Will the Real Matthew Henry please speak up?
I think I will have to call my online version of Matthew Henry’s
Commentary “Henry-lite”. It is really quite muted and bland compared
to the magnificent exposition of the unabridged Henry. Here is a case
in point: the cursing of the fig tree. First, here is the passage,
then the Henry-lite, then (as far as I am willing to type!) the
Mark 11:13-14, 20-21:
13 And seeing a fig tree afar off having leaves, he came, if haply
he might find any thing thereon: and when he came to it, he found
nothing but leaves; for the time of figs was not yet.
14 And Jesus answered and said unto it, No man eat fruit of thee
hereafter for ever. And his disciples heard it.
20 And in the morning, as they passed by, they saw the fig tree
dried up from the roots.
21 And Peter calling to remembrance saith unto him, Master, behold,
the fig tree which thou cursedst is withered away.
Vs. 19-26: The disciples could not think why that fig-tree should so soon
wither away; but all wither who reject Christ; it represented the state of
the Jewish church. We should rest in no religion that does not make us
fruitful in good works. Christ taught them from hence to pray in faith. It
may be applied to that mighty faith with which all true Christians are
endued, and which does wonders in spiritual things. It justifies us, and so
removes mountains of guilt, never to rise up in judgment against us. It
purifies the heart, and so removes mountains of corruption, and makes
them plain before the grace of God. One great errand to the throne of grace
is to pray for the pardon of our sins; and care about this ought to be our
“How the disciples were affected with it [the withering of the tree].
Peter remembered Christ’s words, and said, with surprise, “Master,
behold, the fig-tree which thou cursedst is withered away, v. 21.
Note, Christ’s curses have wonderful effects, and make those to
wither presently, that flourished like the green bay-tree. “Those
whom he cursed are cursed indeed.” This represented the character and
state of the Jewish church; which, from henceforward, was a tree
dried up from the roots, no longer fit for food, but for fuel only.
The first establishment of the Levitical priesthood was ratified and
confirmed by the miracle of a “dry rod”, which in “one night” budded,
and blossomed, and brought forth almonds (Num. 17:8), a happy omen of
the [fruitfulness*] and flourishing of that priesthood. And now, by a
contrary miracle, the expiration of that priesthood was signified by
a flourishing tree dried up in a night, the just punishment of those
priests that had abused it. And this seemed very strange to the
disciples, and scarcely credible, that the Jews, who had been so long
God’s own, his only professing people in the world, should be thus
abandoned; they could not imagine how that “fig-tree” should “so soon
wither away”. But this comes of rejecting Christ, and being rejected
* Note: His original says “fruitlessness”, which must be a typo,
since that wouldn’t fit.
1. There is a Lot of pithy material in the unabridged version. I
typed about one sixth of his comment on verses 19- 26. which you can
compare with the abridged’s covering of the same ground.
2. It is unavoidable that abridgements to this extent must
necessarily favor general (and obvious) comments over specific (and
more helpful) insights and applications.
3. Abridgements are actually an editorial culling out of what, in
this case, a modern editor sees as expendable. In this case, Henry’s
distinctive Reformed understanding and “non-dispensationalism” is
quite often snipped out. To check this assertion out, just compare
the two Henry’s on John 17, Daniel 9:24- 25 or, especially, the
temple passages of Ezekiel. The tragedy here is that conscientious
readers, wanting to have a balanced pool of reading sources, is being
duped into thinking that he is actually reading Matthew Henry. He is
instead being cheated with a pastiche of snippets and quotes that. by
their omissions, is closer to modern Christianity than the original
4. The original commentary of this Matthew 11 passage makes a
startling comparison of the text with the budding of Aaron’s rod in
Num. 17. This is a connection that I, at least, have never read in
modern works. And yet, once you read it, it makes perfect sense. It
also underscores the decidedly UNdispensational teaching that God is
indeed through with Israel – as a nation. I find that, the more I
read, the more I have an unfailing sense of the unity of the Word of
God (as opposed to the fractured result of disp. today).
Go out and buy the unabridged Matthew. And, if you are getting the
one volume unabridged (like I have. It cost 20 something.), get a
good magnifying glass! Or you can get the multi-volume that is harder
on the wallet (50 something at CBD I think), but easier on the eyes.
But I really recommend his writing. I don’t know how many times I
have been really challenged by his observations.
BTW, Matthew Henry didn’t live to finish his commentary. The Epistles
(and possibly Acts too, I forget) were written by a committee of
good, but decidedly lesser, scholars.