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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.

(Concluded from page 159.)

The Lord having built up Mr. Henry into a family, he was faithful in paying his ordination vow, “that he and his house would serve the Lord.” He would often say that we are really what we are relatively. It is not so much what we are at Church, as what we are in our own houses. Religion in the power of it will be family religion.

He made conscience of closet-worship, and did abound in it. He usually advised his friends and children, to “be sure you look to your secret duty; keep that up, whatever you do; the soul cannot prosper in the neglect of it. Apostacy generally begins at the closet door; secret prayer is first neglected—then carelessly performed—then frequently omitted—then wholly cast off—and then farewell God, and Christ, and all religion.”

Besides this, he and his wife constantly prayed together every morning and evening; and never, if they were together, at home or abroad, was this practice omitted. Many, to whom he has recommended this duty, have had cause to bless God for both him and his advice. When he was abroad, and slept with any of his friends, he would remind them of this rule, “that they that lay together must pray together.”

He made conscience and made a business of family worship. He would say sometimes, if the worship of God be not in the house, write “Lord, have mercy upon us, upon the door; for there is a plague, a curse in it.” His own practice in this matter was very exemplary. As to the time, his rule was, “the earlier the better”—in the morning before worldly business crowded in, and in the evening before the children and servants began to be sleepy. He industriously contrived the circumstances of his family worship, so as to make it the most solemn, and most likely to answer the end. He always made it the business of the day, and not as too many made it, a bye-business. This being his fixed principle, all other affairs must be sure to give way to this. And he would tell those who objected to family worship, that they could not get time for it; that if they would put on Christian resolution at first, they page 188 would not find the difficulty so great as they imagined, but after a while that other affairs would naturally and easily fall in with this, especially where there is that wisdom which is profitable to direct. Nay, they would find it to be a great preserver of order and decency in a family, and it would be like a hem to all other business, to keep it from ravelling. He was ever careful to have all his family present at family worship; though sometimes, living in the qountry, he had a great household; yet he would have not only his children, and sojourners, and domestic servants, but his workmen and day labourers to join in the service.

The performances of his family worship were the same morning and evening. He began with a short but solemn prayer. He next read a portion of Scripture, going through the Bible in order, and expounded it. He then prayed, always kneeling, which he looked upon as the most proper position for prayer. On Thursday evenings he catechised his children and servants; and on Saturday evenings his children and servants gave him some account of the chapters that he expounded all the week before; this he called gathering up the fragments that remain, that nothing be lost.

But the Lord's Day he called and counted the queen of days, the pearl of the week, and he observed it accordingly Whatever were the circumstances of his public work, his family religion on that day was always the same. He took care to have his family ready early on that day, and was longer in exposition and prayer on Sabbath mornings than on other days. He constantly sung a psalm after dinner and another after supper on the Lord's Day. In the evening of that day his children and servants were catechised on the sense and meaning of the answers in the catechism, that they might not say it like a parrot by rote. In his prayers on the Sabbath evening, he was more than ordinarily enlarged, and usually prayed in a particular manner for his family and all who belonged to it, “that they might have grace to behave, as a minister, and a minister's wife, and a minister's children, and a minister's servants ought to do.” He would sometimes say, that he saw cause to shorten his devotions, but he would never omit any of them; for if an excuse be once admitted for an omission, it will be often returning. He was not willing that any should go from his house in the morning before family worship; but, would remind his friends that “prayer and provender never hinder a journey.”

His conduct towards his children was mild and gentle; for he desired rather to be loved than feared by them. He was as careful not to provoke them to wrath, as he was to bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. He ruled indeed, and kept up his authority, but it was with wisdom and love. He allowed his childern a great degree of freedom with him, and this gave him the opportunity of reasoning with them, which he liked much better than frightening them, into that which is good.

He was careful to bring his children early to the Lord's Supper, to take the Covenant of God upon themselves, and to make their dedication to God, their own act and deed; and a great deal of page 189 pains be took with them, to prepare them for that great ordinance, and so transmit them into the state of adult Church membership. He would often blame parents, who would think themselves andone, if they had not their children baptized and yet took no care when they grew up and made a profession of religion to persuade them to come to the Lord's Supper. “It is true “he would say, “buds and blossoms are not fruit; but they give hopes of fruit, and parents may and should take hold of the good beginnings of grace which they see in their children, to bind them so much the faster to, and lead them so much the faster in, the ways of God. By this solemn engagement, the door which stood half open before, and invited the thief, is shut and bolted against temptation.” In dealing with his children about their spiritual state, he reasoned much with them on the ground of their infant baptism, and frequently inculcated that upon them, that they were in God's house, and early dedicated and given up to him, and therefore obliged to be his servants, Ps. cxvi. 16. “I am thy servant because the son of thy handmaid;” and he would often say, “if infant-baptism were more improved it would be less disputed.”

