The Exposition of the Old and New Testaments, commonly referred to as Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible (and sometimes referred to as Matthew Henry’s Complete Commentary), was used by many who helped to bring about the First Great Awakening in the 1700s. Henry's commentary stands in enduring contrast to the ethos of liberal Christianity against the Bible - its author, its purity, its infallibility - and about the divinity of Jesus Christ, which even then was being promoted in certain educational institutions; to this day it remains one of the most popular and respected of commentaries.
Matthew Henry was born in Broad Oak, near Bangor Iscoed, Flintshire, England, on October 18, 1662, being the second son of pastor Phillip Henry, and his wife Katherine. Just prior to Matthew's birth his father had been ejected from his pastorate in the Established Church. The Act of Uniformity had come into effect on August 24, 1662, which was in radical opposition to things which Puritans such as Philip Henry stood for. Along with nearly two thousand other ministers, Phillip could not in good conscience submit to such. Endeavoring to "Train up a child in the way he should go", (Prov 22:6) Matthew was primarily homeschooled by his father, and for a time by a Mr. William Turner, and later at the Thomas Doolittle academy.
Being born prematurely, during his childhood Matthew seems to have suffered from a weak constitution, but which was compensated for by spiritual vigor. It is reported that some credible evidence indicates that Matthew could read parts of the Bible distinctly at only three years old, with some apparent comprehension.
Mr. Henry died suddenly, after bouts of affliction while carrying out his work, in June 1714
"Dissenters" were prevented after 1662 from graduating from either of the ancient universities of Oxford and Cambridge, and nonconformist academies had come into existence. Matthew was schooled in Islington at the academy of eminent Presbyterian scholar, Thomas Doolittle (1631-1707) beginning in 1680, until "the persecuting temper of the times" compelled the academy to move in 1682, and so Henry returned home. His formative years were therefore spent in a Christian community that carried the "cross" of pressure and persecution from the State to conform to its system.
Henry began studying law around 1685, at Grays Inn in London, yet he ever "kept in view" the vocation of pastoral ministry, according to John Bickerton Williams, in his biography of the Puritan commentator, and he started prayer groups and Bible studies among friends in local area. He soon returned home for a time the next year, and began to preach in private homes the Broad Oak area, his own "Jerusalem". (cf. Lk. 24:47) In 1687 he was found speaking number of times in the house of a baker in Chester, and his ministering began to attract local non-conformists there. Henry was asked to pastor a church there, and was privately ordained in London in 1687 by six Presbyterian pastors, after the declaration of liberty of conscience by James II. For the first time the king allowed dissenters to preach if they came to London and bought a license, which at the time cost 10 pounds. On June 2, 1687, he began his regular ministry as a non-conformist pastor of a Presbyterian congregation at Chester. Henry would remain a pastor for 25 years.
The congregation over which Henry shepherded increased to more than 350 members. Other churches sought him to be as their minister, with Henry refusing calls during a nine-year period (1699 to 1708) from four London congregations, as well as one in Manchester. However, a renewed call in 1710 by one church in Hackney, London which Henry refused in 1699, resulted in much prayerful consideration by Henry and meetings between him and church leadership. Henry ultimately was persuaded this call was God's perfect will, writing down in mid-July, 1711, eleven reasons he believed God was leading him to London.
A primary reason for this decision was that it enabled a much wider door opportunity to minister. (cf. 1 Cor. 16:9) In addition, Henry was now working on his extensive commentary on the Word of God, and London provided superior access to printers and libraries.
Matthew Henry wrote A Brief Inquiry into...Schism (1689); Memoirs of . . . Philip Henry (1696); A Scripture Catechism (1702); Family Hymns (1702); A Plain Catechism (1702); A Communicant’s Companion (on the disposition of heart to partake the Lord’s Supper in) in 1704; Four Discourses (1705); A Method for Prayer (1710); Directions for Daily Communion with God (1712); A Short Account of the Life...of Lieutenant Illidge (1714), as well as numerous sermons, which are included in his Miscellaneous Works (1809), including many Funeral Sermons. However, the work which Henry is most or singularly known for is The Exposition of the Old and New Testaments.
Henry began this expository work in November 1704 while recovering from a serious illness, and in the space of ten years had completed his commentary up to the end of the book of Acts. Matthew Henry then died of an apparent stroke while on a preaching tour of Cheshire in June 1714, after becoming increasingly ill, and being afflicted with diabetes and many attacks of kidney stones.
