THE WORKS OF THOMAS MANTON
Thomas Manton (1620–1677)
Thomas Manton was baptized on March 31, 1620 at Lydeard St. Lawrence, Somerset, where his father, Thomas Manton, was probably curate. The young Thomas was educated at the free school in Tiverton, Devon, then, at the age of sixteen, went to study at Wadham College, Oxford. He graduated from Oxford with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1639, a Bachelor of Divinity degree in 1654, and a Doctorate of Divinity degree in 1660.
Manton was ordained in 1640 to the diaconate at age twenty by Joseph Hall, and served for three years as lecturer at the parish church of Sowton, near Exeter, Devonshire, where he married Mary Morgan of Sidbury, Devonshire, in 1643. Through the patronage of Colonel Popham, he obtained the living of St. Mary’s, Stoke Newington, London, where his pastorate became a model of consistent, rigorous Calvinism. He soon became a leading Presbyterian in London, and used his influence to encourage ministers to establish Presbyterian church government and to promote public tranquility in troubled times. He was appointed one of three clerks at the Westminster Assembly and preached many times before Parliament during the Commonwealth.
Once, after Manton chose a difficult text to preach before the Lord Mayor, a needy believer rebuked him, complaining that he came for spiritual food but had been disappointed. Manton replied, “Friend, if I did not give you a sermon, you have given me one; and by the grace of God, I will never play the fool to preach before my Lord Mayor in such a manner again.”
Manton provided spiritual counsel to Christopher Love prior to his execution for insurrection in 1652, and was with Love when he was beheaded. Despite threats of being shot by soldiers from the army who were present that evening, Manton preached a funeral message to a large midnight audience at Love’s parish of St. Lawrence Jewry.
Despite his strong disapproval of the king’s execution, Manton retained the favor of Cromwell and his Parliament. In the mid 1650s, he served several important commissions, including being a commissioner for the approbation of public preachers, or “triers.” He served with Edmund Calamy, Stephen Marshall, and other Presbyterians in holding talks of accommodation with Congregationalists such as Joseph Caryl and Sidrach Simpson. He served on a committee to help resolve the division in the Church of Scotland between the Resolutioners and the Remonstranters. Then, too, he served on a committee with Thomas Goodwin, John Owen, Henry Jessey, and Richard Baxter for composing articles on the “fundamentals of religion” essential for subscription to the protectorate church.
In 1656, Manton was chosen as lecturer at Westminster Abbey and became rector of St. Paul’s, Covent Garden, London as Obadiah Sedgwick’s successor. Manton desired to establish Presbyterian discipline at St. Paul’s, but was prevented from doing so by his assistant, Abraham Pinchbecke, and his parishioners. He accepted this graciously, and was ever the gentleman, showing charity to all, including ministers of other persuasions.
After the failure of Richard Cromwell’s protectorate, Manton favored the Restoration of Charles II. He accompanied Charles at Breda and swore an oath of loyalty to the King. Manton was appointed one of twelve chaplains to King Charles II, though he never performed the duties or received the benefits of this office. All the while, Manton remained firmly Presbyterian in his convictions, and warned against the restoration of episcopacy and the Anglican liturgy.
After Manton was ejected from the Church of England pulpits for Nonconformity in 1662, he preached at his house in King Street, Covent Garden, and other private places. Attendance kept increasing until he was arrested in 1670 and imprisoned for six months. When the Declaration of Indulgence was granted in 1672, Manton was licensed as a Presbyterian at his home in Covent Gardne. He also became lecturer for London merchants in Pinner’s Hall and preacher at the revival of the Presbyterian morning exercises.
When the King’s indulgence was annulled in 1675, Manton’s congregation was torn apart. He continued to preach to his aristocratic followers at Covent Garden, however, until his death in 1677. William Bates preached at Manton’s funeral.
Manton was remembered at his funeral as “the king of preachers.” Bates said that he never heard him deliver a poor sermon and commended his ability to “represent the inseparable connection between Christian duties and privileges.” Archbishop James Ussher described Manton as “a voluminous preacher” and “one of the best in England.” That is certainly evident from Manton’s many writings, most of which are sermons. The pastoral and doctrinal observations he derives from a single Bible chapter offer an education on how to use a text. At all times, Manton provides sound exegesis, searching applications, and wise spiritual guidance.
Manton’s sermons fill twenty of his twenty-two volumes, almost 10,000 of 10,500 pages! They are the legacy of a preacher devoted to the systematic teaching and application of God’s Word. Manton presents us with the best that English Puritans had to offer in careful, solid, warmhearted exposition of the Scriptures.
Manton’s Complete Works includes expositions of the Lord’s Prayer, Isaiah 53, James, and Jude—the latter two of which are some of the best expositions ever written and have often been reprinted. J.C. Ryle said of Manton’s work on James, “Every verse and every sentence [of James is] explained, expounded and enforced, plainly, clearly and usefully and far more fully than in most commentaries.”
Several of Manton’s books are particularly noteworthy. In his Exposition of John 17, Manton explains the fruits and benefits of Christ’s intercession for believers. He shows how this intercession secures the justification and pardon of believers’ sins, moves God to accept their persons and their works, and encourages them to come to the throne of grace with Manton’s Temptation of Christ consists of a number of discourses originally prepared as sermon outlines. Manton looks at the temptation of Christ in the wilderness, then shows the origin and purpose of temptation. He examines how Jesus can be God and yet be tempted, and demonstrates how temptation exists for our good and God’s glory. He also explains how to combat temptation, describing the roles angels and we ourselves play in overcoming temptation. The relevance of the subject and the gift of the author for explaining it and applying it make it most useful for today’s Christian.
In A Treatise of Self-Denial, Manton shows that the duty of self-denial is applicable to everyone, whatever their age or condition. He expounds seven means of self-denial and describes various kinds of self-denial toward God, our neighbor, and ourselves. Manton stresses that self-denial involves the “whole self,” including all that a man is, has, and does—not just some prohibitions. Following Christ means obeying Him as Lord, which means that we must deny our wills when they would encroach upon the Lord’s prerogative to rule our lives. This practical treatise provides sound advice for carrying out the work of self-denial as well as signs by which believers may examine whether or not they are exercising this essential grace.
The Complete Works of Manton also has a number of sermons preached on public occasions, including those preached before Parliament. A memoir on Manton by William Harris is in the preface to the first volume. An essay on Manton by J.C. Ryle is in the preface to the second.
We are grateful to Solid Ground Christian Books for bringing Manton’s Complete Works back into print. Purchase your own set and drink deeply from the wells of salvation. Your soul will benefit greatly.
February, 2008 Joel R. Beeke