“SUITABLE to everybody; instructive to all”, are the words the renowned Victorian preacher, C.H. Spurgeon, used to describe the massive commentary on Holy Scripture that bears the name of Matthew Henry.
Until retirement brought inevitable down-sizing, my eleven-volume edition of Henry’s celebrated commentary occupied a prominent place, and was frequently consulted. I trust the young man to whom I entrusted the volumes finds the illumination in its pages which I often discovered.
Matthew Henry was born 350 years ago, on 18th October, 1662. That was a fateful year, being, as readers of this column will know, the year in which over 2000 clergymen were ‘ejected’ from their livings because they would not submit to the discipline of the Church of England.
Among those 2,000 non-Conformists was the Rev. Philip Henry, whose son Matthew, was born that October.
Matthew was educated at home, and was competent in Latin and Greek by the age of nine. Unlike our Prime Minister, he would have know what the words ‘Magna Carta’ meant!
For a period he studied law, but found the call to preach irresistible. He was duly ordained, and spent the bulk of his ministry - 25 years - at Trinity Church, Chester, where his remains lie buried.
He was a diligent student, often at his desk at 5am, and from his ready pen came the expositions which formed his commentary. The comments on the books from Romans to Revelation were added by his friends, using his notes and sermon manuscripts.
Henry had a gift for words; common phrases like “creature comforts” and “all this and heaven too” first came from his pen. And in his comments on Genesis, he has given us the finest analysis of married life.
Remarking on the verse which speaks of Eve being taken from Adam’s rib, he observed, “Woman was taken out of man” not out of his head to top him, nor out of his feet to be trampled underfoot; but out of his side to be equal to him, under his arm to be protected, and near his heart to be loved.”
What is there in that for a feminist to object to?
His comments on some other themes are worth noting. On superstition he wrote, “Most people would rather be told their fortune than their faults or their duty”; and on the subject of temptation he opined, “When we are out of the way of our duty, we are in the way of temptation.”
He did not see prayer as a way of twisting God’s arm, rather it is a way in which our wills are brought into line with His. “Prayer is like a boatman’s hook, meant not to draw the shore to the boat, but the boat to the shore”.
On his death bed, Matthew Henry said to a friend, “You have been asked to take note of the sayings of dying men - this is mine; that a life spent in the service of God and communion with Him, is the most pleasant life than one can live in this world”.
Well said, as always, Matthew!