Matthew Henry on Natural and Moral Inability


The puritan Matthew Henry wrote perhaps the most popular Bible commentary of all time. 




Commentary on the Whole Bible

On Deut. 30:11-14 

“For this commandment which I command thee this day, it is not hidden from thee, neither is it far off.  It is not in heaven, that thou shouldest say, Who shall go up for us to heaven, and bring it unto us, that we may hear it, and do it?  Neither is it beyond the sea, that thou shouldest say, Who shall go over the sea for us, and bring it unto us, that we may hear it, and do it?  But the word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart, that thou mayest do it.”


Moses here urges them to obedience from the consideration of the plainness and easiness of the command.

I. This is true of the law of Moses.  They could never plead in excuse of their disobedience that God had enjoined them that which was either unintelligible or impracticable, impossible to be known or to be done (Deuteronomy 30:11): It is not hidden from thee.  That is, not send messengers to heaven (Deuteronomy 30:12), to enquire what you must do to please God nor need you go beyond sea (Deuteronomy 30:13), as the philosophers did, that traveled through many and distant regions in pursuit of learning no, you are not put to that labor and expense nor is the commandment within the reach of those only that have a great estate or a refined genius, but it is very nigh unto you, Deuteronomy 30:14.  It is written in your books, made plain upon tables, so that he that runs may read it, your priests’ lips keep this knowledge, and, when any difficulty arises, you may ask the law at their mouth, Malachi 2:7.  It is not communicated in a strange language but it is in your mouth, that is, in the vulgar tongue that is commonly used by you, in which you may hear it read, and talk of it familiarly among your children.  It is not wrapped up in obscure phrases or figures to puzzle and amuse you, or in hieroglyphics, but it is in your heart, it is delivered in such a manner as that it is level to your capacity, even to the capacity of the meanest [lowest].”

2. “It is not too hard nor heavy for thee:” so the Septuagint reads it, Deuteronomy 30:11.  Thou need not say, “As good attempt to climb to heaven, or flee upon the wings of the morning to the uttermost part of the sea, as go about to do all the words of this law:” no, the matter is not so it is no such intolerable yoke as some ill-minded people represent it.  It was indeed a heavy yoke in comparison with that of Christ (Acts 15:10), but not in comparison with the idolatrous services of the neighboring nations.  God appeals to themselves that He had not made them to serve with an offering, nor wearied them with incense, Isaiah 43:23; Micah 6:3.  But He speaks especially of the moral law, and its precepts: “That is very nigh thee, consonant to the law of nature, which would have been found in every man’s heart, and every man’s mouth, if he would but have attended to it.  There is that in you which consents to the law that it is good, Romans 7:16.  You have therefore no reason to complain of any insuperable difficulty in the observance of it.”

II.  This is true of the gospel of Christ, to which the apostle applies it, and makes it the language of the righteousness which is of faith, Romans 10:6-8. And many think this is principally intended by Moses here for he wrote of Christ, John 5:46.  This is God’s commandment now under the gospel that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ, 1 John 3:23.  If we ask, as the blind man did, Lord, who is he? or where is he, that we may believe on him? (John 9:36), this scripture gives an answer, We need not go up to heaven, to fetch Him thence, for He has come down thence in his incarnation nor down to the deep, to fetch Him thence, for thence He has come up in his resurrection.  But the word is nigh us, and Christ in that word so that if we believe with the heart that the promises of the incarnation and resurrection of the Messiah are fulfilled in our Lord Jesus, and receive Him accordingly, and confess him with our mouth, we have then Christ with us, and we shall be saved. He is near, very near, that justifies us. The law was plain and easy, but the gospel much more so.



On John 5:40

“And ye will not come to me, that ye might have life.”

[1.] Their neglect of him and his doctrine: “You will not come tome, that you might have life, John 5:40.  You search the scriptures, you believe the prophets, who you cannot but see testify of Me and yet you will not come to Me, to whom they direct you.”  Their estrangement from Christ was the fault not so much of their understandings as as of their wills.  This is expressed as a complaint Christ offered life, and it was not accepted.  Note,

First, There is life to be had with Jesus Christ for poor souls we may have life, the life of pardon and grace, and comfort and glory: life is the perfection of our being, and inclusive of all happiness and Christ is our life.

Secondly, Those that would have this life must come to Jesus Christ for it we may have it for the coming for.  It supposes an assent of the understanding to the doctrine of Christ and the record given concerning Him, it lies in the consent of the will to his government and grace, and it produces an answerable compliance in the affections and actions.

Thirdly, The only reason why sinners die is because they will not come to Christ for life and happiness, it is not because they cannot, but because they will not.  They will neither accept the life offered, because spiritual and divine, nor will they agree to the terms on which it is offered, nor apply themselves to the use of the appointed means: they will not be cured, for they will not observe the methods of cure.