In addition to the many non-conformist ministers attending his funeral were others from different denominations, with a universal respect being paid to him, even by those who were opposed to the "dissenters." But the attempts to silence the pious non-conformists continued, as in the same year the British parliament elected to suppress the schools of the dissenters, those who in good consciousness would not submit to liberal views on the Bible, but overall sought "hold fast to the form of sound words" (1Tim. 1:13) On which Henry commented,
Adhere to it in opposition to all heresies and false doctrine, which corrupt the Christian faith... But how must it be held fast? In faith and love; that is, we must assent to it as a faithful saying, and bid it welcome as worthy of all acceptation. Hold it fast in a good heart,.. Faith and love must go together; it is not enough to believe the sound words, and to give an assent to them, but we must love them, believe their truth and love their goodness, and we must propagate the form of sound words in love; speaking the truth in love, Eph_4:15.
After Henry passed on, the rest of the New Testament was prepared by thirteen nonconformist preachers. George Burder and John Hughes edited the complete edition of 1811, 4 to 6 volumes, which provides more material from Henry's manuscripts.
Henry's first wife Katherine, was only daughter of Samuel Hardware of Bromborough, Cheshire, and she passed away Feb. 14, 1689, at age 25, while giving birth their daughter, Katherine. Henry married his second wife, Mary, daughter of Robert Warburton of Hefferstone Grange, Cheshire, on July 8, 1690, who survived him. Henry left one son, Philip (1700-1760), and eight daughters, three of whom passed away in infancy.
While not being a work of real technical analysis of texts, for which Henry recommended Poole's Synopsis, Henry's "Exposition" is supremely devotional, and reveals an amazing richness of spiritual understanding and practical suggestion. "The author betrays a remarkable fertility of practical suggestion and, although the work is diffuse, it contains rich stores of truths, which hold the attention by their quaint freshness and aptness, and feed the spiritual life by their Scriptural unction." Out of a seeming obscure verse Henry can bring to light a deep truth and fitting application. Robert Hall, George Whitefield, and Charles Spurgeon all used and heartily commended the work, with Whitefield reading it through four times - the last time on his knees. Spurgeon stated, " Every minister ought to read it entirely and carefully through once at least." (Commenting and Commentaries, p. 3).
Henry held to a moderate form of Calvinism, and his congregations found in him a mediating influence between extremes, which sometimes led to charges of compromise, while other wished he were liberal.
A study by the American scholar David Crump, revealed that Henry’s exposition provided a substantial influence for many of Whitefield’s sermons.
|“||we have every one of us a charge to keep, an eternal God to glorify, an immortal soul to provide for, needful duty to be done, our generation to serve; and it must be our daily duty to keep this charge, for it is the charge of the Lord our Master, who will shortly call us to an account about it.||”|
The Baptist preacher and educator John Ryland Sr (1723-1792) testified,
|“||It is impossible for a person of piety and taste to read the Exposition of Mr. Henry without wishing to be shut out from all the world to read it through without one moment’s interruption.||”|
Charles G. Trumbull states in his introduction to Henry's Commentary,
|“||The apostolic Whitefield...even the pen of Cowper was trained, as a Christian and a preacher by Mr. Henry's Commentary... The state of the reformed churches abroad was much upon his heart, and he was a fervent intercessor for those of them that suffered persecution for righteousness sake. He shunned not to declare the whole counsel of God. He delighted in preaching Christ and the doctrines of free grace; but also holiness."||”|
On atheism, Henry wrote that
|“||A man that is endued with the powers of reason, by which he is capable of knowing, serving, glorifying, and enjoying his Maker, and yet lives without God in the world, is certainly the most despicable and the most miserable animal under the sun.||”|
Henry also wrote the following, which deals with forgiveness through Christ for those who repent:
|“||How glorious a change does grace make! It changes the vilest of men into saints and the children of God. Such were some of you, but you are not what you were. You are washed, you are sanctified, you are justified in the name of Christ, and by the Spirit of our God. Note, The wickedness of men before conversion is no bar to their regeneration and reconciliation to God. The blood of Christ, and the washing of regeneration, can purge away all guilt and defilement. Here is a rhetorical change of the natural order: You are sanctified, you are justified. Sanctification is mentioned before justification: and yet the name of Christ, by which we are justified, is placed before the Spirit of God, by whom we are sanctified. Our justification is owing to the merit of Christ; our sanctification to the operation of the Spirit: but both go together.||”|
- Religious Tract Society, Christian Biography: Lives of William Cowper, Mrs. Ann H. Judson, Anna Jane Linnard, Matthew Henry, 1799, Matthew Henry
- Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible
- Faith Hall of Fame; Matthew Henry European-American Evangelistic Crusades
- Matthew Henry: Minister and Bible Commentator Stephen Ross for WholesomeWords.org from Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder, & Co., 1891.
- By H. D. Roberts, Matthew Henry and His Chapel 1662-1900
- Faith Hall of Fame; Matthew Henry European-American Evangelistic Crusades