The first commentary I ever purchased was Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible. I had no idea who Matthew Henry was (in all honesty, I wasn’t sure if it was a good commentary or not—all I knew was it was cheap), but after I brought it home, I was so thankful I did. It was one of the most helpful commentaries I’ve used and continues to be a go-to resource to this day.
But one thing that using Henry’s commentary has made me realize is that I want to know more about him. So when I learned of Allan Harman’s new book, Matthew Henry – His Life and Influence, I was really excited to read it. When I was finished, though, I was left somewhat wanting. Let me explain.
Harman sets himself up with a tremendous task in this book—to not only offer insights into Henry’s life, but to explain some of the reasons for his enduring influence. And by and large he succeeds in his task, as he provides readers a helpful sketch of Henry’s early years through his death in 1714 (actually going beyond them into an overview of the Puritan period in which he was born).
I was surprised to learn, for example, that he really ought to have died well before he actually did. Henry was sickly from his youth and that continued through his adulthood when he developed diabetes and finally died of a stroke. Although this may be a tad morbid, seeing this side of his life served as a reminder of God’s sovereignty over our days and that until the task to which He has set us is complete, we will remain on this earth.
But most insightful and encouraging is the picture displayed of Henry’s deep love for the people of Chester, where he ministered until 1712. Henry clearly had a shepherd’s heart and wanted to see them grow in Christ. Indeed, even after he left to minister in Hackney, it was evident that his heart was still with his old congregation, as evidenced by his frequent return trips to minister to them. For me, it’s so encouraging to see a picture of a pastor who deeply loves the people to whom he is called to serve. My hope for all readers—particularly pastors—is that they would see this same characteristic in their own lives.
While Harman does a wonderful job in his brief portrait of Henry’s life, there are a couple of things I would have loved to see fleshed out and changed. For example, there are few references to his family life, despite making it known that he had several children. Of his son, Philip Henry Warburton, little is mentioned beyond his becoming a member of Parliament, taking his mother’s maiden name and not holding to his father’s religious views. Perhaps it’s because there is no information available, but it would be fascinating to learn what happened to motivate these events. Did Henry’s zeal for ministry come at the expense of his responsibilities toward his family? Was it simply a matter of pure unbelief?
Because we see so many of us struggle to maintain a healthy family life as the demands of public ministry take their toll, it would have been wonderful to learn from Henry’s example in this area, whether positive or negative. Instead, I was left only wanting to know more.
Harman does become somewhat dry and repetitive, notably when discussing the composition of Henry’s six-volume Exposition. He writes that while Henry completed his work on Acts on April 17, 1714, he “was not spared to write any further, and others took over the task,” basing their work on notes Henry had made, “including almost complete ones on the Epistle to the Romans. Clearly he had also spent considerable effort on the book of Revelation.” While I don’t want to diminish the importance of this fact, I’m not certain that it was necessary to include two additional times in the book.
In virtually identical language.
From a reader’s perspective, it’s unnecessary and borders on annoying. I’m not sure what motivated the editorial decision to include this point three times over the course of the book, but if a future edition is released, I hope the editors will consider revising.
In the end, despite its flaws, Harman’s Matthew Henry – His Life and Influence is a helpful introductory look at this important figure. I trust that readers will benefit from its content and allow it to motivate further study.
Title: Matthew Henry – His Life and Influence
Author: Allan Harman
Publisher: Christian Focus (2012)
A complimentary copy of this book was provided for review purposes by the publisher.