Matthew Henry (1662—1714) was an English Presbyterian minister and Bible expositor best remembered for his Commentary on the Whole Bible, a verse-by-verse, devotional commentary spanning every book in Scripture. His biblical exegesis profoundly influenced British revival leaders like John and Charles Wesley and George Whitefield and, consequently, evangelical churches throughout the world.
Matthew Henry was born in a village near the border with Wales but lived most of his life in Chester, England. He was the son of Kathrine and Philip Henry, a Church of England clergyman who was ousted from the Anglican Church under the Act of Uniformity of 1662. This legislation and previous Uniformity Acts passed by the English Parliament sought to control Protestant and Anglican practice and enforce uniformity in public worship throughout England. Ministers who were expelled or voluntarily left the Church of England under these acts were called Nonconformists. Matthew Henry’s father was among them.
As a boy, Henry displayed aptitude in Latin and Greek under his father’s instruction. A passionate reader, he is said to have begun reading parts of the Bible by age three. Henry also possessed an innate public speaking gift. He became a Christian when he was ten: “It was one of his father’s sermons that, in Henry’s words, ‘melted’ him and caused him to ‘enquire after Christ’” (https://www.apuritansmind.com/puritan-favorites/matthew-henry-1662-1714/, accessed 8/3/2023).
Initially, Henry planned to pursue a career in law but soon felt called, like his father, to Christian ministry. He studied theology at the Islington Academy under the mentorship of Thomas Doolittle, a Calvinist and Nonconformist Puritan minister. Henry was ordained in the Presbyterian Church and began preaching at age 23. He ministered in two Presbyterian parishes, the first in Chester, where he pastored for 25 years (1687—1712).
Henry’s first wife, Kathrine Hardware, succumbed to smallpox not long after the birth of their first child. The baby died 15 months later. He was married again in 1690 to Mary Warburton. They had three daughters who died in infancy: Elizabeth, Mary, and Ann. Five more daughters were born to Henry and Mary: Esther, Elizabeth, Sarah, Theodosia, and Mary. They also had a son, Philip, who was born in 1700.
Henry, whose health had been delicate since childhood due to premature birth, often struggled with fever and illness in adulthood. Nevertheless, he preached passionately and traveled frequently, as he was continually invited to speak and give lectures. He was a dedicated minister and disciplined student of the Bible, usually spending more than eight hours a day in study, prayer, sermon preparation, and writing.
Matthew Henry relocated to London for the last two years of his life. He pastored a congregation in Hackney, preached and lectured almost daily, and wrote his six-volume Exposition of the Old and New Testaments, later published as Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible. Henry started his commentary in 1704 but died before completing it (he had written Genesis to Acts at the time of his death). Nonconformist colleagues compiled the remainder of the work (Romans to Revelation) using Henry’s own study notes and writings. Another beloved work of Henry’s is A Method for Prayer (1712), a scriptural guideline for personal prayer and conducting prayer for public occasions.
Charles Spurgeon, the 19th century “Prince of Preachers,” heartily recommended Matthew Henry, describing the man and his work in glowing terms: “He is most pious and pithy, sound and sensible, suggestive and sober, terse and trustworthy. You will find him to be glittering with metaphors, rich in analogies, overflowing with illustrations, superabundant in reflections. . . . Every minister ought to read Matthew Henry entirely and carefully through once at least” (https://biblemesh.com/blog/with-all-plainness-matthew-henrys-exposition-of-the-old-and-new-testament/, accessed 8/3/23).
Today, Matthew Henry’s Complete Commentary on the Bible is still widely available in its original form and is considered a classic of Christian literature. Also available is the one-volume Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary, as well as a version with updated language for modern English readers.
Here are a few inspiring quotes from Matthew Henry:
“The more the waters increased, the higher the ark was lifted up towards heaven. Thus sanctified afflictions are spiritual promotions; and as troubles abound consolations, much more abound” (Ritzema, E., ed., 300 Quotations for Preachers, Lexham Press, 2012).
“Pride makes a god of self; covetousness makes a god of money; sensuality makes a god of the belly; whatever is esteemed or loved, feared or served, delighted in or depended on, more than God, that (whatever it is) we do in effect make a god of” (Commentary on the Whole Bible).
“Thanksgiving is good, but thanks-living is better” (Commentary on the Whole Bible).
“The Bible is a letter God has sent to us; prayer is a letter we send to him” (Daily Communion with God).