Philip Henry: Servant, Teacher, Father

0 Mini Biographies No Comments

On the 30th of January, 1649 crowds gathered in London to witness an event that had never occurred before and has not happened again since that day: the execution of the English king. It was a dramatic way to begin the year!  Among those who saw the beheading of King Charles I, was a man who had, years earlier, been the playmate of the condemned monarch’s sons and who, in the coming years, would find himself endangered by those same sons. A man who, unlike King Charles I, would raise a son who would bless generations of Christians for centuries to come.  His name was Philip Henry.

Life at Court

Philip Henry was born in 1631 to John Henry, the keeper of the palace orchards at Whitehall in Westminster. He was born into the midst of the dark days when King Charles I was reigning. (You can read more details of that time in this post). But while Parliament struggled with the king who believed that he had divine right to do as he pleased, young Philip played with the princes Charles and James who told him how they would one day give him a high position in court. Even Archbishop William Laud, the enemy of the Puritans who shocked many with his unbiblical decrees, was quite friendly with the young boy. Who would have thought, as the princes and the archbishop played and talked with Philip Henry, that he would someday become almost an enemy to them? Because of the political unrest, the court broke up and young Charles and James had to flee to France. Philip Henry’s life took quite a different direction.

A Different Path

Later in life, when speaking of his childhood, Philip Henry would say how thankful he was that he had not become part of the court where it would have been difficult to “maintain a good conscience”. His mother would have been thankful too. She was a godly woman who was far more interested in leading her children to the Saviour than in the pleasures of court life. She carefully taught Philip the truths of the Bible encouraging him to go and listen to the preaching of Puritans every week. Gradually, he came to a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus and began to work towards becoming a minister.

From an early age, Philip Henry was well educated and in 1647 he began his studies at Oxford University. Two years later, while visiting London he saw the execution of King Charles I. According to An Account of the Life and Death of Mr. Philip Henry, Henry observed that as the king died a universal groan rose up from the crowd. Although Henry was a Puritan and did not agree with the actions and beliefs of the king, he loyally supported and respected the monarchy throughout his life and for many years following the execution he prayed that God would not lay the guilt of blood to the charge of the nation.

Philip Henry continued to study and preached his first sermon in 1653. He graduated that year and became a minister to a church in Worthenbury, Flintshire, near Wales. God blessed Henry’s ministry at Worthenbury. He loved the people and as his son wrote later, “He did not shoot the arrow of the Word over their heads…or under their feet…but to their hearts.” In 1659 he married Katherine Matthews and they had six children.

Persecution

A year after Henry’s marriage, Oliver Cromwell’s republic came to an end and the acquaintance of Henry’s boyhood, Charles, returned from France and was restored to the throne, becoming King Charles II of England. While Philip Henry rejoiced that the king had been restored to his rightful position, he soon found that this spelled danger for him. In 1660 Charles II passed the Act of Uniformity, commanding all ministers to comply with Anglican traditions. Philip Henry, a Presbyterian, could not comply and was forced to stop preaching. Although Philip Henry stopped preaching, he still suffered much for his Nonconformity. In 1665 King Charles pass the Five Mile Act, saying that Nonconformist ministers were not allowed to go within five miles of their former parishes. At the time Philip Henry was living at Broad Oak in a house his wife had inherited. Broad Oak was only four miles from Worthenbury. Henry was exiled from his own home and family and had to live with his friends. After a while he moved his whole family to Whitchurch where he preached mostly to his wife and children and to the few neighbours that sometimes joined them in family worship.

When Charles II died leaving no heir, life did not get any easier for Nonconformists. James II, Philip Henry’s other royal playmate, succeeded his brother. During his reign, Philip Henry was imprisoned for three weeks under false charges. His son writes that when his father returned home he told his family how thankful he was for the provisions God made while he was held prisoner and said that he was “many times asleep and quiet while his adversaries were disturbed and unquiet”.

“Who Can Be Against Us?”

Unlike some of the other Puritans, Philip Henry had the privilege of seeing the restoration of a certain amount of safety for the Nonconformists when James II died and William of Orange became king. It is said that Philip Henry celebrated the national thanksgiving by preaching a sermon on Romans 8:31, “If God be for us, who can be against us?”

A Lasting Legacy

By this time his health was declining and though he preached and taught, Philip Henry never became the minister of a church again. In 1698 Philip Henry passed into glory. He left behind some theological works which have blessed many Christians over the centuries. His best known work is a collection of sermons called Christ All in All where he shows how Christ is everything a Christian needs.

Philip Henry was also the father of Matthew Henry, the well-known and well-respected Bible commentator. Although Philip Henry has been almost forgotten, his careful training of his son has impacted thousands of Christians over the past four centuries. Matthew Henry wrote this of his father, “I bless God that I ever had such a father, whose temper was so very happy, and his gifts and graces so very bright, one that recommended religion, and the power of godliness, by a cheerful and endearing conversation…”.

Joy in the Darkness

From Matthew Henry’s statement we see that in spite of all his trials, in spite of the fact that for most of his life Philip Henry could not do what he had been ‘called’ to do, in spite of the fact that many of his trials were the result of the actions of those who had once been his friends, he had a wonderful joy which radiated out to those around him. His secret? As he says in Christ All in All: “And if we have Him, we may well be content, nay, joyful and cheerful and thankful.”

Bibliography

Unknown, An Account of the Life and Death of Mr. Philip Henry, Edinburg, 1797 (archive.org)

Henry, Matthew, The Life of the Rev. Philip Henry, Philadelphia, 1840 (archive.org)

Henry, Philip, Christ All in All, Reformation Heritage Books, 2016

Have you had any thoughts on this post? Leave a comment; I’d love to hear from you! 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.