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Matthew Henry: Minister and Bible Commentator

Matthew HenryMatthew Henry (1662-1714), non-conformist divine and commentator, second son of Philip Henry, was born prematurely on 18 October 1662 at Broad Oak, in the chapelry of Iscoyd, Flintshire, [Wales]. As a child he was sickly, but somewhat precocious in learning. His first tutor was Willliam Turner; but he owed most of' his early education to his father. On 21 July 1680 he entered the academy of Thomas Doolittle, then at Islington, and remained there till 1682. On 30 October 1683, shortly after his coming of age he entered on the estate of Bronington, Flintshire, inherited from Daniel Matthews, his maternal grandfather. On the advice of Rowland Hunt of Boreatton, Shropshire, he began to study law, and was admitted at Gray's Inn on 6 May 1685. In June 1686 he began to preach in his father's neighbourhood. Business took him to Chester in January 1687. While there he preached in private houses, and was asked to settle as a minister. He gave a conditional assent, and returned to Gray's Inn.

On 9 May 1687 he was privately ordained in London by six ministers at the house of Richard Steel. Henry began his ministry at Chester on 2 June 1687. In a few years his communicants numbered 250. In September 1687 James II visited Chester, when the nonconformists presented an address of thanks 'for the ease and liberty they then enjoyed under his protection.' A new charter was granted to the city (the old one having been surrendered in 1684), giving power to the crown to displace and appoint magistrates. About August 1688 Henry was applied to by the king's messenger to nominate magistrates. He declined to do so. The new charter was cancelled by another, in which the names of all the prominent nonconformists were placed upon the corporation. They refused to serve, and demanded the restoration of the original charter, which was at length obtained.

A meeting-house was erected for Henry in Crook Lane (now called Crook Street). It was begun in September 1699, and opened on 8 August 1700. In 1706 a gallery was erected for the accommodation of another congregation which united with Henry's. The communicants now rose to 350. In addition to his congregational work (including a weekly lecture) he held monthly services at five neighbouring villages, and regularly preached to the prisoners in the castle. He was an energetic member of the Cheshire meeting of united ministers, founded at Macclesfeld in March 1691, on the basis of the London 'happy union.' He found time also for his labours as a commentator, which originated in his system of expository preaching. His study was a two-storeyed summerhouse, still standing, to the rear of his residence in Bolland Court, White Friars, Chester. He declined overtures from London congregations at Hackney and Salters' Hall in 1699 and 1702 respectively, from Manchester in 1705, and from Silver Street and Old Jewry, London, in 1708. In 1710 he was again invited to Hackney, and agreed to remove, though not at once. On 3 June 1711 he was in London, being the first sacrament day on which he had been absent from Chester for twenty-four years. Daniel Williams, D.D., whose will is dated 26 June 1711, named him as one of the original trustees of his educational foundations, but he did not survive to enter on the trust. He preached his farewell sermon at Chester on 11 May 1712. His ministry at Mare Street, Hackney, began on 18 May 1712. In May 1714 he revisited Cheshire. He died of apoplexy at Nantwich, in the house of the nonconformist minister, Joseph Mottershead, on 22 June 1714, and was buried in the chancel of Trinity Church, Chester, the funeral being attended by eight of the city clergy. Funeral sermons were preached at Chester by Peter Withington and John Gardner; in London by Daniel Williams, William Tong, Isaac Bates, and John Reynolds; the last four were published. After his death his Hackney congregation separated into two.

He married, first, on 19 July 1687, Katherine, only daughter of Samuel Hardware of Bromborough, Cheshire; she died in childbed on 14 Feb. 1689, aged 25, leaving a daughter, Katherine; secondly, on 8 July 1690, Mary, daughter of Robert Warburton of Hefferstone Grange, Cheshire, who survived him; by her he had one son, Philip (born 1700, who took the name of Warburton, was M.P. for Chester from 1742, and died unmarried on 16 August 1760), and eight daughters, three of whom died in infancy. His daughter Esther (born 1694) was mother of Charles Bulkley.

Henry's portrait is in Dr. William's Library, Gordon Square, London, and was engraved by J. Jenkins (1828); the engraving by Vertue is from a pen and ink sketch, taken at a time when he had become very corpulent...

Henry's 'Exposition of the Old and New Testament,' which for practical uses has not been superseded, was begun in November 1704. The first volume was published in 1708, fol.; that and four other volumes, bringing his labours to the end of the gospels, appeared in a uniform edition in 1710, fol. Before his death he completed the Acts for an unpublished sixth volume. After his death the Epistles and Revelation were prepared by thirteen nonconformist divines, whose names are given by John Evans (1767-1827) in the 'Protestant Dissenters' Magazine,' 1797, p. 472, from a memorandum by Isaac Watts. The complete edition of 1811, 4to, 6 vols., edited by George Burder and John Hughes, has additional matter from Henry's manuscripts. Henry's 'Exposition' has often been abridged; the edition of G. Stokes, 1831-5, 6 vols. 8vo, combines with it the stronger Calvinism contained in the notes of Thomas Scott.

Among his other works, excluding sermons, are:
1. 'A Brief Inquiry into...Schism,' &c., 1689.
2. 'Memoirs of...Philip Henry,' &c., 1696.
3. 'A Scripture Catechism,' &c., 1702.
4. 'Family Hymns,' &c., 1702.
5. 'A Plain Catechism,' &c., 1702.
6. 'The Communicant's Companion,' &c., 1704.
7. 'Four Discourses,' &c., 1705.
8. 'A Method for Prayer,' &c., 1710.
9. 'Directions for Daily Communion,' &c., 1712.
10. 'A Short Account of the Life...of Lieutenant Illidge,' &c., 1714.
His 'Works' were collected, 1726, fol; 'Miscellaneous Writings,' 1809, were edited by Samuel Palmer, and re-edited, 1830, by Sir J. B. Williams, with additional sermons from manuscripts.

[Funeral Sermons by Williams, Tong, Bates, and Reynolds, 1714; Tong's Account of the Life, &c., 1716; Palmer's Memoir, prefixed to Miscellaneous Writings; Memoirs, by Sir J. B. Williams, 1828 (valuable for its use of Henry's diaries); Ormerod's Cheshire, 1819, ii. 93 sq.; Lawrence's Descendants of Philip Henry, 1844; Urwick's Nonconformity in Cheshire, 1864, pp. 29 sq., 129 sq.; Nonconformist Register (Heywood's and Dickenson's), 1881, p. 264; Lee's Diaries and Letters of Philip Henry, 1882 ; Jeremy's Presbyterian Fund, 1885, p. 106.]

Copied by Stephen Ross for WholesomeWords.org from Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder, & Co., 1891.
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