On John 6:44

“No man can come to Me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him”

b. Their wills shall be bowed.  If the soul of man had now its original rectitude there needed no more to influence the will than the illumination of the understanding but in the depraved soul of fallen man there is a rebellion of the will against the right dictates of the understanding a carnal mind, which is enmity itself to the divine light and law.  It is therefore requisite that there be a work of grace wrought upon the will, which is here called drawing, (John 6:44): No man can come to Me except the Father, who hath sent Me, draw him.  The Jews murmured at the doctrine of Christ not only would not receive it themselves, but were angry that others did.  Christ overheard their secret whisperings, and said (John 6:43), “Murmur not among yourselves lay not the fault of your dislike of my doctrine one upon another, as if it were because you find it generally distasted, no, it is owing to yourselves, and your own corrupt dispositions, which are such as amount to a moral impotency, your antipathies to the truths of God, and prejudices against them, are so strong that nothing less than a divine power can conquer them.”  And this is the case of all mankind: “No man can come to me, can persuade himself to come up to the terms of the gospel, except the Father, who hath sent me, draw him,” John 6:44. Observe,

(a.) The nature of the work: It is drawing, which denotes not a force put upon the will, whereby of unwilling we are made willing, and a new bias is given to the soul, by which it inclines to God.  This seems to be more than a moral suasion, for by that it is in the power to draw yet it is not to be called a physical impulse, for it lies out of the road of nature but He that formed the spirit of man within Him by his creating power, and fashions the hearts of men by his providential influence, knows how to new-mould the soul, and to alter its bent and temper, and make it conformable to himself and his own will, without doing any wrong to its natural liberty.  It is such a drawing as works not only a compliance, but a cheerful compliance, a complacency: Draw us, and we will run after thee.



On Romans 10:6-10

“But the righteousness which is of faith speaketh on this wise, Say not in thine heart, Who shall ascend into heaven? (that is, to bring Christ down from above:)  Or, Who shall descend into the deep? (that is, to bring up Christ again from the dead.)  But what saith it? The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach;  That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.”

(2.) What is that righteousness which is of faith, Romans 10:6, etc.  This he describes in the words of Moses, in Deuteronomy, in the second law (so Deuteronomy signifies), where there was a much clearer revelation of Christ and the gospel than there was in the first giving of the law: he quotes it from Deuteronomy 30:11-14, and shows,

[1.] That it is not at all hard or difficult. The way of justification and salvation has in it no such depths or knots as may discourage us, no insuperable difficulties attending it but, as was foretold, it is a high-way, Isaiah 35:8.  We are not put to climb for it–it is not in heaven we are not put to dive for it–it is not in the deep.  

First, We need not go to heaven, to search the records there, or to inquire into the secrets of the divine counsel.  It is true Christ is in heaven but we may be justified and saved without going thither, to fetch him thence, or sending a special messenger to Him.  

Secondly, We need not go to the deep, to fetch Christ out of the grave, or from the state of the dead: Into the deep, to bring up Christ from the dead.  This plainly shows that Christ’s descent into the deep, or into hades, was no more than his going into the state of the dead, in allusion to Jonah.  It is true that Christ was in the grave, and it is as true that he is now in heaven but we need not perplex and puzzle ourselves with fancied difficulties, nor must we create to ourselves such gross and carnal ideas of these things as if the method of salvation were impracticable, and the design of the revelation were only to amuse us. No, salvation is not put at so vast a distance from us.

[2.] But it is very plain and easy: The word is near you.  When we speak of looking upon Christ, and receiving Christ, and feeding upon Christ, it is not Christ in heaven, nor Christ in the deep, that we mean but Christ in the promise, Christ exhibited to us, and offered, in the word.  Christ is near you, for the word is near you: near you indeed: it is in your mouth, and in your heart, there is no difficulty in understanding, believing, and owning it.  The work you have to do lies within you: the kingdom of God is within you, Luke 17:21.  Thence you must fetch your evidences, not out of the records of heaven.  It is, that is, it is promised that it shall be, in your mouth (Isaiah 59:21), and in your heart, Jeremiah 31:33.  All that which is done for us is already done to our hands.  Christ is come down from heaven we need not go to fetch Him.  He is come up from the deep we need not perplex ourselves how to bring Him up.  There is nothing now to be done, but a work in us this must be our care, to look to our heart and mouth.  Those that were under the law were to do all themselves, Do this, and live but the gospel discovers the greatest part of the work done already, and what remains cut short in righteousness, salvation offered upon very plain and easy terms, brought to our door, as it were, in the word which is near us.  It is in our mouth–we are reading it daily it is in our heart–we are, or should be, thinking of it daily.  Even the word of faith the gospel and the promise of it, called the word of faith because it is the object of faith about which it is conversant, the word which we believe –because it is the precept of faith, commanding it, and making it the great condition of justification –and because it is the ordinary means by which faith is wrought and conveyed.  Now what is this word of faith? We have the tenor of it, Romans 10:9,10, the sum of the gospel, which is plain and easy enough.  Observe…




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