I looked forward to reading Allan Harman’s new book Matthew Henry – His Life and Influence because I have used Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the whole Bible since my teenage years in preparation for Sunday School lessons and speaking engagements as well as for personal Bible study. Harman begins by setting the background, giving a brief overview of the Puritans and the society of that time. He also writes very much about Matthew Henry’s father Philip. As an aside, I was intrigued to find that the saying: ‘He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose’ actually originated with Philip Henry: ‘He is no fool who parts with that which he cannot keep, when he is sure to be recompensed with that which he cannot lose’.
The following chapters go through Matthew Henry’s childhood, education, pastoral experiences and his writings. The final four chapters are, more-or-less, a summary of the whole book but looking specifically at Matthew Henry as a preacher, as a commentator, and as a writer, and the lasting impact he has had.
When I read about Matthew Henry’s home life and childhood, I was not surprised that he wrote such an excellent Bible commentary in his later years. He was well taught in spiritual things and his father gave him a good grounding in practical Bible knowledge. Even as a child, Matthew took notes on sermons he heard. On Saturday afternoons he and his siblings were encouraged to spend an hour in preparation for Sunday, and Matthew as the oldest child led these times. It was said of his home:
Surely God is in this Place; this is no other than the House of God and the Gate of Heaven.
A lovely thing to be said of any Christian home!
Matthew used his whole education, including a year studying law, in his pastoral work (in applying Bible truths to his congregation) and in his writing. He studied his Bible diligently and was methodical in note taking/keeping his whole life.
His first congregation was in Chester, and after many invitations and much heartsearching and praying, he eventually moved to Hackney in London because he felt he could serve God better by preaching and writing there.
There was a definite connection between his commentary and his pastoral ministry. The one was borne out of the other. His commentary was remarkable for its day, and it is a mark of the man of God he was that it is still in use some 300 years later. Matthew’s writings have influenced many Christians through the generations including Jonathan Edwards, John and Charles Wesley, George Whitefield, and Charles Haddon Spurgeon. There are very few other Puritan Christians who are household names as Matthew Henry is.
I enjoyed finding out more of Matthew Henry’s life, learning about the man behind the book, but I did find his biographer’s writing style somewhat dry.
I am grateful to Christian Focus for providing me with a complimentary copy of this book for the purpose of writing a review.