Matthew Henry was born October 18, 1662, in a Welsh farmhouse in Flint. shire. His father, Philip Henry, was a well-known clergyman who was one of two thousand ministers who resigned or were ejected from their livings because they objected to the conditions laid down in the Act of Uniformity. They became known as the "dissenters." The wife of Philip Henry came from an honorable family and had a modest inheritance, so they were able to live on in the farmhouse, exercising a selfless ministry among the people in the district. Matthew, their second son, was so frail at birth that he was baptized when he was only a day old lest he might die within the week! But the boy grew and however physically weak he was, he was mentally and spiritually strong, and is said to have read aloud a chapter of the Bible when he was only three years old!
Philip Henry frequently boarded and trained candidates for the ministry, and these men repaid him by acting as tutor to his children. Matthew Henry early developed a great love for Latin, as is evidenced in his Commentary. He went in 1680 to a private academy in London, owing to the fact that the great universities were so morally and otherwise lax. In this academy he came under the famous Thomas Doolittle. The academy was officially persecuted and had to move five times, but it became the leading Presbyterian academy of the day.
Matthew afterward studied law in London, and this offered him a promising future, but he came under the mighty preaching of Dr. Edward Stillingfleet, at St. Andrews, Holborn, and also met the famous Dr. John Tillotson, and from this circle of great and godly men, there arose a prayer and Bible-study group similar to the Holy Club later founded by the Wesleys at Oxford. We next find Matthew Henry busily preaching and presenting himself as a candidate for the ministry.
In public services he usually prayed for half an hour, preached for an hour, and joined in singing psalms from a selection he himself had made. His sermons were always expository, never political, and always practical and relevant to the problems of everyday life. He ministered indefatigably to people in the reformed churches who were suffering severe persecution in various parts of the continent.
He had strong personal convictions on the cardinal doctrines of Christianity, but he was not intolerant, and a characteristic of his ministry was that he incessantly visited all who were in need, whatever might be the religious communion to which they belonged. He preached on six days a week to many congregations within a radius of thirty miles of his home, always contriving to be in his own pulpit at Chester on Sundays. His influence grew rapidly, and a new meetinghouse was built to accommodate the, large crowds who regularly came to hear him.
In 1704, after a serious illness, he began to write his "Notes on the New Testament," and his diary concluded with a typical prayer: "The Lord help me to set about it with great humility."
In 1710 he removed to a wonderful ministry in London that gave him access to libraries and scholars, which forwarded his work on the famous Commentary. This memorable work was actually begun in November, 1704, and before he died he had completed volume 6, up to the book of Acts, the balance being supplied after his death by thirteen nonconformist ministers.
Dr. Wilbur Smith, of Fuller Theological Seminary, refers to Matthew Henry's Commentary as "The greatest devotional Commentary ever written," and the well-known Dr. F. F. Bruce, of Manchester University, calls it "One of the greatest theological classics of English literature." The Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, Michigan, recently published an edition of this famous devotional commentary.
H. W. L.