Review: Complete Works of Thomas Manton

For each of the past several years, we’ve been blessed with at least one monumental publishing achievement that further exposes contemporary readers to the exegetical and theological gems of the Puritan literary legacy. In 2006, Reformation Heritage Books reprinted the 12-volume Works of Thomas Goodwin. And over the last two years Justin Taylor and Kelly Kapic have blessed us with carefully edited and re-typeset versions of John Owen classics—Overcoming Sin and Temptation (Crossway, 2006) and Communion with the Triune God (Crossway, 2007).

But 2008 will be known for its own monumental achievement, in the reprinting of what I consider to be one of the leading collections of Puritan sermons. Solid Ground Christian Books has printed and is now shipping a new photolithographed, cloth-covered, sewn-bound, edition of the 22-volume, 10,500 page, Complete Works of Thomas Manton. And today I want to tell you about it.

Thomas Who?

Two years ago I compiled a list of most helpful Puritan resources for expositional, theological, and pastoral research. That list placed at #5 a man named Thomas Manton. Some of you were perplexed that I ranked this more obscure Puritan above those of more repute—John Owen, John Flavel, Richard Sibbes, Jeremiah Burroughs, Thomas Brooks, Thomas Goodwin, and Edward Reynolds. Each of these men represent exceptional gifting in the Puritan period; and if you disagree that Manton deserves to be above them, I think we can agree Rev. Manton belongs among them.

Compared to other favorite Puritans, Manton’s bibliography lacks pizzazz. Apart from two commentaries on James and Jude (both of which are excellent), he chose not to write books. Which explains why 20 of 22 volumes are stuffed full of expositions of Scripture. To the core of his life and ministry, Manton was a preacher of God’s Word, an able expositor who walked slowly through large sections of scripture in a very thorough and deliberate fashion. Dr. Joel Beeke writes, “Manton presents us with the best that English Puritans had to offer in careful, solid, warmhearted exposition of the Scriptures.”

The value of Manton’s works is discovered in the value of Manton the expositor.

So what type of preacher is Manton? Where does he rank among the other Puritan preachers? In assessing the value of Manton’s sermons, I find the careful thoughts of 19th century preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon especially insightful. Spurgeon, in his commentary on Psalm 119, speaks fondly about a season of focused reading in Manton’s Works. Here is Spurgeon’s experience:

While commenting upon the one hundred and nineteenth Psalm, I was brought into most intimate communion with Thomas Manton, who has discoursed upon that marvelous portion of Scripture with great fullness and power. I have come to know him so well that I could pick him out from among a thousand divines if he were again to put on his portly form, and display among modern men that countenance wherein was ‘a great mixture of majesty and meekness.’ His works occupy twenty-two volumes in the modern reprint—a mighty mountain of sound theology. They mostly consist of sermons; but what sermons! They are not so sparkling as those of Henry Smith, nor so profound as those of Owen, nor so rhetorical, is those of Howe, nor so pithy as those of Watson, nor so fascinating as those of Brooks; and yet they are second to none of these. For solid, sensible instruction, forcibly delivered, they cannot be surpassed. Manton is not brilliant, but he is always clear; he is not oratorical, but he is powerful; he is not striking, but he is deep. There is not a poor discourse in the whole collection—they are evenly good, constantly excellent. Ministers who do not know Manton need not wonder if they are themselves unknown.

Don’t you love the way Spurgeon slaps ministers around who are unfamiliar with the Puritans? Spurgeon has a great respect for the Puritan preachers, and an appreciation for their consistent value for the Church. Manton is not the most brilliant of the Puritans, but he certainly is one of the most readable—and thereby one of the most valuable—of all the Puritan authors. Manton’s sermons are marked by clarity, doctrinal precision, and simplicity. And that places Manton right along with the very best of them.

