August 19, 2017

Matthew Henry: Serious Self-Examination before Ordination (1)

Mark Minnick

This is Part One Part Two Part Three Part Four

Search me, O God, and know my heart, try me and know my thoughts, and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

London: May 9, 1687. The twenty-four-year-old son of Philip Henry, a suffering Nonconformist minister, kneels and accepts the weight of six pairs of pious hands laid earnestly upon his bowed head. Their hushed voices rise to heaven. Moving prayers beseech the Lord to place His own good hand upon this offered life. Surely it is a sacred scene.

There is no more hallowed hour in the life of any man of God than that in which beloved brethren lay hands upon his head, symbolizing their own obedient responsiveness to the Holy Spirit in separating out from among themselves this God-called instrument for the sacred work of gospel ministry. Looking back upon my own ordination, I cannot help feeling some sorrow that I didn’t sufficiently magnify the moment. Regretfully, the majority of my personal preparation for ordination had been of my head. I wished later it had been of my heart.

Some years after, while reading the life of the legendary commentator Matthew Henry, I came across the paper he composed by which to examine himself before being examined by his brethren. It is so thoroughly searching, humble, and sincere that one can hardly imagine a more excellent document for directing serious self-examination before ordination, or one more suited to retune one’s heart repeatedly through the years. Space doesn’t permit printing it in entirety, but here, with some slight stylistic editing, is much of Matthew Henry’s “Serious Self-Examination.”

What Am I?

This is a needful question because in ordination I give up myself to God in a peculiar manner. Will God accept the torn and the blind and the lame? Surely no. The sacrifice must be searched before it was offered that it might be sure to fit its end. And therefore come, my soul, let us inquire what am I? And let the inquiry be strict and serious, for a mistake here is fatal.

1. Have I ever been inwardly convinced of the lost and undone condition in which I was born—that I was by nature a child of wrath, even as others? Did I ever see myself wallowing in my blood, in a forlorn, out-cast, helpless state, lost and ruined for ever without Christ?

2. Was I ever deeply humbled before the Lord for the original sin that I was born in and the numberless actual transgressions in heart and life that I have been guilty of? Hath sin been bitter to my soul, hath my heart been broken for it, and hath my sorrow been of the right kind; hath the sight of a broken Savior broken my heart?

3. Have I sincerely closed with the Lord Jesus Christ by a true and lively faith, taken him to be mine, and resigned up myself to him to be his? Have I accepted Christ upon gospel terms to be my Prince to rule and Saviour to save me? Have I renounced all others and resolved to cleave to the Lord Jesus Christ, let what will come? Is Christ precious to me? Is he dearer to me than any thing in the world besides? Could I be freely willing to part with all for Christ and count everything but loss that I may win Christ?

4. Have I a real hatred of every sin in myself as well as in others? Have I no beloved lust which I want spared, no darling corruption which I want to remain unmortified? Does sin appear sin in my eyes. Can I say with David that I hate every false way? Are the remainders of indwelling corruption a burden to me? Do I long to be rid of sin? Are my resolutions sincere and my endeavors serious against sin and all appearances of it, and that because it is against God?

5. Have I a real love to holiness? Do I press after it and earnestly desire to be more holy, using holy ordinances for this end, that I may be made thereby more and more holy? Am I fond of holy ordinances and holy people, and that because they are holy? Have I a real value for holiness wherever I see it? Do I delight in God’s holy Word, and that because it is holy? Do I call the holy Sabbath a delight, and that because it is holy? Do I love the brethren because they are holy, and love them the better the more holy they are? Do I long to be made perfect in holiness in that other world?

To these weighty questions my poor soul (though compassed about with manifold weaknesses, wants, and corruptions) doth, as in the presence of God, the Searcher of hearts, give a comfortable answer. If these be the signs and characters of true grace, I trust my heart doth not deceive me when it tells me that I have some sparks of it, though swimming in a sea of corruption. But who am I, O Lord God, and what is my house, that thou hast brought me hitherto? And yet as if this had been but a small thing, thou hast spoken concerning thy servant for a great while yet to come. And is this the manner of man, O Lord God!

To be continued…


Dr. Mark Minnick is the pastor of Mount Calvary Baptist Church in Greenville, South Carolina, and serves as adjunct professor of preaching and exposition at Bob Jones Seminary.

(Originally published in FrontLine • May/June 2003. Click here to subscribe to the magazine.)


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