I was consulting some commentaries on Exodus 4:24-26 and noticed that John Wesley's Notes on this passage appear to be taken, in some cases word for word, from Matthew Henry's commentary. Is there a legitimate relation between these two texts? Or perhaps intellectual property rights were not as well understood in John Wesley's day...? I've put the passage that appears to be plagiarized below.

Wesley's notes:

"It seems the sin of Moses, was neglecting to circumcise his son, which perhaps was the effect of his being unequally yoked with a Midianite, who was too indulgent of her child, and Moses so of her. The Lord met him, and, probably, by a sword in an angel's hand, sought to kill him - This was a great change. Very lately God was conversing with him as a friend, and now coming forth against him as an enemy. In this case of necessity Zipporah herself circumcised the child without delay; whether with passionate words, expressing the dislike of the ordinance itself, or at least the administration of it to so young a child."

Notes on the Second Book of Moses Called Exodus

Henry's Commentary:

"1.The sin of Moses, which was neglecting to circumcise his son. This was probably the effect of his being unequally yoked with a Midianite, who was too indulgent of her child, while Moses was too indulgent of her. […] .2. God’s displeasure against him. He met him, and, probably by a sword in an angel’s hand, sought to kill him. This was a great change; very lately God was conversing with him, and lodging a trust in him, as a friend; and now he is coming forth against him as an enemy. [...] 3. The speedy performance of the duty for the neglect of which God had now a controversy with him. His son must be circumcised; Moses is unable to circumcise him; therefore, in this case of necessity, Zipporah does it, whether with passionate words (expressing her dislike of the ordinance itself, or at least the administration of it to so young a child, and in a journey)

Exodus 4


1 Answer 1


John Wesley himself explains in the preface to his notes that he very highly regarded Matthew Henry's commentary and that much of his notes were abridgements of Henry's Work.

Addressing those who owned a copy he wrote:

. I do not advise these, much to trouble themselves about any other exposition than Mr Henry's: this is sufficient, thro' the assistance of the Blessed Spirit, to make private Christians wise unto salvation, and (the Lord applying his word) thoroughly furnished unto every good work.

However there were, according to Wesley, two great problems with Henry's work, both a consequence of its size.

. But then it is manifest on the other hand, every one cannot have this exposition. It is too large a purchase: there are thousands who would rejoice to have it; but it bears too high a price. They have not Six Guineas (the London price) in the world, perhaps from one year's end to another. And if they sometimes have, yet they have it not to spare; they need it for other occasions. How much so ever therefore they desire so valuable a work, they must content themselves to go without it.

But suppose they have money enough to purchase, yet they have not time enough to read it: the size is as insurmountable an objection as the price itself. It is not possible for men who have their daily bread to earn by the sweat of their brows, who generally are confined to their work, from six in the morning 'till six in the evening, to find leisure for reading over six folios, each containing seven or eight hundred pages. These therefore have need of some other exposition than Mr Henry's. As excellent as it is in its kind, it is not for their purpose; seeing they have neither money to make the purchase, nor time to read it over.

Firstly, the size of Henry's tomes, given the cost of printing, meant that it was beyond the ability of most people to afford. Secondly, if they could obtain a copy, they would not have time to read it.

So Wesley was quite open about his notes being, on many passages (but by no means all), mere abbreviations of Henry's.

  • Thank you for that illuminating answer!
    – Keith
    Commented Apr 21, 2019 at 16:13

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