“This write-up of a set of six sermons was Matthew Henry’s final literary labour. It was in the press when he died, aged 52, in 1714, and came out shortly after as The Pleasantness of a Religious Life opened, and proved, and recommended to the consideration of all, particularly of Young People. J.B. Williams, henry’s biographer, called this an ‘attractive title’, but I doubt whether many today will find it attractive.
That however is not Henry’s fault. The reason this title strikes as leaden-footed is that during the almost three centuries separating him from us ‘pleasantness’ has become a weak word, stating only that something is not too bad; ‘religious’ has become a vague word, covering all faiths and attitudes that involve ‘God’ or ‘gods’ (or, nowadays, ‘goddesses’) at some point; ‘consideration’ hs become a cool word, suggesting thought that is consciously detached rather than committed’ and ‘young people’ has become a patronizing phrase that creates expectations of being talked down to and so turns real young people off. If, however, the latter-day associations of Henry’s title discourage us from digging into this book, it will be a pity; for what he is actually writing about, in his smooth, fulsome, and turn-of-the-17th-century style is, the joy of Christian life, and I usher his book back from obscurity into a world that has welcomed volumes on the joy of cooking and of sex and such like, I cannot help wishing that the had giving it that kind of title.”
-Excerpted from J.I. Packer’s introduction to The Pleasantness of a Religious Life by Matthew Henry (Christian Heritage, 2012)
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