God’s Free Grace Made the Difference (Henry)

Matthew Henry's Commentary There’s an old hymn called, “How Sweet and Awesome Is the Place.” When we sang it last Sunday during worship, the following lines stuck out:

Why was I made to hear Your voice, and enter while there’s room,
when thousands make a wretched choice, and rather starve than come?

‘Twas the same love that spread the feast that sweetly drew us in;
else we had still refused to taste and perished in our sin.

Scripture says it this way: In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ (Eph. 1:4-5 NIV).  Paul also talks about this extensively in Romans 9, where he says that God’s election of some to salvation has nothing to do with their merit, but his mercy: I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion (Rom. 9:15).  Election is unconditional!  Matthew Henry wrote well on this theme as he commented on Romans 9:

All God’s reasons of mercy are taken from within himself. All the children of men being plunged alike into a state of sin and misery, equally under guilt and wrath, God, in a way of sovereignty, picks out some from this fallen apostatized race, to be vessels of grace and glory. He dispenses his gifts to whom he will, without giving us any reason: according to his own good pleasure he pitches upon some to be monuments of mercy and grace, preventing grace, effectual grace, while he passes by others.

The various dealings of God, by which he makes some to differ from others, must be resolved into his absolute sovereignty. He is debtor to no man, his grace is his own, and he may give it or withhold it as it pleaseth him; we have none of us deserved it, nay, we have all justly forfeited it a thousand times, so that herein the work of our salvation is admirably well ordered that those who are saved must thank God only, and those who perish must thank themselves only, Hos. 13:9.

Applying this general rule to the particular case that Paul has before him, the reason why the unworthy, undeserving, ill-deserving Gentiles are called, and grafted into the church, while the greatest part of the Jews are left to perish in unbelief, is not because those Gentiles were better deserving or better disposed for such a favour, but because of God’s free grace that made that difference.


Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1994), 2217.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI


Matthew Henry’s “Notes”

Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged I’ve been using Matthew Henry’s commentaries for sermon prep around ten years.  I appreciate Henry because he had such a great knowledge of Scripture that he constantly alluded to other Bible passages in his commentary.  Also, I like Henry because he understood the doctrines of grace and highlighted them in his comments.  One other reason I keep on using Henry’s commentaries is because he always worked to apply the text.  Although (in my opinion) sometimes his application seems like a stretch, the desire to apply God’s word is a good one to have! Preachers can learn a lot about application from Henry.

Speaking of application in Henry’s commentaries, I’ve noticed that Henry loved to use the word “note” to introduce a short application.  If my search is right, Henry used the term “note” this way around 8,000 times in his commentaries! When preaching through Luke here are a few of Henry’s “notes” I found:

On Luke 1:57-66: “Note, God has ways of operating upon children in their infancy, which we cannot account for.”

On Luke 1:67-80: “Note, the great design of gospel grace is not to discharge us from, but to engage us to, and encourage us in, the service of God.”

On Luke 2:25-40: “Note, those that have welcomed Christ may welcome death.”

On Luke 4:1-13: “Note, we must not do anything that looks like ‘giving place to the devil.'”

On Luke 5:1-11: “Note, we must not abruptly quit the callings wherein we are called because we have not the success in them we promised ourselves.”

On Luke 8:40-56: “Note, our faith in Christ should be bold and daring, as well as our zeal for him.”

On Luke 10:17-24: “Note, all our victories over Satan are obtained by power derived from Jesus Christ.”

On Luke 11:1-13: “Note, the gifts and graces of others should excite us to covet earnestly the same.”

On Luke 11:14-26: “Note, hypocrisy is the high road to apostasy.”

On Luke 13:10-16: “Note, Even bodily infirmities, unless they be very grievous indeed, should not keep us from public worship on the sabbath days; for God can help us, beyond our expectation.”

On Luke 15:11-32: “Note, It becomes sinners to acknowledge themselves unworthy to receive any favor from God, and to humble and abase themselves before him.”

On Luke 15:19-31: “Note, the day is coming when those that make light of divine mercy will beg hard for it.”

And the list goes on.  The next time you read Matthew Henry’s commentaries, be sure to note his “Notes!”

