Monday, February 14, 2011

Happy 300th Anniversary to A Method for Prayer!

There are books that are worth reading and then there are those that are nearly indispensable. Even after 300 years, A Method for Prayer (1710) by Matthew Henry is firmly in the latter category. To be quite personally-direct, you really need to own this book, especially in the new, thoroughly-revised edition, A Way to Pray.

Though Henry is most known for his Commentary on the Whole Bible, I would suggest his magnum opus is actually the lesser known Method for Prayer. It is to complete this work that Henry left his Commentary unfinished upon his death (friends and fellow-pastors completed Romans - Revelation by utilizing Henry's drafted notes).

Ligon Duncan observes about Henry's Method:
Along with Isaac Watts’s Guide to Prayer (1715) it stands as the classic treatise in the Protestant English-speaking world for the promotion of the practice of biblical prayer, that is, praying Scripture, or praying with the intelligent use of the language of Scripture.

- The Devoted Life: An Invitation to the Puritan Classics.
Matthew Henry was a devoted pastor of the latter Puritan era, known to rise each day at 4am to spend eight hours in prayer and study (!) before undertaking his numerous ministerial labors. In his Method, Henry draws from his study of Scripture and his own personal experience in prayer to outline biblical prayer according to the themes noted in the Westminster Directory for Public Worship (another overlooked gem, edited and introduced by Ferguson and Dever).

Using a six-part model, Henry organizes an unbelievable amount of Scripture in the forms of adoration, confession, petition, thanksgiving, intercession, and conclusion. This is easily convertible to our more familiar (and simpler) ACTS model (adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication = petition and intercession). His motivation was simply to deepen his readers' praying in accord with God's Word.

In 1994, Ligon Duncan edited and introduced a reprint of Henry's work - and one that is still valuable, not only for Duncan's original contributions, but the addition of 3 sermons by Henry on prayer and worship - A Method for Prayer. This edition also became the basis for, which affords several ways to utilize and search this material (including daily e-mails).

Given the benefit I have received from this work, I initially hesitated to hear of Banner's plan for a thorough revision for its 300th Anniversary of this work. If it ain't broke, why fix it, right? Well, it was never broke, but they have indeed fixed it!

A Way to Pray is a complete revising and updating of Henry's Method by O. Palmer Robertson. It is, again, simply indispensable. (Robertson, interestingly enough, was the seminary professor who originally introduced Ligon Duncan to this work when Duncan was yet a lowly ordinand). By simplifying Henry's overall organization, correcting some questionable applications of certain passages, and updating the language to modern English, A Way to Pray is, in my estimation, the single greatest aid to prayer, whether private, public, or corporate, that currently exists in the English language. And, no, that is not an overstatement.

Robertson gave his motivation for such labor in his "Introduction":
For the past fifty years this book has been my constant companion. My copy was passed down to me by my mother. It had been in use in the family for several previous generations. Almost daily I have been blessed by its use in my times of personally seeking the face of God. Next to the Bible it has been the most and the most influential book in my life. For many years I have wanted to update the language of the book so it could be accessible to future generations of believers in Christ. I wanted to pass it on to my own children and grandchildren. By now the pages of my old copy have begun to disintegrate. Every time I open it, a few pieces of page flake off. So I am grateful to God that I finally have had the opportunity to offer this revised, edited and updated version of the book. Considering the state of my personal copy, this edition comes 'just in the nick of time'.

- A Way to Pray, xiii - xiv.
And from "How to Read this Book":
The best way to read this book is while you are on your knees, not while sitting in an easy chair. Then you may proceed to read in the following way: Read a brief section of the work - a phrase, a sentence, a paragraph. Then close your eyes or life them to heaven. Rephrase what you read in your own words. If you can't remember what you read, look at the section again. Make the words applicable to your own situation.

...make this book your constant life-companion. By continuing to shape your prayers in conformity with God's own words, you will find few disappointments in your fellowship with your heavenly Father. For he is more ready to give than you are to ask, if only your heart continues to conform to his.

- A Way to Pray, xx - xxi.
This is the "prayer book" you have been looking for. I have been using this book - as Robertson suggests - for just a couple weeks now and have never had a single greater motivator to private and public prayer outside of God's Word itself.

So, seriously, buy this book (WTS | Amazon | CBD | Banner).


  1. Thanks for this post, Steve. I agree wholeheartedly. We will be adding Robertson's version to the site soon.

    - Ligon

  2. Thank you much for reading and commenting, Ligon. That is exciting to hear, I know several in our congregation who are already benefiting from this great resource.

    Thank you for your teaching and writing ministry. As one who regularly "rummages through Presbyterian trash cans," I am ever grateful for your impact on my own life and ministry. May He continue to sustain and spread your efforts for His glory.


  3. Nice! I'm excited to hear it will be on!