Thomas Manton: The Observed Divine

Thomas Manton (1620-1677) was born in Somerset England in 1620 and was baptized on March 31 of that same year. J.C. Ryle, writing a brief memoir of Manton (found in volume 2 of Manton’s Works) noted that Manton was “a man who could neither say, nor do, nor write anything without being observed.” Observation is a very good thing. Children learn by observation. Observation draws us closer into understanding our world, our vocations, and even ourselves. (Thus, Paul often calls upon the churches to follow and imitate him: Philippians 3:17; 4:9; 2 Timothy 1:13.)

We too must observe Thomas Manton. We observe, within Manton, a keen mind, self-knowledge, self-examination, and humility.

Background & Ordination

Both Manton’s father and grandfather were ministers of the gospel. Thomas would follow their footsteps at a young age, entering university for theological studies at age 15. Erroll Hulse comments that He was endued with much natural ability and was ready for university at the early age of fourteen, but his parents kept him at home for a further year before he entered…Oxford  (Hulse, Who Are the Puritans?, 92).”

Manton was ordained at age 20 by Bishop Hall, although he would later address that his ordination was “premature” and in his Sermons on the Epistle of James he tearfully admitted that this was a “rash intrusion” on the church.

Character and Personality

At Manton’s funeral in 1677, it was stated that he had “more virtues and fewer failings” than others, and none were “more remarkable for general knowledge, fearless integrity, great candor and wisdom, sound judgment, and natural eloquence, copious invention, and incredible industry, zeal for the glory of God, and good-will to men.” He was said to have a “clear and unspotted reputation” among “all parties of men (Memoirs and Life, xxxii).”

Often, funerals over-eulogize, which is, in part, why Puritans did not promote them, yet with Manton much of what was claimed about him is evidenced in his ministry and service to the kingdom of God.

As a friend of Christopher Love (the martyred London Covenanter), Manton stood by his side at the gallows, demonstrating the faithfulness of Christ to him: encouraging Love as he entered into glory. He would then preach a midnight sermon—a funeral sermon—for Love, defiantly proclaiming Christ as guards threatened to shoot him. 

Invited to preach before the mayor of Covent Garden, along with the Court of Aldermen and the Companies of the City, Manton “chose some difficult subject” and displayed his learning in a way that impressed the mayor and Aldermen. Later that day, a poor man from the city that heard his preaching said that he had “come with earnest desires after the Word of God and hopes of getting some good” for his soul, but was “greatly disappointed” because Manton purposefully put himself “quite above” him. Tearfully, Manton replied that although he did not give this man a sermon, yet, “You have given me one (Works of Manton, 1.xiv).”

Manton sought to avoid conflict and “was no fomenter of faction, but studious of the public tranquility; he knew what a blessing peace is, and wisely foresaw the pernicious consequences which attend division.” It was said that he would “not throw himself into troubles nor avoid them.” Manton was also “deeply affected with the sense of his frailty and unworthiness (Works of Manton, 1.xxiii).”

Most of his work was “in a plain way, as best suiting with sermon-work, to assert and prove the truth by Scripture, testimony, and argument” rather than what is polemical and controversial.

In this, we observe a shepherd’s heart, holy boldness, a man given to correction, and a balanced character consistent with a servant of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Books and Study Habits

Like any Presbyterian minister, Manton was a man of many books. When asked by the Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell to serve as one of his chaplains, Manton was hesitant. Cromwell led him into his own personal library and told him to pray it over for a half an hour. Retiring from Cromwell’s study, Manton said heemployed that time in looking over his books” which  “was a noble collection.” (Manton’s Works, 1.xii)

Manton’s own library was described as a “fine collection of books” and at his death, booksellers offered top dollar in their seeking of procurement (one bookseller offered the equivalent of $18,000 for his Paris edition of the Church Councils, which was 30 folio volumes) (Works of Manton,

Manton loved the study of God’s Word and devoured church history, theology from all ages—from the Fathers to the Schoolmen to the Reformers. It was said that “he had digested the best critics and commentators” of the Scriptures. As a minister, he loved his study and the opportunity to open God’s Word. Occasionally his wife, “Mrs. Morgan”, the daughter of a respectable family, would find him awake at night by candle light writing down thoughts that came to him during his sleep (Works of Manton,

A man of “excellent judgment and strong memory” was Manton (Works of Manton, 1.xxxii). He was a man of diligence in the study and fire in the pulpit.

In this, we observe a man of vocation, a man of conviction, and industry in God’s Word.

Congregations and the Great Ejection

Several congregations were served by Thomas Manton over the years. It was already stated that he was ordained in Exeter under Bishop Hall. Later he would serve for three years in Devon. Following that charge he would pastor another seven years in London. His final pastoral duty was in Covent Gardens, where Obadiah Sedgwick was previously the minister. Manton would serve there until his death in 1677.

Between these successful ministries, Manton also participated in the Westminster assembly, serving as one of the clerks as well as providing one of its two introductory letters, “Mr. Thomas Manton’s Epistle to the Reader.” Decades later, Manton would be one of the 2000 ministers ejected from his pulpit in 1662, preaching Hebrews 12:1 as his final sermon: “Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us…” 

Manton would preach in his house following the ejection and preach in the fields as necessary; at one time going to jail for preaching without a license. Speaking of his ministry, Dr. Bates, while preaching Manton’s funeral, said,

 “…[his] discourses were so clear and convincing, that none, without offering violence to conscience, could resist their evidence; and from hence they were effectual, not only to inspire a sudden flame, and a raise a short commotion in the affections, but to make a lasting change in the life. His doctrine was uncorrupt and pure; the truth according to godliness (Works of Bates, 771).”

In this we observe a churchman, a minister of the gospel; instant in season and out of season.

*  *  *

In Puritan style, Manton once preached 48 sermons on Romans 8, which were published posthumously in 1684. The preface includes this observation:

“In all his writings one finds a quick and fertile invention governed with solid judgment; and the issues of both expressed in a grave and decent style. He had the heart full of love and zeal for God and his glory; and out of the abundance of his mouth continually spake…He is one of those authors upon the credit of whose name is not only private and less intelligent people, but even scholars, may venture to buy any book which was his (Manton’s Works 1.xxviii).”

And so we begin a new Meet the Puritans series, observing Thomas Manton through his Romans 8 sermons, which will lead us into the deep, sweet waters of theoretic, systematic, and practical divinity. And in observing this man, we will behold the glory of his God

It was said that Manton was “like a fruitful tree, which produces in the branches what it contains in the root. His inward grace was made visible… (Works of Manton, 1.xxii).” Let us enjoy the fruit of his labors.

Nathan Eshelman is the pastor of the Orlando Reformed Presbyterian Church (RPCNA). He studied for ministry at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary and the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary. Nathan co-hosts The Jerusalem Chamber” podcast, a paragraph by paragraph exposition of the Westminster Confession of Faith; writes for Gentle Reformation; and has a forthcoming book on the Westminster Confession of Faith through Crown and Covenant Publications. Nathan is married to Lydia and has five children and is an avid book collector and antique aficionado.

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Nathan Eshelman