Spurgeon understood that Manton was a preacher concerned to connect the deep truths of scripture to common audiences. His preaching was not glamorous in the day, and thereby unstained with the contemporary oratorical decorations and superfluous adornments that would have surely dated his language. Spurgeon loved to recount one story that showcases Manton’s care to preach in a manner suitable to the common Christian.

While Dr. Manton was minister at Covent Garden he was invited to preach before the Lord Mayor and Court of Aldermen, and the Companies of the City, upon a public occasion, at St. Paul’s. The doctor chose a very difficult subject, in which he had an opportunity of displaying his judgment and learning, and appearing to the best advantage. He was heard with the admiration and applause of the more intelligent part of the audience; and was invited to dine with my Lord Mayor, and received public thanks for his performance.

But upon his return in the evening to Covent Garden, a poor man following him, gently plucked him by the sleeve of his gown, and asked him if he were the gentleman who had preached that day before the Lord Mayor. He replied, he was.

“Sir,” says he, “I came with an earnest desire after the word of God, and in hope of getting some good to my soul, but I was greatly disappointed, for I could not understand a great deal of what you said: you were quite above me.”

The doctor replied, with tears in his eyes, “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 by preaching before my Lord Mayor in such a manner again.”

Well Manton did not play the fool and his volumes of sermons testify to Manton’s desire to communicate to and edify the common Christian audience of his day. There is sweet consistency throughout his many sermons, or as Spurgeon puts it, “There is not a poor discourse in the whole collection they are evenly good, constantly excellent.”

But these sermons are slightly different than other collections of sermons I have purchased and read over the years. Unlike Spurgeon’s sermons, Manton is much less wordy, making me think these printed sermons are more likely his sermon manuscripts than edited transcripts (as in the case of Spurgeon). This means Manton’s sermons, by comparison, have a sweet concentration about them. And each sermon is very carefully outlined with use of clear points and subpoints, which make his sermons very easy to follow. Take Manton’s concentrated sermon form and well-outlined structure, multiply this by several sermons per volume, multiply that by 20 volumes, and you get a lifetime of sermon gems to feast the soul.

22-Volume Works

Recently Solid Ground Christian Books has served the Church by reprinting and shipping the entire 22-volume Complete Works of Thomas Manton. Currently the set is available through Reformation Heritage Books for $320.00 (plus a free copy of Meet the Puritans on each set). After some time reading and getting familiar with this new set, I offer my thoughts.

The new Manton set bears an obvious resemblance to the Banner’s edition of John Owen’s Works. Each volume is identical in height and depth, and has the same paper thickness, sewn binding, and photolithographed 19th century typeset. They are also nearly twins in beautiful genuine green cloth covers (Manton being slightly darker). There are two differences. The Manton volumes are not clothed in dust jackets. But on the other hand, the pages in Manton are bleach white, making them clearer and easier to read than the yellow paper of the Owen set.

Here are two detail photos of the set, one a close-up picture of the binding, cover, and paper color and another of the photolithographic text and paper color (click pictures for larger).

And this leads me to my favorite feature of the Manton set.

What determines the usefulness of a prolific Puritan writer? For busy pastors under the time crunch of sermon preparation, or for the common Christian reader looking to be fed devotionally on a specific topic or passage, the answer often boils down to one feature—indexing. Has the Puritan set been carefully indexed for ease-of-use? And there are, in my opinion and experience, no Puritans that have been more exhaustively or carefully indexed than this set of Manton works! The whopping 306 pages(!) of topical and scriptural indices take up most of the final volume in the Manton set, putting at your fingertips all 10,500+ pages of theological, expositional, and pastoral wealth.

There may be no better way to catch a glimpse into the priorities and usefulness of Manton than to peruse this massive index for yourself. So for your convenience I have converted these 306 pages into a single PDF, which you can download by clicking here (30.8MB file). I think by perusing the index you will gain a vision for the topics covered and the usefulness of Manton.

