Ever thought of Matthew Henry as an apologist? No, neither had I until I came across the last book he sent to the printers just twenty-three days before he died in 1714.
The book is entitled The Pleasantness of a Religious Life: Opened and proved; and recommended to the consideration of all; particularly of young people. It comprises the last six sermons in his two-year apologetic series on the Reasonableness of the Christian Religion and was based upon Proverbs 3:17, “Her [Wisdom's] ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace.”
Henry’s apologetic passion is not only clear in its title but also in the preface to the book, where he states that “the Pleasantness of Religion is what I have long had a particular kindness for, and have taken all occasions to mention.” In other words, it was his favorite and most frequent subject. When you read his commentary with this knowledge, you see his arguments for the reasonableness and pleasantness of the Christian life everywhere.
After asserting that “Nothing draws more forcibly than pleasure,” he explained his apologetic motive in writing:
In order, therefore, to the advancing of the interests of the divine life in myself and others, I have here endeavored, as God has enabled me, to make it evident, that the Pleasures of the Divine Life are unspeakably better, and more deserving than those of the animal life: were people convinced of this, we should gain our point.
A brief exegesis of Proverbs 3:17 is followed by Henry’s own summary of what it teaches: The doctrine, therefore, contained in these words, is, that true piety has true pleasure in it. Or thus; the ways of religion are pleasant and peaceful ways.
His apologetic strategy is further demonstrated in the chapter titles, with three chapters dedicated to proving the truth in different ways (Chapters II-IV), and one to defending the truth from objections (Chapter VI) as can be seen from the table of contents:
Chapter I. The Explication of the Doctrine.
Chapter II. The Pleasure of being Religious, proved from the Nature of True Religion, and many particular Instances of it.
Chapter III. The Pleasantness of Religion proved from the Provision that is made, for the Comforts of those that are Religious, and the Privileges they are entitled to.
Chapter IV. The Doctrine further proved by Experience.
Chapter V. The Doctrine illustrated by the Similitude used in the Text, of a Pleasant Way or Journey.
Chapter VI. The Doctrine vindicated from what may be objected against it.
Chapter VII. The Application of the Doctrine.
You can buy a modern edition of this work with a foreword by J. I. Packer, or you can read the online text here. It’s a good example from a surprising source of the kind of needs-based or experiential apologetics that we’ve been exploring the last week or so. It’s not perfect, but it’s a helpful model to learn from and adjust to our own day and its own great needs, needs that the Christian faith alone can satisfy.