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[Matthew Henry is greatly known for his magnificent commentary on the whole Bible. He also wrote a book proposing A Method for Prayer, in between writing volumes of that commentary. This series of articles is from that book.]
A Study by Matthew Henry (1662-1714)
How to Begin Every Day with God, pt. 6
My voice shalt thou hear in the morning, O Lord;
in the morning will I direct my Prayer unto thee,
and I will look up
The particular time, fixed in the text for this good work, is the morning; and the Psalmist seems to lay an emphasis upon this, “in the morning,” and again, “in the morning”; not then only, but then to begin with: Let that be one of the hours of prayer. Under the law we find that every morning there was a Lamb offered in sacrifice (see Ex. 29:39); and every morning the Priest burned incense (see Ex. 30:7); and the singers stood every morning to thank the Lord (see I Chr. 23:10). And so it was appointed in Ezekiel’s temple (Ezek. 46:13-15), by which an intimation was plainly given, that the spiritual sacrifices should be offered by the spiritual priests every morning, as duly as the morning comes. Every Christian should pray in secret; and every master of a family, with his family, morning by morning: and there is good reason for it.
1. The morning is the first part of the day, and it is fit that he that is the first should have the first, and the first served. The world had its beginning from him, we had ours; and therefore whatever we begin, it concerns us to take him along with us in it. The days of our life, as soon as ever the sun of reason riseth in the soul, should be devoted to God, and employed in his service; from the womb of the morning let Christ have the dew of thy youth (see Psalm 110:3), the firstlings of the flock. By morning and evening prayer we give glory to him, who is the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last; with him we must begin and end the day, begin and end the night, who is the beginning and the end, the first cause, and the last end.
Wisdom hath said, “Those that seek me early shall find me” (Prov. 8:17); early in their lives, early in the day; for hereby we give to God that which he ought to have, the preference above other things. Hereby we show that we are in care to please him, and to approve ourselves to him, and that we seek him diligently. What we do earnestly, we are said in scripture to do early (as in Ps. 101:8). Industrious men rise betimes; David expresseth the strength and warmth of his devotion, when he saith, “O God, thou art my God, early will I seek thee” (Ps. 63:1).
2. In the morning we are fresh and lively, and in the best frame. When our spirits are revived with the rest and sleep of the night, we live a kind of new life, and the fatigues of the day before are forgotten. The God of Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps, yet, when he exerts himself more than ordinary on his people’s behalf, he is said to awake as one out of sleep (see Psalm 78:65). If ever we be good for anything, it is in the morning; it has therefore become a proverb, Aurora Musis Arnica; and if the morning be a friend to the muses, I am sure it is no less so to the graces. As he that is first should have the first; so he that is best should have the best; and then, when we are fittest for business, we should apply ourselves to that which is the most needful business.
Worshipping God is work that requires the best powers of the soul, and when they are at the best; and it well deserves them. How can they be better bestowed, or turned to a better account? “Let all that is within me bless his holy name,” saith David (Ps. 103:1); and all is little enough. If there be any gift in us by which God may be honoured, the morning is the most proper time to stir it up (see II Tim. 1: 6), when our spirits are refreshed, and have gained new vigour; then “awake my glory, awake psaltery and harp, for I myself will awake early” (Ps. 57:8). Then let us stir up ourselves to take hold on God.
3. In the morning we are most free from company and business, and ordinarily have the best opportunity for solitude and retirement, unless we be of those sluggards that lie in bed, with yet a little sleep, a little slumber, until the work of their calling calls them up, with how long wilt thou sleep, O sluggard? It is the wisdom of those that have much to do in the world, that have scarcely a minute to themselves all day, to take time in the morning, before business crowds in upon them, for the business of their religion, that they may be entire for it, and therefore the more intent upon it.
