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:
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.
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.