Who was Matthew Henry?
An English Presbyterian minister, Matthew Henry is till date well known for his work, ‘Commentary’, which provided a detailed verse by verse study of the Bible. The work gained a large momentum mostly due to it being the best and the most widely used work of its kind. He dedicated the better part of his life preaching. Initially starting it off as a legal student, he soon turned to theology calling it as God’s chosen profession for him. No sooner he started preaching across various cities and gained much popularity for his sermons. Henry served as the pastor of a congregational church in Chester for twenty five years, later on taking up the position of a minister at a nonconformist Chapel at Hackney in London. From 1708 to 1710, he started collecting all the notes and writings, compiling them to come up with six volumes of ‘Exposition of the Old and New Testaments’ or ‘Complete Commentary’. To know more about his life and works, read through the following lines.
Childhood & Early Life
Matthew Henry was the second son born to Philip Henry at Broad Oak, in the farmhouse of Iscoyd, Flintshire Wales.
At the time of his birth, his father was ejected due to the Act of Uniformity 1662. However, unlike sufferers, his father possessed other source of income as well and hence was able to raise the children comfortably.
Though his health was deteriorating during childhood, intellectually he was brilliant and quite bright. Young Henry gained much of his early education at home. He was tutored by his father and teacher, William Turner.
In 1680, he enrolled at the academy of Thomas Doolittle later on gaining admission at Islington until 1682. Following the advice of Rowland Hunt of Boreatton, he began to study law and gained admission at Gray’s Inn in 1685.
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No sooner he gave up on legal education to train himself in theology. He started preaching at his father’s neighbourhood. In 1687, he moved to Chester due to work. It was while he was preaching at the private house that he accepted an offer to serve as a pastor of a Presbyterian congregation at Chester
It was on May 9, 1687 that he was ordained by six ministers at the house of Richard Steel. He started his ministry on June 2, 1687 and within a couple of years, the communicants went past 250.
He devoted himself completely to pronouncing the Gospel, which he thought was the work that God assigned for him in the world. He proclaimed the gospel at every opportunity.
While his work assigned included conducting two services on Sunday and two meetings during the week, he even preached to the prisoners of Chester’s Castle. Additionally, he held monthly services in five neighbouring villages.
The growing numbers of communicants and increasing work led to the construction of a meeting house in 1699. Same year, he declined offer from London congregations at Hackney and Salters' Hall. He even rejected the offer from Manchester and Silver Street and Old Jewry London.
Despite having a turbulent personal life, he continued with his work believing the fact that his sorrows should by no means hinder his work. He continued to preach the holy words of the Gospel with full assurance and perseverance.
From the latter half of 1704, he started collecting materials of all the notes and writings that he had made on the Bible during his time as a pastor. Furthermore, he recollected his views and thoughts on all that he had read during the course of his years of service.
Compiling all his knowledge and works, he came up with six volumes of ‘Exposition of the Old and New Testaments’ from 1708 to 1710. Also known as ‘Complete Commentary’, the work provided a detailed verse by verse study of the Bible.
In 1712, he yet again received an offer by a nonconformist Chapel in Hackney, London which he finally abided by. Though leaving Chester was difficult for him, he believed it to be God’s decision and fully conformed to it.
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By 1714, he made efforts to complete his ‘Commentary’ reaching the Acts. Meanwhile, he often returned to Chester to conduct his service among the former congregation.
Personal Life & Legacy
He tied the nuptial knot to Katherine, only daughter of Samuel Hardware of Bromborough, Cheshire on July 19, 1687.
The unison did not last long as she died while giving birth to their first child, a daughter Katherine on February 14, 1689.
He then married Mary, daughter of Robert Warburton of Hefferstone Grange, Cheshire. With her, he was blessed with a son Philip and eight daughters, of which three died during infancy
In June 1714, despite being ill, he honoured his promise of preaching at Chester and Nantwich. However, the frail health caused him to return to London. It was while on his way back that he fell from his horse at Tarporley.
He was taken to the house of a neighbouring minister, Joseph Mottershead, where he breathed his last on June 22, 1714.
He was buried in the chancel of Trinity Church, Chester. His last service was attended by eight of the city clergy. The funeral sermons were preached at Chester by Peter Withington and John Gardener. At Hackney, it was preached by Daniel Williams, William Tong, Isaac Bates and John Reynolds.
Posthumously, a memorial was erected in 1860 to commemorate his death. It comprised of a bronze medal and a pillar designed by Thomas Harrison and Matthew Noble. The pillar which formerly stood at the churchyard of St Bridget’s Church was later moved to a roundabout opposite the entrance of Chester Castle.
He was an English Presbyterian minister who came up with the work, ‘Exposition of the Old and New Testaments’.