As we are concerned to worship God then when we are least burdened with deadness and dullness within, so also when we are least exposed to distraction and diversion from without; the apostle intimates how much it should be our care to attend upon the Lord without distraction (see I Cor. 7:35). And therefore that one day in seven (and it is the first day too, the morning of the week), which is appointed for holy work, is appointed to be a day of rest from other work. Abraham leaves all at the bottom of the hill when he goes up into the mount to worship God. In the morning, therefore, let us converse with God, and apply ourselves to the concerns of the other life, before we are entangled in the affairs of this life. Our Lord Jesus has set us an example of this, who, because his day was wholly filled up with public business for God and the souls of men, rose up in the morning a great while before day, and before company came in, and went out into a solitary place, and there prayed (see Mark 1:35).
4. In the morning we have received fresh mercies from God, which we are concerned to acknowledge with thankfulness to his praise. He is continually doing us good, and loading us with his benefits. Every day we have reason to bless him, for every day he is blessing us, in the morning particularly; and therefore as he is giving out to us the fruits of his favour, which are said to be new every morning (see Lam. 3:23), because though the same that we had the morning before, they are still forfeited, and still needed, and upon that account may be called still new: so we should be still returning the expressions of our gratitude to him, and of other pious and devout affections, which, like the fire on the altar, must be new every morning (see Lev. 6:12).
Have we had a good night, and have we not an errand to the throne of grace to return thanks for it? How many mercies concurred to make it a good night! Distinguishing mercies granted to us, but denied to others; many have not where to lay their heads; our Master himself had not; the foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man hath not where to lay his head; but we have houses to dwell in, quiet and peaceful habitations, perhaps stately ones: We have beds to lie on, warm and easy ones, perhaps beds of ivory, fine ones, such as they stretched themselves upon that were at ease in Zion; and are not put to wander in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth, as some of the best of God’s saints have been forced to do, of whom the world was not worthy. Many have beds to lie on, yet dare not, or cannot lie down in them, being kept up either by the sickness of their friends, or the fear of their enemies. But we have laid us down, and there has been none to make us afraid; no alarms of the sword, either of war or persecution. Many lay them down and cannot sleep, but are full of tossings to and fro until the dawning of the day, through pain of body or anguish of mind. Wearisome nights are appointed to them, and their eyes are held waking; but we have laid us down and slept without any disturbance, and our sleep was sweet and refreshing, the pleasing parenthesis of our cares and toils; it is God that has given us sleep, has given it us as he gives it to his beloved. Many lay them down and sleep, and never rise again; they sleep the sleep of death, and their beds are their graves; but we have slept and waked again, have rested, and are refreshed; we shake ourselves, and it is with us as at other times; because the Lord hath sustained us; and if he had not upheld us, we had sunk with our own weight when we fell asleep (see Ps. 3:5).
Have we a pleasant morning? Is the light sweet to us, the light of the sun, the light of the eyes, do these rejoice the heart? And ought we not to own our obligations to him who opens our eyes, and opens the eyelids of the morning upon us? Have we clothes to put on in the morning, garments that are warm upon us? Change of raiment, not for necessity only, but for ornament? We have them from God; it is his wool and his flax that are given to cover our nakedness; and the morning, when we dress ourselves, is the proper time of returning him thanks for it; yet I doubt we do it not so constantly as we do for our food when we sit down to our tables, though we have as much reason to do it. Are we in health and at ease? Have we been long so? We ought to be as thankful for a constant series of mercies, as for particular instances of them, especially considering how many are sick and in pain, and how much we have deserved to be so.
Perhaps we have experienced some special mercy, to ourselves or our families, in preservation from fire or thieves, from dangers we have been aware of, and many more unseen; weeping perhaps endured for a night, but joy came in the morning, and that calls aloud upon us to own the goodness of God. The destroying angel perhaps has been abroad, and the arrow that flies at midnight, and wasteth in darkness, has been shot in at other’s windows, but our houses have been passed over. Thanks be to God for the blood of the covenant sprinkled upon our door posts, and for the ministration of the good angels about us, to which we owe it that we have been preserved from the malice of the evil angels against us, those rulers of the darkness of this world, who perhaps creep forth like the beasts of prey, when he maketh darkness and it is dark. All the glory be to the God of the angels.
