Matthew Henry is a household name in some circles and near legend in others. His multi-volume commentary on the whole Bible is still printed today and his book on prayer has taught generations of ministers how to intercede for their flock. In recent years, his sermons on family worship have been reprinted and widely read as many seek to recover this biblical discipline of grace. Yet, for all the quoting by him and reading of him, there isn’t much that is said about the man himself.
For that reason, I was excited to see Allan Harman’s Matthew Henry: His Life and Influence. The author begins by setting the historical scene of Henry’s life, opening with a chapter on the Puritan environment. He then narrows his focus by zeroing on the Henry family itself. Here we read about Matthew’s father, who suffered for his faith, even enduring prison. From there, Harman shows Matthew Henry’s education and ministerial life. From these things, we can see the sovereign hand of God at work, preparing the man whose ministry would endure. All of this information on Henry’s life serves as a “part 1” which prepares us for the “part 2” which shows his enduring influence.
This “influence” section begins with Henry as a preacher. Here we return to something mentioned in the preface—an amazing providence regarding some of Henry’s sermon notes. This gem of a story helps bring us into the reality of Henry as a preacher of the Word. Henry preached an amazing amount of sermons, serving his congregation to multiple talks on Sundays and serving some of the neighboring villages as well. His delivery style was far from stodgy. Henry once remarked on the vigor of his preaching, saying, “You think we are too earnest with you to leave your sins and accept of Christ; but when you come to die, you will see the meaning of it. We see death at your backs” [Kindle Locations 2475]. Henry was also systematic in preaching, presenting topical series as well as series through the Old and New Testaments. He taught through the entire Bible more than once.
Harman moves on, talking about the production of Henry’s Commentary on the influence it has had over the years. This work stands in the humanist tradition of turning away from the medieval practices in favor going back to the sources (ad fontes). In this way, Henry’s task was not to advance his own agenda and thinking, but explain the text. Here Henry’s systematic approach to things is seen and appreciated. The Commentary is a work which is both learned and pastoral. It is clear yet penetrating. It is everything a commentary should be. Numbers of continued sales today, even amidst more modern works says something about the usefulness of his labor.
From this book, a new picture emerges of Matthew Henry—a man that is more than the sum of his writings. He was one who was supremely committed to God, his Word, and his people. In this way, he serves as a model for men even today. Harman brings this out well in his book. He writes in a clear, direct way, which moves along the historical parts and keeps the synthesis of Henry’s ministry influence clear. I highly recommend this book.
*Note: I received this book from the publisher for review purposes and was not required to offer a favorable review.