After the restoration of Charles II., in 1600, and the passing of the act of uniformity, the grand question was whether to conform to the church as then established or not. He used all means possible to satisfy himself concerning it, by reading and by discourse, but in vain; his dissatisfaction remained. “However,” says he, “I dare not judge those that do conform; for who am I that I should judge my brother?” The consequence was, that on St, Bartholomew's day, 1662, he was silenced from preaching, along with other 2000 ministers of kindred spirit: that act has been commonly called the Bartholomew bushel. At Michaelmas, 1662, he quite left Worthenbury, and came with his family to Broad Oak, just nine years from his coming into the country. For several years he attended public worship with his family at Whitewell Chapel. He did not preach for a long time, except occasionally when he visited his friends, or to his own family on Lord's days, when the weather hindered them from going abroad. He acted according to that rule which he often laid down to others, “That when we cannot do what we would, we must do what we can, and the Lord will accept us in it.” But notwithstanding his prudent and peaceable conduct, such were the evil times in which he lived, that he suffered both fines, imprisonment, and partial self-banishment. But these sufferings served only to set forth his Christian character to more decided advantage.

In April, 1667, he buried his eldest son, not quite six years old, a child of extraordinary promise in learning, and of an excellent disposition. His character of this child was, “There was nothing puerile about him but his age.” This was a great affliction to his tender parents, and Mr. Henry writes upon it this reflection. “Whatever you love, pray that you may not love it too much.” A Lord's day intervening between the death and burial of the child, “I attended,” said he, “on public ordinances, though sad in spirit, as Job who, after all the evil tidings brought him, fell down page 190 and worshipped.” And he would often say upon such occasions, “Weeping must not hinder sowing.”

He was very affable and easy of access, and admirably patient in hearing every one's complaint, which he would answer with so much prudence and mildness, and give such apt advice, that many a time to consult him was to ask counsel at Abel, and so to end the matter. He observed, in almost all quarrels that happened, that there was “a fault on both sides,” and that, generally, they were most in the fault that were most clamorous in their complaints. One making her moan to him of a bad husband, who in this and the other instance was unkind: “And, sir,” said she, after a long complaint which he had heard with much patience, “what would you have me to do now?” “Why, truly,” said he, “I would have you to go home and be a better wife to him, and then you will find that he will be a better husband to you.” He used to say there are four rules to be observed, in going to law—1. We must not go to law for trifles—2. We must not be rash or hasty in it, but must try all other possible means to compose differences—3. We must see that it be without malice or desire of revenge—4. It must be with a disposition to peace, whenever it may be had, and with an ear open to all overtures of that kind.

He was noted as an extraordinary neat husbandman, and used to say “He could not endure to see his ground like the field of the slothful, and the vineyard of the man void of understanding.” He often blamed those, whose irregular zeal in the profession of religion made them neglect their worldly business; and he would tell sometimes of a religious woman whose fault it had been, but who was convinced of it by means of an intelligent godly neighbour, who coming into the house, and finding the good woman, far in the day, in her closet, and the house sadly neglected, children not tended, servants not minded, and all things out of order, “What,’ says he, “is there no fear of God in this house?“The good woman overheard him; she was startled, affected, and cured.

His house at Broad Oak was by the road side, which though it had its inconveniences, yet pleased him well, because it gave his friends an opportunity of calling on him the oftener, and gave him an opportunity of being kind to strangers and such as were in any way distressed upon the road. He was very tender and compassionate towards poor strangers and travellers, though his charity and candour were often imposed upon by cheats and pretenders, of whom he was not apt to be suspicions; he would say in the most favourable sense thou knowest not the heart of a stranger.

In the time of distress by the Conventicle Act in 1670, he kept private, and stirred but little abroad, as loath to offend those who were in power, and judging it prudent to gather in his sails when the storm is violent. Amid the divisions and dissensions of these times, his settled resolution was “In those things wherein all the people of God are agreed, I will spend my zeal; and wherein they differ, I will endeavour to walk according to the light that God has given me, and charitably believe that others do so to.”

page 191

In 1671 an indulgence was granted to the non-conformists, Mr. Henry received a license to preach, as Paul did, in his own house, and elsewhere no man forbidding him. He was wont to observe for the encouragement of such as had meetings in their own house,” The ark is a guest that pays well for its entertainment.” And he noted that when Christ had borrowed Peter's boat, to preach a sermon out of it, he presently repaid him for the loan with a great draught of fishes. Luke, v. 34.

In 1677-8-9 at Broad Oak he preached over the Ten Commandments, and largely opened from other texts of Scripture the duties required and the sins forbidden in each commandment. For though none delighted more than he in preaching Christ and goapel grace, yet he knew that Christ came not to destroy the Law and the Prophets, but to fulfil them, and that though, through grace, we are not under the law as a covenant, yet we are under it as a rule, under the law to Christ. He was very large and particular in pressing second table duties, as essential to Christianity. “We have known those,” said he, “that have called preaching on such subjects good moral preaching; but let them call it as they will I am sure it is necessary, and as much so now as ever. How much would he press upon the people the necessity of righteousness and honesty in their whole conversation. “A good christian” he used to say, “will be a good husband, a good father, a good master, a good subject, and a good neighbour; and so in other relations.” How often would he urge that honesty is the will and command of the Great God, the character of all the citizens of Zion, the beauty and ornament of all our christian profession, and the surest way to thrive and prosper in the world. He would say that these are things in which the children of this world are competent judges. They that know not what belongs to faith, and repentance, andprayer, yet know what belongs to the making of an honest bargain. One thing he was more than usually earnest in pressing, which was to speak evil of no man. If we can say no good of persons we must say nothing of them. He was himself an eminent example of this rule. Whenever he preached moral duties, he would always have something of Christ in his sermon; either his life, as the great pattern of duty; or his love as the great motive to it; or his merit as making atonement for the neglect of it.