Conclusion

In late October of 1870, J.C. Ryle wrote a foreword to commemorate the first modern printing of Manton’s Works. In it Ryle wrote:

In days like these, I am thankful that the publishers of Manton’s Works have boldly come forward to offer some real literary gold to the reading public. I earnestly trust that they will meet with the success which they deserve. If any recommendation of mine can help them in bringing out the writings of this admirable Puritan in a new form, I give it cheerfully and with all my heart.

Today, I simply echo the recommendations of Spurgeon, Ryle, and Beeke. There are few, if any, Puritan sets that will provide you a more consistent and bountiful source of spiritual food for your soul than The Complete Works of Thomas Manton. And that is why I am so grateful for the Puritan preacher and so indebted to Solid Ground Christian Books for investing the time and money to offer this literary gold once again to the reading public.

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Title: The Complete Works of Thomas Manton
Author: Thomas Manton
Boards: hardcover; green cloth and silver gilding
Pages: 10,500
Volumes: 22
Dust jackets: no
Binding: sewn
Topical index: yes (extensive!; 224 pages)
Scriptural index: yes (extensive!; 80 pages)
Text: Photolithograph of 1870 James Nisbet & Co. edition
Publisher: Solid Ground Christian Books
Year: 2008
Price USD: $1,000.00 / $320.00 at RHB
ISBN: 978-1-59925-159-2

Biography of Thomas Manton (1620-1677)

For the next several days this blog we will be devoted to exploring the life and work of the prolific Puritan Thomas Manton. I will be posting detailed photographs and a review of the Complete Works of Thomas Manton and we will be talking with a man who is preparing to begin work on what appears to be the very first PhD on Manton.

To celebrate this series, our friends at Reformation Heritage Books are offering this special offer: Purchase the Complete Works of Thomas Manton (which they sell for one of the most reasonable prices on-line—$320.00) and they will include a free copy of our 2006 book of the year, Meet the Puritans by Dr. Joel Beeke (minus the dusk jacket). Offer is good only while supplies last.

But before we jump into a review of the set, it’s appropriate for those not familiar with Manton to read the following biography taken directly from the pages of Meet the Puritans:

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Thomas Manton [1620-1677] 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” (Hulse, Who are the Puritans?, p. 93).

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.

When Oliver Cromwell was offered the crown by Parliament in 1657, Manton was chosen, together with John Owen, Joseph Caryl, Philip Nye, and George Gillespie, to pray with the Lord Protector for divine guidance. After Cromwell finally refused the crown, Manton delivered the public blessing at the inauguration of the second protectorate Parliament (Oxford DNB, 36:366).

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. … Manton’s sermons fill twenty of his twenty-two volumes. 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.

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Taken from Meet the Puritans: With a Guide to Modern Reprints by Joel R. Beeke and Randall J. Pederson (RHB, 2006), pp. 429-433. Posted by permission of the publisher, Reformation Heritage Books.

The Law of Kindness by Mary Beeke

tsslogo.jpgToday I have the honor of pointing you to Mary Beeke’s new book, The Law of Kindness: Serving with Heart and Hands (Reformation Heritage: 2007).

My wife and I have enjoyed brief but precious time with the Beeke family and have benefited from Mary’s display of kindness. As the mother of three kids and the wife of a busy seminary president, author, and pastor — Mary’s many duties are fulfilled in a display of selflessness and kindness. She is, in the words of Sinclair Ferguson, “Mrs. Kindness personified.”

Her new book was written to help the reader cultivate kindness. The book covers topics such as understanding kindness and its root (chs. 1-3), learning kindness as a wife, parent, or teacher (Mary was a teacher), and helping children and teens learn kindness (chs. 4-9). Finally, she concludes with chapters on the display of kindness: kind thoughts, kind words, and kindness displayed toward the needy (chs. 10-13).

It’s a book intended for a broad audience, not limited to wives and mothers.

