NOTE ON THE LIFE OF THE DR. THOMAS MANTON
K. W. H. Howard
Thomas Manton was an eminent Puritan divine who was born at Laurence Lydiard in Somerset in 1620. His father and both his grandfathers were ministers of the Gospel before him. He was sent to the Free School at Tiverton, and afterwards to Wadham College, Oxford, for his education. He was ‘apprehended of Christ Jesus’ and called to the ministry at an age much earlier
than usual. “I have been in the ministry these ten years”, he says, “and yet not fully completed the thirtieth year of my age;
the Lord forgive my rash intrusion”* But many of his seniors, among them Joseph Hall, then Bishop of Exeter, discerned clear evidences of the Lord’s hand in his early entry upon the sacred office.
His first sermon was preached at Sowton, near Exeter, from the text, ‘Judge not, that ye be not judged’. Matt. 7. 1. He then undertook a weekly lecture at Colyton, Devon, moving to the London area some three years later. His first settled pastorate was the rectory of Stoke Newington, then a Middlesex village lying to the north of London, where he remained for seven years (1643-50). It was here, at a weekday lecture that he preached through the Epistle of James, from which in its published form, the foregoing extract is taken. In the same fashion he expounded the Epistle of Jude. Both of these works, after being out of print for many years, are now again available and they are excellent expositions of these portions of God’s Word.
During his Stoke Newington ministry Manton was often called to preach in London, and occasionally before Parliament. Thus his gifts were made available to a wider circle, and it was little surprise that when another eminent Puritan, Obadiah Sedge-wick, retired through age and infirmity from the rectory of St. Paul’s Church, Covent Garden, Manton was appointed as his successor in 1649/50. Here he had a large and discerning though very mixed congregation. The godly Archbishop of Armagh, James Ussher, was often among his hearers, and said of him, “that he was one of the best preachers in EnglandÂ—a voluminous preacher”Â—not that he was long or tedious, but that he had the facility of compressing the substance of whole volumes of divine truth into a small compass and presenting it to the best spiritual advantage of his hearers.
When Oliver Cromwell became Lord Protector he personally called on Manton to engage in prayer at the inauguration ceremony. Later he was appointed a chaplain to the Protector, and a Trier’, or a member of the committee set up to examine and approve ministers. Something of his calibre is seen in regard to an error of judgment on his part. Being called to preach before the Lord Mayor and Aldermen he chose a difficult and abstruse subject as suitable to an occasion to be attended by so many learned people. After dining with the Lord Mayor he was publicly thanked for his discourse, but on his way home was approached by a poor man who asked if he were the gentleman who had preached before the Lord Mayor that day. He replied that he was. “Sir”, said the poor man, “I came with earnest desires after the word of God, and hopes 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 to preach … in such a manner again”.
Manton took a leading part in the religious events of his times. He was a Presbyterian, and was distinguished for his patience and moderation in many difficult negotiations. His hopes of bringing together episcopal and non-episcopal forms of religion, for which he and others strove at the Savoy Conference of 1661, failed completely. He was offered the deanery of Rochester, but did not accept, and was ejected from his living by the Act of Uniformity of 1662.
As a Nonconformist Manton preached first in his own house. then in the nearby town-house of ‘the good Lord Wharton’; and later still at a meeting house in White Hart Yard, Bridges Street, Covent Garden. He suffered in various ways under the repressive legislation brought against all Nonconformists at that time, spending at least one lengthy period in prison where, like his contemporary Bunyan at Bedford, he preached to his fellow prisoners.
Manton died on October 18th 1677, and was interred in the chancel of the old parish church of Stoke Newington. His funeral sermon was preached by Dr. William Bates from the text, “And so shall we ever be with the Lord”, 1 Thess. 4. 17. Of Manton as a minister. Dr. Bates said, “The doctrines he delivered were pure and uncorrupt. He never misused the pulpit to any private secular advantage … The great end of his ministry was the glory of God, and the salvation of men, so his chief aim was to awaken sinners to a sense of their wretched condition, and point out to them an all-sufficient Saviour…. He possessed fervour and earnestness in preaching,…. when in declining health he could never be dissuaded from his favourite work”. Of Manton as a Christian, Bates went on to say, “His life was answerable to his doctrine. His resolute contempt of the world secured him from being wrought upon by any sordid motives …. His charity was eminent in procuring supplies for others when in low circumstances himself. His conversation in his family was holy, and exemplary. drawing daily instruction from the Scriptures, and fresh motives to duty. He was a man of deep humility, and was greatly affected with a sense of his own frailties and unworthiness”. A little before his death, he expressed his thoughts on this matter to Dr. Bates thus, “If the holy prophets were under strong impressions of fear, upon the extraordinary discovery of the divine presence. how shall we poor creatures appear before that holy and dread majesty? …. It is infinitely terrible to appear before God the Judge of all. without the protection of the blood of sprinkling, that speaks better things than the blood of Abel”.
Dr. Manton’s complete works were last republished in 1870, and included a Memoir by Dr. William Harris and an essay of appreciation by Bishop J. C. Ryle. There are twenty-two volumes of expositions and sermons, including James, Jude, Psalm 119, the Lord’s Prayer, the Temptation of Christ, etc., etc.
Â•Exposition of James; Ch. I. v.l9Â—Be slow to speak.