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my early influences

I've always been interested in religion. The mystery of it, the passion which people subscribe to various religions, the horrific deeds done in the name of religion, the movies made about it, the beliefs people develop, and much more. I began studying a variety of biblical texts when I was very young. Part of this interest, I think, was due to learning about my seventh great grandfather Matthew Henry.

Matthew Henry was a non-conformist minister and commentator. He was born on October 18, 1662 in Broad Oak, Chapelry of Iscoyd, Flintshire, Wales. His father was also a minster (the Rev. Philip Henry born August 24, 1631 in Whitehall, England - died June 24, 1696 in Broad Oak, Flintshire). Philip Henry was married to Katherine née Matthews (born March 25, 1629 in Bronington, Flintshire - died May 25, 1707 in Broad Oak, Flintshire). Matthew Henry was educated in his parent's home and at the academy of Thomas Doolittle, Islington, which he attended 1680-82. He studied law at Gray's Inn, in May, 1685; however, he was unsatisfied in this pursuit. He wrote a letter to his father stating, "The more I see of the world and the various affairs of the children of men in it, the more I see of the vanity of it, and the more I would fain have my heart taken off from it, and fixed upon the invisible realities of the other world." He was destined to enter the ministry, and spent much time studying theology.

After barely a year he abandoned his legal studies and in 1686, he returned to Broad Oak where a friend named George Illidge prevailed upon him to preach at local meetings. Typically Henry prepared himself with great thoroughness, and his zeal for the work of the gospel was so evident that he quickly began to receive invitations to preach in towns such as Chester and Nantwich. Henry knew without a doubt that this was the work God had been preparing him for.

Henry was ordained in private in London after the declaration of liberty of conscience by James II in 1687. Then, he began a ministry as a pastor of a Presbyterian congregation at Chester on June 2, 1687. He married his first wife Katherine née Hardware oin July 19, 1687 in Bromborough (Tarvin), Cheshire, England, but she died in child-birth on February 14, 1689 after only two years of marriage. Although he remarried on July 8, 1690, he and his second wife, Mary née Warburton , lost three children in infancy in the following seven years. Henry refused to blame God for these losses, for he accepted that, "the Lord is righteous, He takes and gives, and gives and takes again." Nor did he allow his sorrows to hinder his work since he believed, "weeping must not prevent sowing," and so he went on with perseverance and assurance.

In 1712, after twenty-five years in the ministry at Chester, Henry accepted a call to a dissenting Chapel at Hackney in London. He had never anticipated leaving Chester, but he trusted God's purposes in leading him to London and faithfully obeyed. His preaching was blessed with much fruit and he made preparations to complete his "Commentary" having reached Acts by 1714. Henry often returned to Chester to conduct services amongst his former congregation - and in June 1714, while honouring a promise to preach at Chester and Nantwich, he was taken ill. As he rode back to London the next day, he fell from his horse at Tarporley and was taken to the house of a neighbouring minister (Joseph Mottershead) where he died the following day - June 22, 1714.

One of his most significant accomplishments was the writing of a commentary on the whole Bible, An Exposition of the Old and New Testaments (5 vols., London, 1708-10; afterward enlarged and often reprinted; new ed., 5 vols., New York, 1896). Henry died after completing this commentary as far as the Acts. However, other non-conformist ministers used Henry's manuscripts to complete the Epistles and Revelation. Matthew Henry's commentary is viewed as the best English commentary for devotional purposes. Henry employs much practical suggestion and rich stores of truths, holding your attention by their sparkle and precision. Robert Hall, Whitefield, and Spurgeon all used Henry's work, and commended it heartily. Whitefield read it through four times, the last time on his knees; and Spurgeon says (Commenting and Commentaries, p. 3): " Every minister ought to read it entirely and carefully through once at least."

Other works by Henry are Memoirs of...Philip Henry (1696); A Scripture Catechism (1702); A Plain Catechism (1702); The Communicant's Companion (1704); A Method for Prayer (1710); and numerous sermons, which are included in his Miscellaneous Works (1809; ed. Sir J. B. Williams, 1830; also 2 vols., New York, 1855, containing funeral sermons by Daniel Williams, John Reynolds, and William Tong).

Henry's commentary is significantly larger than the Bible. Just to give you an example of what I mean, I copied the text from Genesis 1:1 and 1:2 into Microsoft Word and then followed this with Matthew Henry's commentary. Then, I used Microsoft Word to count the words and characters.

Source Word Count Character Count

From the Bible Gen 1:1-2



Matthew Henry's Comments on Gen 1:1-2




You can see from this example just how much larger his commentary is than the Biblical text itself. All of the other chapters and verses have similar ratios of writing associated with them.

He explains things, leaves you with questions, and provides references to other sections in the Bible. My 7th Great Grandfather is a big part of what inspired me to pursue my studies and become a minister with the United Christian Faith Ministries.

