MATTHEW HENRY, (1662-1714)
from
A History of Preaching
by
F. R. Webber

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Matthew Henry, a very earnest Nonconformist preacher, was born in 1662 in Broad Oak, Flintshire, Wales. His father, Philip Henry, was a devout, evangelical clergyman, greatly esteemed by all. He was a man of good education, and with considerable ability as a teacher as well as a preacher. Like Samuel Wesley, he established a school in his own home, in which Matthew and the other children were taught with great care. Matthew Henry proved an excellent student, and at the time of his 18th birthday he had mastered the usual classical studies, as well as Hebrew, in which he was especially well trained.

In 1680 he was sent to an academy in Islington, London, where he spent two profitable years. In 1685, at the advice of a friend of the family, he spent a full year at Gray's Inn, studying law, because of its cultural value. In 1686 he returned to his home on the Welsh border and did some preaching in and around Broad Oak. The following year he preached in various places in Cheshire, just across the border in England.

Matthew Henry was ordained in London in 1687 by the same man who had ordained his father thirty years before. He became pastor of a Presbyterian congregation in Chester, where he remained for 25 years. Here his work as a preacher and Bible expositor brought him general recognition. He devoted practically an entire day to his preaching and exegetical lectures. On Sunday he arose early, and after a service of half an hour with his family and the servants, the morning meal was eaten and all went to church.

His service began at 9 a.m., and continued, with but one intermission, throughout the day. Psalm 100 was sung by the congregation, followed by a brief opening prayer. Then he read a chapter from the Old Testament and expounded it carefully for half an hour. Another Psalm was sung, then a prayer half an hour in length, then the morning sermon a full hour long. After a closing prayer, Psalm 117 was sung, and there was an intermission between the morning and the afternoon service, during which the congregation returned to their homes.

After this intermission they returned to the church. An opening invocation was followed by the singing of Psalm 134, then the reading of a chapter from the New Testament, a half-hour exposition of the Lesson, then the singing of Psalm 136. The afternoon sermon of one hour on a New Testament text, was followed by a prayer and a closing Psalm.

On Sunday evening many of the people of the congregation gathered in Mr. Henry's home, where he delivered both sermons once more for the benefit not only of those who might have been unable to attend church that day, but for many who declared that they profited much by hearing the sermons the second time. Then there was a catechization of all the children and servants present.

Matthew Henry conducted family devotions morning and evening, Sundays as well as week days. In these the Scriptures, rather than prayer, were especially prominent. After a short invocation he read ten or twelve verses from the Bible, expounded them, and then conducted a catechization of the children and the servants. The service closed with a prayer. These family services were half an hour in length.

Mr. Henry laid much stress upon catechization, and Saturday afternoon was devoted to expounding the Scriptures and catechizing the children of the congregation. He felt that such a Saturday afternoon, with the Bible as the chief text book, was much more useful than any of the methods which came in time to be known as Sunday-schools. At all his services he laid stress upon Psalm singing, and he showed but little partiality for hymns. In singing the Psalms he believed that he was singing the very words of Scripture into the hearts of his people. When he left Chester in 1712, after 25 years of arduous work, many of the people of the city were not only well indoctrinated in Biblical truth, but were able to repeat most of the Psalms and many other portions of Scripture.

Although his preaching and his thorough expository work had brought many calls to other congregations, it was not until 1712 that he finally went to a congregation in Hackney, London. His usefulness there was of short duration, for in 1714 he died of a stroke of apoplexy while returning from a visit to Chester.

The excellency of Matthew Henry's frequent Bible expositions may be seen in his famous Commentary, which was compiled in 1708-1710 from his wealth of expository notes. While this work of 10 large volumes is devotional rather than critical, yet it has never ceased to enjoy popularity throughout the world. Whitefield read it from cover to cover several times, and at the last reading he declared that his admiration was so great that he read it on his knees. Spurgeon and several other famous men have praised it in highest terms. Young clergymen for almost two and one-half centuries have ridiculed it to one another, but have often turned to it in an emergency and have never found it wanting. Matthew Henry loved his Bible, and even in his days at law school, at Gray's Inn, he loved to gather his fellow students and expound the Scriptures, in his practical, devotional manner. His fame as a devotional writer is so great that his ability as a preacher and a practical expositor has been underrated by many.


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