The Kind Husband

The Law of Kindness features a very helpful chapter (ch. 5: “The Kind Husband”) written by Mary’s husband, Dr. Joel Beeke (also an example of kindness). His chapter sets out to help husbands understand and apply Ephesians 5:25-29. Dr. Beeke begins his chapter with a proper awareness of the Cross.

He writes:

We are to show our wives loving-kindness because we are to treat our wives the way Christ treats His bride, the church. This is what Paul is saying in Ephesians 5:25-29. Here are three ways we are to show our wives loving-kindness:

1. Absolutely. Christ gives “Himself” for His bride — His total self (v. 25). He holds nothing back. That is obvious from what He has done (think of Calvary), is doing (think of His constant intercession at the Father’s right hand), and what He will do (think of His Second Coming). We, of course, do not merit salvation for ourselves. But in terms of the consistent, absolute giving of loving-kindness, Christ is our mentor. We, too, are to give ourselves to our wives. That is a call to consistent, absolute loving-kindness.

2. Realistically and purposely. Christ shows kindness to His bride to sanctify her so that He might present her without spot or wrinkle to His Father (vv. 26-27). Christ realizes that His church is far from perfect; she has many spots and wrinkles. She has numerous shortcomings. So we as husbands are to love our wives as if they were perfect, even when we know they are not. Our call and challenge is not to show consistent loving-kindness to a perfect woman but to model Christ in showing consistent loving-kindness to an imperfect wife who has numerous shortcomings. Our purposeful goal must be to influence our wife to good, hoping that our kind love may remove some of the shortcomings, so that our partners may receive freedom to flourish, basking in our kindness.

3. Sacrificially. Christ nourishes and cherishes His bride at His own expense (vv. 28-29). So ought we husbands treat our wives at our own expense with the care that we treat our own bodies. If you have something in your eye, you don’t say to yourself, “I think I’ll take care of that tomorrow.” You give it immediate, tender care. So we ought to treat our wives, sacrificing, at times, our own time and desires. We must care for, protect, nurture, and respect our wives as we would our own bodies.

Are you showing your wife the exemplary loving-kindness of Christ absolutely, realistically, purposely, and sacrificially? “No,” you confess, “that is impossible.” You are wrong, my friend. Yes, you will always fall short of the mark of perfection since you are not Christ, but by Christ’s grace and His Spirit, you can learn to treat your wife with Christlike loving-kindness (pp. 72-73).

The majority of the chapter explains very practical ways that husbands can display loving-kindness towards their wives.

Conclusion

I believe The Law of Kindness is Mary Beeke’s first official book project. Her writing style is very energetic and engaging. She is unafraid to discuss personal issues and offers much practical advice for wives to display kindness towards their husbands and children. Her words in chapter nine challenge children and teens to display kindness, too. And her expressed appreciation for her husband is itself a model of kindness. For example, she concludes the introduction with these words:

“Words fail to express my gratitude to my dear husband, Joe, for his steadfast love and tenacious support of me. He has encouraged me to continue writing about this subject that I love so much, in spite of times when I felt completely unworthy to do so. He has overlooked dust and clutter and has offered to take the family out to eat more times than he probably should have, so I could have time to write. I am deeply grateful to God for this man who lives by the law of kindness” (p. 7).

Whether in wise counsel, practical illustrations, or even in the way they talk about one another in the book, the Beeke family displays the law of kindness. It’s a rich blessing for the church to now have their influence in book form.

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Title: The Law of Kindness: Serving with Heart and Hands
Author: Mary Beeke with one chapter by Joel Beeke
Reading level: 2.0/5.0 > readable and engaging
Boards: paperback
Pages: 247
Volumes: 1
Dust jacket: no
Binding: glue
Paper: white and clean
Topical index: no
Scriptural index: yes
Features: 17-pages of study questions
Text: perfect type
Publisher: Reformation Heritage Books
Year: 2007
Price USD: $ 9.00 from RBH
ISBNs: 9781601780294