5. In the morning we have fresh matter ministered to us for adoration of the greatness and glory of God. We ought to take notice, not only of the gifts of God’s bounty to us, which we have the comfort and benefit of, they are little narrow souls that confine their regards to them; but we ought to observe the more general instances of his wisdom and power in the kingdom of providence which redound to his honour, and the common good of the universe. The 19th Psalm seems to have been a Morning Meditation in which we are directed to observe how the heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament showeth his handiwork; and to own, not only the advantage we receive from their light and influence, but the honour they do him, who stretched out the heavens like a curtain, fixed their pillars, and established their ordinances, according to which they continue to this day, for they are all his servants. Day by day utters this speech, and night unto night showeth this knowledge, even the eternal power and Godhead of the great Creator of the world, and its great ruler. The regular and constant succession and revolution of light and darkness, according to the original contract made between them, that they should reign alternately, may serve to confirm our faith in that part of divine revelation, which gives us the history of the creation, and the promise of God to Noah and his sons (see Gen. 8:22).
Look up in the morning, and see how exactly the day-spring knows its place, knows its time, and keeps them: how the morning light takes hold of the ends of the earth, and of the air, which is turned to it as clay to the seal, instantly receiving the impressions of it (see Job 28:12-14). I was pleased with an expression of a worthy good minister I heard lately, in his thanksgivings to God for the mercies of the morning: How many thousand miles (said he) has the sun travelled this last night to bring the light of the morning to us, poor sinful wretches, that justly might have been buried in the darkness of the night. Look up and see the sun as a bridegroom richly dressed, and hugely pleased, coming out of his chamber, and rejoicing as a strong man to run a race; observe how bright his beams are, how sweet his smiles, how strong his influences: And if there be no speech or language where their voice is not heard, the voice of these natural immortal preachers, proclaiming the glory of God, it is a pity there should be any speech or language where the voice of his worshippers is not heard, echoing to the voice of those preachers, and ascribing glory to him who thus makes the morning and evening to rejoice. But whatever others do, let him hear our voice to this purpose in the morning, and in the morning let us direct our praise unto him,
6. In the morning we have, or should have, fresh thoughts of God, and sweet meditations on his name, and those we ought to offer up to him in prayer. Have we been, according to David’s example, remembering God upon our beds, and meditating upon him in the night watches? When we awake, can we say, as he did, we are still with God? If so, we have a good errand to the throne of grace by the words of our mouths, to offer up to God the meditations of our hearts; and it will be to him a sacrifice of a sweet-smelling savour. If the heart has been inditing a good matter, let the tongue be as the pen of a ready writer, to pour it out before God (see Ps. 45:1).
We have the word of God to converse with, and we ought to read a portion of it every morning. By it God speaks to us, and in it we ought to meditate day and night, which, if we do, that will send us to the throne of grace, and furnish us with many a good errand there. If God, in the morning, by his grace direct his word to us, so as to make it reach our hearts, that will engage us to direct our prayer to him.
7. In the morning, it is to be feared, we find cause to reflect upon many vain and sinful thoughts that have been in our minds in the night season, and upon that account it is necessary we address ourselves to God by prayer in the morning for the pardon of them. The Lord’s Prayer seems to be calculated primarily, in the letter of it, for the morning; for we are taught to pray for our daily bread this day. And yet we are then to pray, “Father, forgive us our trespasses”; for, as in the hurry of the day, we contract guilt by our irregular words and actions, so we do in the solitude of the night by our corrupt imaginations, and the wanderings of an unsanctified ungoverned fancy. It is certain the thought of foolishness is sin (see Prov. 24:9). Foolish thoughts are sinful thoughts; the first-born of the old man, the first beginnings of all sin. And how many of these vain thoughts lodge within us wherever we lodge? Their name is legion, for they are many. Who can understand these errors! They are more than the hairs of our head. We read of those that work evil upon their beds, because there they devise it; and when the morning is light they practice it (see Mic. 2:1). How often, in the night season, is the mind disquieted and distracted with distrustful careful thoughts; polluted with unchaste and wanton thoughts; intoxicated with proud aspiring thoughts; soured and leavened with malicious revengeful thoughts; or, at the best, diverted from devout and pious thoughts by a thousand impertinencies. Out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, which lie down with us, and rise up with us; for out of that corrupt fountain, which, wherever we go, we carry about with us, these streams naturally flow. Yea, and in the multitude of dreams, as well as in many words, there are also diverse vanities (see Eccl. 5:2).
