Matthew Henry: His Life and Influence (a book review)

You likely have come across the works of Matthew Henry, especially his commentary on the Bible (in either its full or abridged form) which is often bundled with Bible software or found relatively cheaply on Amazon.  But why would a Bible commentator and author from the late seventeenth, early eighteenth century have such enduring popularity? Why does his commentary have such enduring popularity?

Allan Harman is the research professor of Old Testament at Presbyterian Theological College in Melbourne, Australia and has written a book exploring the life and influence of Matthew Henry which is aptly titled Matthew Henry: His Life and Influence. Beyond stating the subject and scope of the book, the title also provides Harman’s basic outline. The first ten chapters of this book provide a biographical sketch of Matthew Henry. The final four chapters talk about his influence as a preacher, commentator, author and his influence on subsequent generations.

The biographical portion of this book give the basic details of Matthew Henry’s life including the the influence of his father, Patrick Henry, who had studied under the Puritans (like John Owen). Harman provides details about Henry’s education and youthful illness, his ordination and more than twenty-five years of ministry in Chester,  his final parish in Hackney, his death  and  various family details along the way(like the death of his first wife, his second marriage and the birth of his children).  In the portion of the book which assesses Henry’s influence, Harman examines Henry’s homiletic style and strengths as an expositor.

This book is well researched and provides a sympathetic picture of who Matthew Henry was. However  I was mildly disappointed that Harman did not provide more information on Henry’s wife and children.  Henry gives bare bones factual data on them but does not explore Henry’s relationship to them much. For example Harman tells us that his son, Philip Warburton was elected to parliment, did not share his father’s religious convictions and went by his mother’s maiden name (41). From these facts, we can surmise that their relationship was strained but this is not explored in any depth.  Perhaps there is little substantive which could be said about  this relationship or the Henry household. Harman avoids speculations so maybe he had nothing more to say. Other details of family life he is much more forthcoming on, such as the death of his first wife  and how that affected him.

Harman is much more interested in exploring Henry’s life as a minister and author. This he does rather well, providing an analysis of Henry’s homeltic style, his strengths as an expositor and his influence on the Wesleys, Whitefield, Spurgeon and Bavinck and others. Henry’s Exposition of the Bible is still valued for its insights, its accessible and memorable style (Henry used a lot of alliteration).  He was certainly engaged and cognizant with the best scholarship of his day and knew the Bible well.

Occasionally Harman’s prose is a little repetitive (repeating direct quotes, etc.) but the strength of this book is that it is well researched, relying on both primary and secondary sources.  This book will be valuable for students researching Henry’s life and for those interested in church history. Matthew Henry was a great synthesizer of some of the Puritan and non-conformist insights. He was and remains highly influential on a significant swath of evangelicalism. Harman is a faithful guide to Henry’s life (even if some details are not forthcoming).

Thank you to Christian Focus for providing me with a review copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

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