 15, Wipe not out my good deeds that I have done for the house of my God, and for the offices thereof. The design of which was to show that deeds done for the house of God are good deeds, and to press people, according as their ability and opportunity was, to such deeds.
In 1658, he removed from Emeral to a Louse in Worthenbury which the Judge had built for him; and providence soon after provided page 159 a help meet for him. After long agitation, on April 26, 1660, he married Catherine, the only daughter and heir of Mr. Daniel Mathews, of Broad Oak, in the township of Iscoyd, in Flintshire. Mr. Mathews was a gentleman of good estate; this was his only child; very fair and honourable offers were made for her disposal; but it pleased God to order events, and to over rule the spirits of those concerned, that she was reserved to be a blessing to this good man, in things pertaining both to life and godlinass. His purpose of marriage was published in the Church three Lord's days before; a laudable practice which he greatly approved, and persuaded others to adopt. The day before his marriage, he kept as a day of secret prayer and fasting. He used to say, those who would have comfort in that change of conditon, must see to it, that they bring none of the guilt of the sins of their single life with them into the married state. And the presence of Christ at a wedding will turn water into wine, and he will come if he be invited by prayer.
He took all occasions while he lived to express his thankfulness to God for the great comfort he had in this relation. “A day of mercy,” so he writes on his marriage day, “never to be forgotten.” “God had given him one,” as he writes afterwards, “every way his helper, in whom he had much comfort, and for whom he thanked God with all his heart.” They had six children; the two eldest were sons, and the other four daughters. His eldest son, John, died of measles in the sixth year of his age, and the rest were in mercy spared to them. Their second son, Mathew, will be known by his Commentary and other writings, while the English language Continues to be the vehicle of pious thought, and the medium of religious instruction.
(To be concluded in our next.)