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

Christian Liberty, Beer, and Blogs

Institutes of the Christian Religion (Battles Translation) (2 Volumes) [This is a slightly edited repost from August, 2009.  Note: I’m not 100% sure the opening paragraph is still accurate, since I no longer read blogs.  But I believe the point still stands.]

The Christian blogosphere and web community is filled with trends and fads – blogs have the clout and power to set Christian trends.  Though this may rub a few of our readers the wrong way, one trend or fad I can’t help but notice is to include all things smoke and drink into the blog, Tweet, or Facebook update, possibly under the banner of Christian liberty.  In the blog world of Calvinism, for example, it is trendy and fashionable to compare weak Christians to light beer and strong (manly?) Christians to stout ale.  Christians post pictures of the beer they drink for all to see.  It is trendy in the blog world to trumpet fat cigars and craft beer while even mocking Christians who do not do these things or do them in “weakened” form.

A few things have to be said to this.  First, Christian liberty is different than the liberty we enjoy in Western culture.  Civil liberty means you may listen to music “x” as long as it isn’t over a certain decibel level.  However, Christian liberty is quite different because 1) it puts our neighbor first and 2) because it is tempered with self-denial.  Calvin explains it this way (while reflecting on Rom 14.1, 13, & 1 Cor 8.9, among other texts in his Institutes, III.10-12):

“We who are strong ought to bear with the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves; but let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to edify him.”

“We have due control over freedom if it makes no difference to us to restrict it when it is fruitful [i.e. benefiting our neighbor] to do so.”

“Nothing is plainer than this rule: that we should use our freedom if it results in the edification of our neighbor, but if it does not help our neighbor, then we should forgo it.”

“Our freedom is not given against our feeble neighbors, for love makes us their servants in all things….”

In other words, Christian liberty (as with all true liberty!) has boundaries.  Christian liberty is tempered with love for neighbor (think of him/her before our liberty) and self-denial (we don’t need to indulge in this liberty).  If Christian liberty is not tempered with love for neighbor and self-denial, it is more like an immature high school fad (i.e. the shoes or brand of jeans you wear) than a Christian ethic.

Matthew Henry, in his comments on 1 Cor 8.7-13, says it this way:

“We must deny ourselves rather than occasion their [the weak] stumbling…if Christ had such compassion as to die for them, we should have so much compassion for them as to deny ourselves, for their sakes.”

“We must not rigorously claim our own rights, to the hurt and ruin of a brother’s soul.”

I don’t have time to comment on it, but one other thing should be considered: it is probably not a sign of “weakness” if a Christian does not drink beer or smoke cigars – it doesn’t make him the weaker brother.

shane lems

Resources on Habakkuk

Here is a list of commentaries I’ve used as I teach/preach through the OT minor prophet Habakkuk. 

  Marvin Sweeney, The Twelve Prophets.  This is one of my favorite commentaries on Habakkuk.  Sweeney is a top-notch Jewish scholar so he knows his Hebrew Bible.  His writing style is clear and to the point; the commentary is a brief narrative summary of Habakkuk’s prophecy.  It is not an “evangelical” commentary, but it still is well worth owning.


Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah (Tyndale Old Testament Commentary) David Baker wrote the commentary on Habakkuk in the Tyndale OT series.  Like the other Tyndale commentaries, this one is short.  It is worthwhile, however, since he simply gives brief series of comments on each section of verses.  The layout is helpful as well; it is easy to follow Habakkuk’s overall structure when using this commentary.


 O. Palmer Robertson’s NICOT commentary is also helpful.  The format is just like the other NICOTs, but I’ve enjoyed Robertson a bit more than some other volumes in this set.  He has a good discussion of Hab. 2.4; he also engages the Hebrew text in a helpful manner.  This is a solid commentary and it should be utilized when studying Habakkuk.

 I also very much appreciated F.F. Bruce’s Habakkuk commentary in The Minor Prophets set that McComiskey edited.  I mentioned this commentary on the blog before, so I won’t repeat everything here, but I do highly recommend it (along with the whole set/volume).  The only quibble I have with it is Bruce’s heavy usage of the Qumran text of Habakkuk (which is a different topic that Andrew can elaborate upon better than I can).

From time to time I also used the Habakkuk commentary that C. E. Amerding wrote in the Expositor’s Bible Commentary along with Matthew Henry’s commentary on Habakkuk.  Both are worth using, but weren’t my favorites for different reasons.  For the most part, Calvin’s commentary on Habakkuk was very helpful – not only for his solid insights but also for a useful historical perspective.

