Some readers may have heard of Matthew Henry. He is one of the most respected biblical scholars of the past three hundred years; his work is extensive. I started last year using his commentaries in my Bible studies after hearing Kellie Lane, spiritual leader of Warrior Nation Ministries read some of his commentaries. Today while studying and reading one of his commentaries my Spirit led me in a totally different direction. I had a strong desire to know about this man who was a preacher, scholar and was well-known for his “Commentary” on the Bible. His work has gained a reputation as the best and most widely used work of its kind. I had no idea why God was leading me to pull up this man’s biography. The following is what I found out:
Matthew Henry was brought up with all the advantages of a Christian home and family and he showed such an aptitude for learning that he was able to read the Bible by the age of three. Each day his parents gathered the children for morning and evening devotions, and after prayers and scripture readings, it was customary for his father to give a brief exposition of a passage from the Bible on which the children were encouraged to write their own accounts. After surviving a serious attack of fever at the age of ten, his thoughts were drawn to his own spiritual condition and he was deeply moved by a sermon on the subject of judgment. He wrote, “I was under great fear of hell, till the Lord comforted me. I, having engaged in serious examination, what hopes I have that when I die and leave this earthly tabernacle I shall be received into heaven ,I have found several marks that I am a Child of God.” As a young man, he went to study law in London. However, he found no satisfaction in this pursuit and soon he wrote a letter to his father stating, “The more I see of the world and the various affairs of the children of men in it, the more I see of the vanity of it, and the more I would fain have my heart taken off from it, and fixed upon the invisible realities of the other world.” After barely a year he abandoned his legal studies and began preaching at local meetings. His zeal for the work of the Gospel was so evident that he quickly began to receive invitations to preach. Henry knew without a doubt that this was the work God had been preparing him for and he become the pastor of a congregation. For twenty-five years He devoted himself to proclaiming the gospel at every possible opportunity. In addition to two services on Sunday and two meetings during the week, he frequently preached in the neighboring villages and in the prisons. When Henry was forty-two years old, he began to collect together the vast amount of notes and writings which he had made on the Bible during his ministry. He had learned Latin, Greek and Hebrew as a child, and he also had a good knowledge of French, so that his reading had covered a wide field over many years. To this was added a keen spirit of inquiry, a profound knowledge and an ability to convey doctrinal matters in a simple yet clear form. From this emerged his “Commentary” as he gradually completed the books of the Old and New Testament over the following ten years. After twenty-five years in the ministry at Chester, Henry accepted a call to a dissenting Chapel at Hackney in London. His preaching was blessed with much fruit and he made preparations to complete his “Commentary,” having reached Acts by 1714. This same year while returning to Chester to conduct services amongst his former congregation and while honoring a promise to preach at Chester and Nantwich, he was taken ill. As he rode back to London the next day, he fell from his horse and was taken to the house of a neighboring minister where he died the following day. He died at age 52. The importance and value of Henry’s “Commentary” was so evident to his fellow ministers that steps were soon taken to collect the notes he had prepared on the remaining books from Romans to Revelation, so that the whole of the Bible might be included in the final work. Henry’s “Commentary” quickly became an indispensable work of reference for Christians. It is as relevant for us today as it was in his own day. Someone said his work is perhaps the only commentator, so large, that deserves to be entirely an attentively read through. (www.truthfulwords.org).
Most people do not know the trials and sufferings of Mr. Henry’s personal life.He was born 1662 in England and his infancy was marred with sickness and frailty. His brother had died of similar circumstances, as an infant. In those days, as would become evident to Matthew himself later on, many newborns and young children did not make it. In some ways, that was a part of life for so many parents in those days before penicillin and other basic treatments. Over the course of his adult life, Mr. Henry would experience six different premature deaths that undoubtedly haunted him as he struggled to believe and trust in the Almighty God, and His ultimate plan. These unfortunate deaths included: His first wife, A young daughter, A second young daughter (just 1 year after the first had passed), His two middle-aged sisters (during the same year) A third daughter, and, his own life was not spared certain physical suffering. Matthew Henry died at the relatively young age of 52 (not so uncommon in those days though) after a terrible disease and sickness took him during the last two to three years of his life. (Taber’s Truths by our Church History Contributing Author Ken Lambert.)
Once I finished reading, just as clearly as I am typing this, the Holy Spirit said to me, “If you don’t know what to do, follow someone who does”. It was at this point that I realized why God lead me to this man’s life; he was an example of faith and hope through suffering. I have read how this man was obedient to God and to his purpose in this life. How he maintained this intensive preaching and pastoral ministry, while his personal life was afflicted by tragedy. The storms were raging in his life! In spite of life’s tragedies and storms, he persevered on and continued to do the Lord’s work. I cannot image losing one child. He lost three. The pain must have been unbearable. But did he leave the ministry? Did he become spiteful? Did he accuse the Lord? From what I read, Matthew Henry did none of those things. It is human nature to become angry when tragedies such as he experienced hit us, and he may have been at times angry at God. I don’t know. But anger is an emotion that passes. It is not a way of life or a way of thinking. He did not give up or lose faith in God. The enemy tried to take him out at an early age. But God turned it around and he choose to become a child of God. Mr. Henry marched on with his ministry and his Bible study. He was obedient and faithful until his death. It is easy to be a Christian when everything is going well, and when your life here on Earth is truly blessed. It is a different story to be a true and faithful Christian servant when this life has brought major setbacks and sorrows. I understand now why God led me to Matthew Henry’s biography. He is an example of a Christian. In spite of life’s storms, I will stay faithful to the One who loves me, the One who lived to give me an example and the One who died to save me. And when life tries to get the best of me, and I don’t know what to do, I will follow the example of Jesus. And yes God, I will follow the examples of those who follow you, like Matthew Henry. The same strength you gave them, you will also give to me. I thank God for this gift today, it blessed me. Maybe this was not just meant for me. If it blessed you, say so. Love and Blessings…