And dare we go abroad until we have renewed our repentance, which we are every night, as well as every day, thus making work for? Are we not concerned to confess to him that knows our hearts, their wanderings from him, to complain of them to him as revolting and rebellious hearts, and bent to backslide; to make our peace in the blood of Christ, and to pray that the thoughts of our heart may be forgiven us? We cannot with safety go into the business of the day under the guilt of any sin unrepented of or unpardoned.
8. In the morning we are addressing ourselves to the work of the day, and therefore are concerned by prayer to seek unto God for his presence and blessing; we come, and are encouraged to come boldly to the throne of grace, not only for mercy to pardon what has been amiss, but for grace to help in every time of need. And what time is it that is not a time of need to us? And therefore what morning should pass without morning prayer? We read of that which the duty of every day requires (see Ezra 3:4); and in reference to that, we must go to God every morning to pray for the gracious disposals of his providence concerning us, and the gracious operations of his Spirit upon us.
We have families to look after, it may be, and to provide for, and are in care to do well for them; let us then every morning by prayer commit them to God, put them under the conduct and government of his grace; and then we effectually put them under the care and protection of his providence. Holy Job rose up early in the morning to offer burnt-offerings for his children; and we should do so, to offer prayers and supplications for them according to the number of them all (see Job 1:5). Thus we cause the blessing to rest on our houses.
We are going about the business of our calling, perhaps; let us look up to God, in the first place, for wisdom and grace to manage them well, in the fear of God, and to abide with him in them; and then we may in faith beg of him to prosper and succeed us in them, to strengthen us for the services of them, to support us under the fatigues of them, to direct the designs of them, and to give us comfort in the gains of them. We have journeys to go, it may be; let us look up to God for his presence with us, and go to no place where we cannot in faith beg of God to go with us.
We have a prospect, perhaps, of opportunities of doing or getting good; let us look up to God for a heart to use the price in our hands, for skill and will, and courage to improve it, that it may not be as a price in the hand of a fool. Every day has its temptations too, some perhaps we foresee, but there may be many more that we think not of, and are therefore concerned to be earnest with God, that we may not be led into any temptation, but guarded against every one; that whatever company we come into, we may have wisdom to do good, and no hurt to them; and to get good, and no hurt by them.
We know not what a day may bring forth; little think we in the morning what tidings we may hear, and what events may befall us before night, and should therefore beg of God grace to carry us through the duties and difficulties which we do not foresee, as well as those which we do, in order to our standing complete in all the will of God, that as the day is, so may our strength be. We shall find, that sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof, and that therefore, as it is folly to take thought for to-morrow’s events, so it is wisdom to take thought for today’s duty, that sufficient unto this day, and the duty of it, may be the supplies of the divine grace, thoroughly to furnish us for every word and work, and thoroughly to fortify us against every evil word or work; that we may not think, or speak, or do anything all day, which we may have cause upon any account to wish unthought, unspoke, and undone again at night.
[This study will continue in the next issue, D.V.]
This article is taken from: Henry, Matthew. A Method for Prayer. Glasgow: D. Mackenzie, 1834. (Originally published in 1710). A PDF file of this book can be downloaded, free of charge, at: