Henry, Matthew a celebrated English nonconformist divine and commentator, was born at the farmhouse of Broad Oak, Flintshire, the dwelling of his maternal grandfather, Oct. 18, 1662. His parents had retired to that place because his father, Rev. Philip Henry (q.v.), had been ejected from his parish by the Act of Uniformity in 1662. His early education was obtained in the school of Mr. Doolittle at Islingrton. In 1685 he entered Gray's Inn as a student of law: but his religious life had been settled at an early-age, and his bent of mind was towards the ministry. While at Gray's Inn he devoted much of his time to theological studies. In 1686 he returned to Broad Oak, and soon began to preach, by the invitation of his friend, Mr. Illidge, at Nantwich. The fame of his discourses having spread, he was invited to Chester, where he preached in the house of a Mr. Henthorne, a sugar-baker, to a small audience which formed the nucleus of his future congregation. But in 1687 king James granted license to dissenters to preach. Mr. Henry accepted a call to a dissenting congregation in Chester, where he remained twenty-five years. During this period he went through the Bible more than once in expository lectures. In 1712 he accepted the charge of a chapel in Hackney, London. "At the commencement of his ministry, therefore, he began with the first chapter of Genesis in the forenoon, and the first chapter of Matthew in the afternoon. Thus gradually and steadily grew his 'Exposition' of the Bible. A large portion of it consists of his public lectures, while many of the quaint sayings and pithy remarks with which it abounds, and which give so great a charm of raciness to its pages, were the familiar extempore observations of his father at family worship, and noted down by Matthew in his boyhood." He suffered much from the stone in his later years, but his labors continued unabated. It was his habit to make a visit to Chester once a year. In 1714 he set out on this journey, May 31.
On his return he was taken ill with paralysis at Nantwich, where he said to his friend, Mr. Illidge, "You have been used to take notice 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 that any one can live in this world." He died June 22, 1714. Mr. Henry was a faithful pastor, a discriminating preacher, and a laborious, versatile, and original author. "Although his publications furnish much less to afford gratification, in a literary point of view, than do the works of many who are justly designated 'fine writers,' they possess a vigor which, without the least endeavor to attract, awakens and sustains the attention in an uncommon degree. In a single sentence he often pours upon Scripture a flood of light: and the palpableness he gives to the wonders contained in God's law occasions excitement not unlike that which is produced by looking through a microscope. The feelings, too, which his subject had called forth in himself he communicates admirably to others. In his whole manner-the same at nine years old as at fifty-there is a freshness and vivacity which instantly put the spirits into free and agile motion — an effect somewhat similar to that play of intellectual sprightliness which some minds (obviously the greatest only) have the indescribable faculty of creating. But the crowning excellency remains; nothing is introduced in the shape of counteraction. There are no speeches which make his sincerity questionable; no absurdities to force suspicion as to accuracy in theological knowledge, or inattention to the analogy of faith; no staggering, and untoward, and unmanageable inconsistencies; nothing by which 'the most sacred cause can be injured;' or the highest interests of men placed in jeopardy; or which can render it imperative, exactly in proportion as the understanding is influenced, to repress or extinguish the sentiments, 'in order to listen with complacency to the Lord Jesus and his apostles"'(Foster, Essays, p. 440). His most important work is An Exposition of the Old and New Testament (many editions; best, London, 1849, 6 vols. 4to; New York, 6 vols. imp. 8vo). It was completed by Henry up to Acts; the rest was framed on his MSS. by a number of ministers. It is a popular rather than a scientific commentary, abounding in practical wisdom; and it has been more widely circulated than any work of the kind, except, perhaps, Clarke's Commentary. He also published a Life of Philip Henry, and a number of sermons and practical writings, which may be found in his Miscellaneous Works, edited by J. B. Williams (Lond. 1830, imp. 8vo; N.Y. 1850, 2 vols. 8vo). See Williams, Life and Writings of M. Henry (prefixed to his Miscel. Works); Tong, Life of M. Henry (1716, 8vo; also reprinted with the
Exposition); Allibone, Dictionary of Authors, 1, 824; Literary and Theological Review, 1, 281; Kitto's Journal of Sacred Lit. 2, 222; Bogue and Bennett, History of the Dissenters, 1, 493.