I've made a web page that has a copy of the preface he wrote to his commentary. Even though it was written in 1706, Matthew Henry's commentary is probably the most important and valuable commentary of the Bible in the world today. My parents have a copy of this commentary bound in leather. I've looked through it often as a child and as an adult. I found a web page that has the whole commentary available at http://www.ccel.org/h/henry/mhc2/MHC00000.HTM I don't use this webpage myself, however. I discovered a piece of software called E-Sword which (when you download the appropriate modules) allows you to have several versions of the bible and many commentaries displayed simultaneously so that they may be compared. It also allows you to download several of the most famous Biblical dictionaries as well as many graphics of ancient plates and maps. It is the most amazing piece of software I've found for studying the Bible.

When my parents were on a trip to the UK a few years ago, they took a photograph of the great grandson (my 4th great grandfather).

Definitions of Religion
  • n] a strong belief in a supernatural power or powers that control human destiny; "he lost his faith but not his morality"
  • [n] institution to express belief in a divine power; "he was raised in the Baptist religion"; "a member of his own faith contradicted him"
Websters 1913 Dictionary

\Re*li"gion\ (r[-e]*l[i^]j"[u^]n), n. [F., from L. religio; cf. religens pious, revering the gods, Gr. 'ale`gein to heed, have a care. Cf. {Neglect}.]

1. The outward act or form by which men indicate their recognition of the existence of a god or of gods having power over their destiny, to whom obedience, service, and honor are due; the feeling or expression of human love, fear, or awe of some superhuman and overruling power, whether by profession of belief, by observance of rites and ceremonies, or by the conduct of life; a system of faith and worship; a manifestation of piety; as, ethical religions; monotheistic religions; natural religion; revealed religion; the religion of the Jews; the religion of idol worshipers.

  • An orderly life so far as others are able to observe us is now and then produced by prudential motives or by dint of habit; but without seriousness there can be no religious principle at the bottom, no course of conduct from religious motives; in a word, there can be no religion. --Paley.
  • Religion [was] not, as too often now, used as equivalent for godliness; but . . . it expressed the outer form and embodiment which the inward spirit of a true or a false devotion assumed. --Trench.
  • Religions, by which are meant the modes of divine worship proper to different tribes, nations, or communities, and based on the belief held in common by the members of them severally. . . . There is no living religion without something like a doctrine. On the other hand, a doctrine, however elaborate, does not constitute a religion. --C. P. Tiele (Encyc. Brit.).
  • Religion . . . means the conscious relation between man and God, and the expression of that relation in human conduct. --J. K["o]stlin (Schaff-Herzog Encyc.)
  • After the most straitest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee. --Acts xxvi. 5.
  • The image of a brute, adorned With gay religions full of pomp and gold. --Milton.

2. Specifically, conformity in faith and life to the precepts inculcated in the Bible, respecting the conduct of life and duty toward God and man; the Christian faith and practice.

  • Let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. --Washington.
  • Religion will attend you . . . as a pleasant and useful companion in every proper place, and every temperate occupation of life. --Buckminster.

3. (R. C. Ch.) A monastic or religious order subject to a regulated mode of life; the religious state; as, to enter religion. --Trench.

  • A good man was there of religion. --Chaucer.

4. Strictness of fidelity in conforming to any practice, as if it were an enjoined rule of conduct. [R.]

  • Those parts of pleading which in ancient times might perhaps be material, but at this time are become only mere styles and forms, are still continued with much religion. --Sir M. Hale.

Note: Religion, as distinguished from theology, is subjective, designating the feelings and acts of men which relate to God; while theology is objective, and denotes those ideas which man entertains respecting the God whom he worships, especially his systematized views of God. As distinguished from morality, religion denotes the influences and motives to human duty which are found in the character and will of God, while morality describes the duties to man, to which true religion always influences. As distinguished from piety, religion is a high sense of moral obligation and spirit of reverence or worship which affect the heart of man with respect to the Deity, while piety, which first expressed the feelings of a child toward a parent, is used for that filial sentiment of veneration and love which we owe to the Father of all. As distinguished from sanctity, religion is the means by which sanctity is achieved, sanctity denoting primarily that purity of heart and life which results from habitual communion with God, and a sense of his continual presence.

{Natural religion}, a religion based upon the evidences of a God and his qualities, which is supplied by natural phenomena. See {Natural theology}, under {Natural}.

{Religion of humanity}, a name sometimes given to a religion founded upon positivism as a philosophical basis. {Revealed religion}, that which is based upon direct communication of God's will to mankind; especially, the Christian religion, based on the revelations recorded in the Old and New Testaments.


  • Faith, faith, religious belief
United Christian Faith Ministries
Christian Beliefs The statement of Christian beliefs of the UCFM
Some Frequently asked question in the areas of General Questions, Doctrinal Issues, and Bible Issues

Subpages (2): Commentary Preface
Tony Ferguson,
2 May 2011, 17:10