Feel free to comment and add your own recommendations.  I realize there are more good Habakkuk commentaries out there, but I had to limit my shelves to the above due to time and cash constraints.

shane lems

Killing Sin

I love this quote by Matthew Henry as he comments on Romans 6.1-23.

“God’s promises to us are more powerful and effectual for the mortifying of sin than our promises to God.”

Brilliant; this is worth memorizing for sure!

shane lems

sunnyside wa

Resources on Preaching/Teaching Joshua

Following Andrew’s helpful post on study resources for Zechariah’s night visions, I thought I’d summarize different resources I’ve used while preaching/teaching through Joshua.  Going through this OT narrative has been an enjoyable endeavor, even though the tribal allotments in the last part of the book have been challenging.  To note ahead of time, most of the commentaries below weren’t too strong on the tribal allotment texts of Joshua.

 [For the record, I do think the tribal allotments should be preached, not skipped (cf. Acts 20.27 & 2 Tim. 3.16).  Matthew Henry (one resource worth using) mentions this in his commentary on Joshua 13ff.  He says we shouldn’t skip this section of many names/locations, because “where God has a mouth to speak and a hand to write we should find an ear to hear and an eye to read!”]

First, I’ve been enjoying Richard Hess’ TOTC on Joshua.  He is brief, to the point, and has done his geographical and ANE homework.  Hess also takes time to compare the OT themes to NT ones, which are often insightful.  This is an inexpensive commentary that really should be on your shelves if you study Joshua.  It is one of my favorite resources for the book of Joshua.

David Howard’s NAC on Joshua is another good one.  Howard deals well with the thematic aspects of Joshua; he also has great little excurses on words and details of the book.  Using Howard’s commentary has made me notice things I would have missed without it (i.e. the positive aspect of the Transjordian tribes’ altar in ch. 22 – though I haven’t made my mind up on that episode yet!).  I do recommend Howard’s commentary; it is pretty much exactly what I was looking for in a commentary.

 Another one that has been helpful at times is L. D. Hawk’s commentary in the Berit Olam series.  Hawk takes a sort of literary or narrative approach, especially focusing on the different boundary themes in Joshua.  Because he takes this approach, it doesn’t read like a “normal” commentary.  It is a unique commentary, and helpful because it is unique.  Hawk’s wasn’t my favorite, but I’m glad I have it.  You can see a sample of it following the link above.

Dale Davis also has a brief commentary on Joshua which has been quite helpful.  This is a good one that gets right to the point and helps especially for preaching themes and Christian application.  The low-cost of this one and the quality of it makes it one that a person really should get when studying Joshua.

In the Eerdmans’ Two Horizons OT Commentary series, J. Gordon McConville and Stephen Williams teamed up to write a theological commentary on Joshua.  The actual commentary section is only about 70 pages long.  The rest of the book is a discussion of the major themes of Joshua, along with a dialogue between Williams and McConville on the text and its theology.  I appreciated this, but was expecting it to be better; many times it seemed like the theological discussion just hung out there with no conclusion or applicatory points.  FYI, I found that it was helpful to read this “commentary” before I preached through Joshua so I could reference it more quickly and efficiently by making notes in the back cover.

I appreciated Francis Schaffer’s Joshua and the Flow of Biblical History.  This one reads sort of like a bunch of lectures that were delivered in an intermediate Bible class in college.  I’m not criticizing the commentary for that; I liked this approach for the most part.  Schaffer (like Davis above) is not afraid to utilize the NT and bring the text to bear on the Christian life.  I do recommend Schaeffer’s commentary.  His was one of the more enjoyable Joshua commentaries to read.

In the Anchor Bible commentary, Robert Boling and G. E. Wright cover Joshua (Wright died before this was finished; Boling was involved in its completion).  I used this commentary at first – the Hebrew textual notes are detailed and helpful.  However, I ended up consulting it infrequently because it required too much time and labor to extract anything helpful.  After awhile, reading about the corrupt text of certain parts of Joshua gets more than a little annoying.  If you’re going to do a deep study of Joshua, you’ll want this.  If, however, you’re simply preaching/teaching through it, you may want to spend your money elsewhere.

