Extended Biography of Thomas Manton.
REV. THOMAS MANTON, D.D. This truly excellent divine was born at Lawrence-Lydiat, Somersetshire, in 1620. His father, who was minister of Whimpole, after Thomas had made some considerable progress in his studies at the free school at Tiverton, placed him, when but fifteen years of age, at Wadham College, Oxford. From thence, in 1639, he was translated to Hart Hall, and took the degree of A.B. Before he was twenty he was ordained by the celebrated Bishop Hall, who at the time expressed his opinion, that he would be an extraordinary person. He entered on the ministry when the King and Parliament were in open hostility, and was confined to Exeter, when it was besieged by the king's forces. At Sowton near that city, he preached his first sermon from Matthew 7:1. About the year 1643, he was settled at Stoke Newington, to which living he was presented by the Hon. Colonel Popham, in whom he had a kind patron, and whose pious lady also highly esteemed him. He continued seven years at Newington, and there in his course of weekly lectures he went through his exposition of James and Jude, which he published. Being an excellent preacher, he was frequently invited to preach before the Parliament, and on other public occasions. A discourse on Deuteronomy 33:4, 5, which he delivered just after he had given his testimony against the death of Charles I, gave great offence, and some in the house talked of sending him to prison, but they refrained. About 1650, he succeeded the Rev. Obadiah Sedgwick as rector of Covent Garden. He was presented to this living by the Earl, afterwards Duke, of Bedford, who always very highly esteemed him. In 1651, Mr. Christopher Love, having been convicted of carrying on a secret correspondence with Charles II, was sentenced to be beheaded on Tower-hill. Mr. Manton, who highly respected him, attended him to the scaffold, and resolved to preach his funeral sermon. At this the government expressed some displeasure, and the soldiers threatened to shoot him. He, however, was not to be terrified, but preached at Mr. Love's church in St. Lawrence Jewry, to a numerous congregation, and afterwards printed the sermon. When Cromwell attained the protectorship, in 1653, he sent for him to Whitehall, on the morning of his instalment, and desired him to pray on the occasion. Mr. Manton requested to be excused, particularly urging the shortness of the notice, but Oliver replied, that such a man as he could not be at a loss to perform the service, and put him into his study for half an hour to premeditate. About the same time he became one of Cromwell's chaplains; he was nominated by Parliament on a committee of divines, to draw up a scheme of fundamentals, and on another committee, for examining and approving of ministers. In 1658, he assisted at the inauguration of Richard Cromwell to the protectorship, and in the following year was curator of the press, with Dr. Reynolds and Mr. Calamy. Dr. Harris relates the following anecdote of him: “Being called to preach before the Lord Mayor and Court of Aldermen at St. Paul's, he chose a subject in which he might display his learning. He received thanks for his performance. But as he was returning a poor man gently pulled the sleeve of his gown, and asked if he was not the gentleman who preached before the Lord Mayor. He replied, he was. ‘Sir,’ said the man, ‘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, ‘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.’” In 1660, Mr. Manton was very instrumental, with many other Presbyterian divines, in the restoration of Charles II. He was one of the ministers appointed to wait upon the King at Breda; and was afterwards sworn one of his Majesty's chaplains, though he never preached at Court. He was also, by the King's mandate, created doctor of divinity at Oxford; and soon after was offered the deanery of Rochester, which, on finding how things were going at Court, he refused. In 1661, he was one of the Commissioners at the Savoy conference, where he used his utmost endeavors for a reconciliation, but without success. After his ejectment on Aug. 24, 1662, he preached on the Lord's Day evenings in his own house; and also on Wednesday mornings, when the violence of the times would permit. In 1670, he was apprehended on a Sabbath afternoon just as he had concluded his sermon, and in a few days after was committed to prison, where he continued six months; but received very gentle usage. After his release he preached in a large room in White Hart-yard, where on a Lord's Day morning a band came to seize him, but he escaped their fury. The place was lined forty pounds, and the minister twenty, which Lord Wharton, who was present, paid. In 1672, the merchants and other citizens of London, set up lectures on Tuesday morning, at Pinners' Hall; when Dr. Manton was one of the first six chosen, and opened the lecture.
When his health began to fail, he spent some time at Woburn with Lord Wharton, but finding little benefit by it, he returned to town. The day before he took his bed, he was in his study, of which he took a solemn leave with hands and eyes lift up to heaven, blessing God for the many comfortable and serious hours he had spent there, and waiting in joyful hope of a state of clearer knowledge, and higher enjoyments of God. At night he prayed with his family under great indisposition, and recommended himself to God's wise disposal; desiring, “If he had no further work for him to do in this world, he would take him to himself.” He died October 18, 1677, in the fifty-seventh year of his age, and lies interred in the chancel of the church at Stoke Newington. He was of a middle stature, and of a fair and fresh complexion, with a great mixture of majesty and sweetness in his countenance. In his younger years he was very slender; but grew corpulent in his advanced age; not by idleness or excess, for he was remarkably temperate and unweariedly diligent, but by a sedentary life.
