Thomas Manton. The Works of Thomas Manton: Volumes 1-3. Carlisle, Pennsylvania: Banner of Truth Trust, reprinted 1993. 500 pp. per volume. $69.00.
In 1662, the Church of England ejected two-thousand pastors for failure to accept the Act of Uniformity. These men lost pulpits, living, and homes. Many became fugitives for preaching and pastoring illegally. This company of pastors is known as the Puritans today – a term, which now a badge of honor, then served as an insult. Dr. Thomas Manton is among these men.
Thomas Manton studied at Oxford’s Wadham College. William Harris’s memoir on Manton says: “He applied himself to divinity, which was the work his heart was chiefly set upon, and which he designed to make the business of his life” (vii, vol. 1).
His preaching ministry began at Culliton in Devonshire. His ministry took him to Newington, in Middlesex, near London, where he served seven years, during which he married. Manton preached through James in Newington; this exposition is widely recognized as a fine example of Puritan exposition. After Newington Manton replaced Obadiah Sedgwick at Covent Gardens. There he preached until the Act of Uniformity passed and he, along with many others, was ejected. Though Manton preached through many texts – altogether a collection of twenty-two volumes – his most celebrated ones, besides the James exposition, include three volumes on Psalm 119 and an impressive study of Hebrews 11.
He is likely most remembered for preaching the funeral sermon of Christopher Love, whom parliament beheaded; this he did under threat of being shot by soldiers. Other memorable moments, that speak to his influence, include leading a prayer at the ceremony where Cromwell was appointed to the Protectorship, preaching before the Lord Mayor and Court of Aldermen, and his instrumental role in restoring King Charles II. Impressively, his farewell sermon appears second in the collection of farewell sermons printed after the Great Ejection of 1662.
Manton was arrested, as were many of his peers, and confined to the Gatehouse. He found favor from Lady Broughton, the keeper of the prison, who entrusted the prison keys to him most evenings, a testimony to his integrity.
Banner of Truth has reprinted the first three volumes of his writings. These three volumes include his expositions on the Lord’s prayer, the temptation and transfiguration of Christ, sermons on Colossians 1:14-20, 2 Thessalonians 2, Isaiah 53, and other texts. Notably, I enjoyed reading his farewell sermon and funeral sermon for Christopher Love, both found in volume two.
Benefit for Pastoral Ministry
I lean heavily upon the words of J. C. Ryle as testimony to the merit of Manton’s works. During the past few weeks I have selected a handful of Manton’s sermons to read. Each manuscript is approximately ten pages in length. In reference to these manuscripts, Ryle says, “The value of these expository sermons, in my judgment, is very great indeed,” and, “I hold it to be a prime excellence of Manton’s expository sermons that, while they are very full, they are never too long” (xviii, vol. 2).
In my reading, I found Manton to be simple and straightforward. He is not as flowery as other Puritans such as Sibbes or Flavel. Rather, he is direct; he sticks closely to the text. Tantamount to his careful exposition is doctrinal solidarity.
The writings of Thomas Manton are representative of the solid exegesis, doctrinal faithfulness, and clarity found in Puritan writings. The majority of his collected works are unedited manuscripts of sermons, collected and published after his death. Yet, in my reading, I did not find one proof error, which is a testimony to Manton’s meticulous pen.
J.C. Ryle sums up Manton’s preaching in this way:
Manton’s chief excellence as a writer, in my judgment, consists in the ease, perspicuousness, and clearness of his style. He see his subject clearly, expresses himself clearly, and seldom fails in making you see clearly what he means. He has a happy faculty of simplying the point he handles. (xv, vol. 2)
Yet, Manton’s writing is not droll, nor without arresting moments. He cleverly plays with similar ideas. For instance, in his Farewell Sermon, he remarks on Hebrews 12:1, “It is better to encroach upon the world than the world should encroach upon godliness” (417, vol. 2). And in his second sermon in the Colossians 1:14-20 series on Redemption by Christ, he is not just playful but forceful in communicating bible doctrine. “God cannot make a creature equal to himself, nor beget a son unequal to himself” (427, vol. 1). These simple, yet, profound assertions populate his sermons.
Yes, reading writings from the 17th century will at times be tedious. It hearkens to that Elizabethan English you dreaded from Shakespeare in high school. Nonetheless, patient and unhurried reading of works like Manton’s will undoubtedly massage sweet truth regarding our Savior into your heart; they will in turn spring forth from your lips and profit the pulpit ministry with which you’ve been blessed to steward.
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The Works of Thomas Manton is a portfolio of clear, simple, and profound exposition.