In his Sabbath work Mr. Henry was uniform and abundant. He began his morning family worship on Lord's-days at eight o'clock, when he read and expounded pretty largely, sung a psalm and prayed; and many of his people strove to come in time enough for that service. He began in public just at nine o'clock, winter and summer. He began with prayer, then sung the ex. psalm, next he read and expounded a chapter in the old Testament in the morning, in the New Testament in the afternoon. After the exposition he sung another psalm; then he preached; and after sermon he sung the cxviii psalm. He intermitted at noon about an hour and a half, in which he took a little refreshment in his page 192 study, but made no regular dinner; during this interval the morning service was repeated by a person who had written it from the lips of the preacher, to as many as remained in the chapel. When this was done he began the afternoon service; in which he not only read and expounded a chapter, but catechised the children, and expounded the catechism before his sermon. Thus did he go from strength to strength, and from duty to duty, running the ways of Gods commandments with an enlarged heart. The variety and vivacity of his public services made them exceedingly pleasant to all who joined in them, who had never cause to complain of his being tedious. He used to say, “Every moment of Sabbath time is precious, and none of it ought to be lost,” and that he scarcely thought the Lord's day well spent, if he were not weary in body at night;—weary with his work, but not weary of it.

In 1687-8, he married all his five children; and all, not only with his full consent, but to his abundant comfort and satisfaction. He would say, “that he thought it the duty of parents, to study to oblige their children in that affair;” and though no children could be more easy and at rest in a father's house than they were; yet be would sometimes say concerning them as Naomi to Ruth, “Shall I not seek rest for thee?” He used to advise his children with regard to their choice of a partner, 1st. To keep within the bounds of profession; such a profession of religion as one may charitably hope springs from a good principle. 2nd., “Look at suitableness” in age, quality, education, temper, &c. He used to observe from Gen. ii. 18. “I will make him an help meet for him,” that where there is not meetness there will not be much help. And he would commonly say to his children in reference to that choice, “Please God and please yourselves, and you shall never displease me;” and he greatly blamed those parents who conclude matches and do not ask counsel at their mouth. He never aimed at great things in the world for his children; but sought for them in the first place the Kingdom of God and the righteousness thereof. He used to mention the saying of a pious Lady who had many daughters: “The care of most people is how to get good husbands for their daughters; but my care is to fit my daughters to be good wives; and then let God provide for them.” In this as in other things Mr. Henry steered by this principle, “That a man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.” Yet it pleased God to order it, that all his children were disposed of into circumstances very agreeable and comfortable, both for life and godliness. He was greatly affected with the goodness of God to him in this respect, without any forecast or contrivance of his own. “The country,” says he in his diary, “takes notice of it, and what shall I render? Snrely this is a token for good.” All his four daughters were married at Whitewell Chapel and he preached a wedding sermon for each in his own family. He would often tell his friends,” That those who desire in the married condition to live in the favour of God. must enter upon that condition in the fear of God.” While he lived he had much comfort in all his children and page 193 all their yokefollows, and somewhat the more that, by the divine providence, four out of the fire families which branched out of his, were settled near him at Chester.

After the Revolution in 1688, his troubles were diminished and his sphore of usefulness was enlarged, but the infirmities of age affected him in (ravelling, though he abated little of his vigour and liveliness in preaching. His constitution was originally but tender, but by the blessing of God upon his great temperance and exercise, he enjoyed for many years a good measure of health, which he used to call “the sugar that sweetens all temporal exercises, for which we ought to be very thankful, and of which we ought to be very careful.” For some years before he died, he used to complain of an habitual weariness, contracted, he thought, by his standing to preach, sometimes very uneasily, and in inconvenient places immediately after riding. He would say, “Every minister is not cut out for an itenerant.” In the time of his health he made death very familiar to himself, by frequent and pleasing thoughts and meditations upon it, and endeavoured to make it so to his friends by speaking often of it. He had often expressed a desire that, if it were the will of God, he might not outlive his usefulness, and it pleased God to grant his desire, and to give him a short passage from the pulpit to the kingdom, from the height of his usefulness to receive the recompence of the reward. He died after a short illness, June 24, 1696, in the sixty-fifth year of his age. His end was peace, his death was gain, and in it be had hope. “Mark the perfect man, and behold the upright, for the sim of that man is peace.”