Dr. Bates, who had a most affectionate esteem for him, preached his funeral sermon, and says, “His name is worthy of precious and eternal memory. A clear judgment, a rich fancy, strong memory, and happy elocution met in him; and were excellently improved by his diligent study. He was endowed with an extraordinary knowledge of the Scripture. 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 raise a short commotion in the affections, but to make a lasting change in the life. His doctrine was uncorrupt and pure. He did not entertain his hearers with impertinent subtleties, empty notions, intricate disputes, dry and barren, without production of virtue; but as one who always had in his eye the great end of his ministry, the glory of God, and the salvation of men. His style was not exquisitely studied, not consisting of harmonious periods, but far distant from vulgar meanness. His expression was natural and free, clear, and eloquent, quick and powerful; without any spice of folly; and always suitable to the simplicity and majesty of divine truth. He abhorred a vain ostentation of wit in handling sacred truths, so venerable and grave, and of eternal consequence. His fervor and earnestness in preaching was such as might soften and make pliant the most stubborn and obstinate spirit. I am not speaking of one whose talent was only voice, who labored in the pulpit as if the end of preaching were the exercise of the body, and not the profit of souls. But this man was inflamed with holy zeal, and from thence such expressions broke forth as were capable of procuring attention and consent in his hearers. He spoke as one who had a living faith within him of divine truth. This faithful minister abounded in the work of the Lord; and, which is truly admirable, though so frequent in preaching, yet was always superior to others, and equal to himself. He was no fomenter of faction, but studious of the public tranquility. Consider him as a Christian, his life was answerable to his doctrine. He was like a fruitful tree, which produces in the branches what it contains in the root. His inward grace was made visible in a conversation becoming the gospel. His resolute contempt of the world secured him from being wrought upon by those motives which tempt low spirits from their duty. His generous constancy of mind in resisting the current of popular humor, declared his loyalty to his Divine Master. His charity was eminent in procuring supplies for others, when in mean circumstances himself. He was deeply affected with the sense of his frailty and unworthiness.”
In 1678, Dr. Bates published Manton's Twenty Sermons, in quarto, and gives the following account of them:—“The main design of them is to represent the inseparable connection between Christian duties and privileges, wherein the essence of our religion consists. The Gospel is not a naked, unconditionate offer of pardon and eternal life in favour of sinners, but upon the most convenient terms for the glory of God and the good of men, enforced by the strongest obligations upon them to receive humbly and thankfully those benefits. The Son of God came into the world, not to make God less holy, but to make us holy; and not to vacate our duty, and free us from the law as a rule of obedience, for that is both impossible and would be most infamous and reproachful to our Saviour. To challenge such an exemption in point of right is to make ourselves gods; to usurp it in point of fact, is to make ourselves devils."
In 1679 was published, in octavo, his Eighteen Sermons on the Second Chapter of the Second Epistle to the Thessalonians. In the preface to this volume, Baxter says of him, “How sound he was in judgment against extremes in the controversies of these times; how great a lamenter of the scandalous and deriding mistakes of some self-conceited men; how earnestly desirous of healing our present breaches, and not unacquainted with the proper means and terms; how hard and successful a student, how frequent and laborious a preacher; and how highly and deservedly esteemed, is commonly known here.”
In 1684, Dr. Bates published his Exposition of the Lord's Prayer. In 1685, Mr. Hurst published his Discourses tending to promote Peace and Holiness among Christians; and Dr. Jacomb, Christ's Temptations and Transfiguration. In 1703 was published, A Practical Exposition of Isaiah liii. The Doctor wrote a preface to Case's Meditations; to Smectymnuus; to Clifford's Book of the Covenant; to Ignatius Jourdain's Life; Strong's Sermons of the Certainty and Eternity of Hell Torments; and to the second edition, in quarto, of the Assembly's Confession of Faith.
Besides these lesser works, there are five large volumes in folio. The first was, Sermons upon the 119th Psalm. The second contains, Sermons on the 25th of Matthew, and 17th of John; the 6th and 8th of the Romans; and the 5th of the Second Epistle to the Corinthians. The third volume contains Sermons upon the 11th chapter to the Hebrews, with a Treatise of the Life of Faith, etc. The fourth contains Sermons upon several texts of Scripture. The fifth volume contains Sermons on the 5th to the Ephesians, on the 3rd of Philippians, on 2 Thessalonians 1, 1 John 3rd chapter, with one hundred and forty sermons on particular texts.
Dr. Manton was unquestionably one of the greatest divines of his own, or of any other age. