Prayer – Matthew Henry

When the Old Testament Professor O. Palmer Robertson was teaching at Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, MS, he began to become known for his deep and powerful public prayers. The students inquired of Dr. Robertson in how they could learn to pray like him. Beside the cultivation of a habit of regular private prayer, he recommended one book: Matthew Henry’s Method for Prayer.[1]

Matthew Henry was a Puritan who is best known for the well-used and highly regarded Commentary on the Whole Bible. He began writing his commentary in 1704 and it was left incomplete when he died in 1714. His colleagues and students completed the work based on his notes and writings. Henry spent the vast majority of his career as a pastor in Chester, England before spending his final two years at a church in London. In 1712, two months before he moved to London, Henry completed his book on prayer. It is the culmination of a full lifetime of preaching and teaching the Scriptures in the context of pastoral ministry. In this book Henry gives an outline of biblical prayer under six headings: Adoration, Confession, Petition, Thanksgiving, Intercession, and Conclusion. Each of these headings is followed by a pattern of prayer taken almost exclusively from Scripture.

Ligon Duncan notes in the forward to this book, “Resorting to a more Scriptural pattern of prayer may be a simple (but profound) answer to many problems in our practice of prayer. Praying Scripturally will teach us what prayer is, even while we do it.”[2] I don’t know that I’ve met a Christian who is completely satisfied with his prayer life. Learning and implementing Henry’s Method for Prayer would be a benefit to every Christian.

Henry notes in the preface to this book that “Prayer is a principal branch of religious worship, which we are moved to by the very light of nature, and obliged to by some of its fundamental laws.”[3] Everyone prays. Everyone gives homage and respect to whatever or whomever they view as god. “Those that live without prayer, live without God in the world.”[4] But this doesn’t define what prayer is. It merely acknowledges that everyone, in some shape, form, or fashion, prays. Henry continues, “Prayer is the solemn and religious offering up of devout acknowledgements and desires to God, or a sincere representation of holy affections, with a design to give unto God the glory due unto his Name thereby, and to obtain from him promised favors, and both through our Mediator.”[5] Prayer is offering up our desires to God, giving him the glory due him, and a means by which we obtain his promises to us. And all of this is accomplished through the one Mediator between God and men, the Lord Jesus Christ.

The headings in A Method for Prayer lead the Christian to pray in this manner. We are to offer up our praise and adoration of God. We confess our sin to him. We petition God and ask him to intercede in the events of our lives. And we give thanksgiving for all the things he has provided. And we are conclude our prayers with doxologies and acknowledgements of God’s faithfulness to fulfill his will through our prayers. In our prayers we bring all of ourselves to God. “It is desirable that our prayers should be copious and full; our burdens, cares, and wants are many, so are our sins and mercies. The promises are numerous and very rich, our God gives liberally, and has bid us open our mouths wide, and he will fill them, will satisfy them with good things.”[6]

The instruction that Henry gives through A Method for Prayer is that we should constantly and consistently turn to prayer as the guide for our prayers. “If the heart be full of its good matter, it may make the tongue as the pen of a ready Writer.”[7] God’s Word supplies us the whole range of emotion and the full spectrum of our needs and desires. Praying the Scriptures is simply being used by God as the instrument of his change in the world by proclaiming and declaring what he has already proclaimed and declared. Our prayers are one of the means by which God has chosen to make his will be done on earth as it is in heaven.


[1] Matthew Henry and J. Ligon Duncan, A Method for Prayer. (Fearn: Christian Focus, 1994), 7.

[2] Ibid., 8.

[3] Ibid., 11.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid., 13.

[7] Ibid., 16.