Another one that wasn’t my favorite is the Marten Woudstra commentary on Joshua in the NICOT series.  The commentary is evangelical, solid, and straightforward, but it is quite dry.  It is a “bare” or “plain” commentary on the stories and text of Joshua; there were very few insights in this commentary one couldn’t get from studying the text him/herself.  I’m selling mine on Amazon since I probably won’t use it again.  [I realize this is a subjective (side) note, but the NICOT and NICNT formats (fonts and layout) are very ugly and outdated, in my opinion.]

I also used Donald Madvig’s commentary on Joshua found in the Expositor’s Bible Commentary.  It is very brief, and helpful only in the sense that it gives the reader a concise summary of the text with a few Hebrew notes.  I got the whole set for a great price, so I did use this commentary and usually found it worth consulting in my studies.

Another one I used from time to time is J. M. Boice’s commentary on Joshua.  To be honest, I wouldn’t spend more than a few bucks on this one (I’m borrowing it).  Every now and then Boice is pretty helpful in the “application” department, but overall it isn’t worth reading because it borders upon moralism from time to time.

Calvin’s commentary on Joshua is fun to read.  As with most of his commentaries, reading Calvin is a devotional exercise.  His comments are usually brief, so it is an easy resource to consult when studying Joshua.  I think Calvin even cracked a joke in this commentary while he was discussing the tribal allotments.  He basically said, “Geography is my weakness.  You’ll have to bear with my childish comments on the land!”

I’ve also found the Dictionary of Biblical Imagery, the IVP Bible Background Commentary on the OT, the ESV Bible Atlas, and my Bible dictionaries (ISBE, Oxford, and Zondervan) to be helpful.  For the Hebrew text, I used the standard BDB, HALOT, and Waltke/O’Connor.

Finally, since the stories of Joshua build so much upon the Israelite’s years in the wilderness, I’ve used several commentaries from Exodus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy as well (i.e. Duguid).

Feel free to comment below if you wish to discuss these commentaries or add some that you’ve appreciated.  There are others; I didn’t have time, energy, or cash to use any more!

shane lems

Rahab the Prostitute: Trophy of Grace

Rahab was a pagan Canaanite woman who slept with way too many men.  We might imagine her being a chain-smoker with an ankle tattoo that said “YRCH” (the moon-deity that Jericho was probably named after).  At this point some want to make the Bible a little more pious than it is (reduce it from “R” to “PG”).  For example, Matthew Henry said Rahab used to be a prostitute but by the time the spies came she was a dainty Proverbs 31 woman because she worked so hard making the flax roof.  I love Matthew Henry, but that’s just bad.  A better perspective, I think, is that of Francis Schaeffer in Joshua and the Flow of Biblical History.

“Unhappily, some people ask, ‘But is it fitting that this woman should become a princess and an ancestor of Christ?’  I would reply with all the strength that is in me: it is most fitting!  In having been unfaithful to the Creator, is not the whole human race a harlot?  Indeed, it is most fitting that Rahab should stand in the ancestral line of Christ. …Jesus did not come from a sinless human line.”

“Is Rahab any worse than we?  If it is not fitting that she should be the ancestress of Christ, is it fitting that we should be the bride of Christ?  Woe to anybody who has such a mentality as to be upset by Rahab! Such a person does not understand sin, the horribleness of the whole race turning into a prostitute against the living Creator.”

“We are all sinners.  Each one of us is like this woman living up there on the wall.  Each of us deserves only one thing – the flaming judgment of God.  If it were not for the spiritual portion of the covenant of grace and Christ’s death on Calvary’s cross, we would all be lost.”

“Jesus Christ stands before all men in one of two capacities (there is no third): either he is Savior or he is Judge.  When he stood as the captain of the Lord’s host (Josh 5.13-14), for one woman and her household he was Savior; for the rest of Jericho, he was Judge.”

If Rahab had lived in Jesus’ day, she’d be one of those “nasty sinners” that Jesus was friendly to; the “scum” Jesus hung out with (Mt 9.11, 11.19, etc).  Jesus’ reply to the Pharisees when they criticized him for dealing with sinners is perfect: “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick…I have come not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mt 9.11).  Paul said it too: “Christ died for the ungodly” (Rom 5.6).  That’s what grace is all about.

shane lems

sunnyside wa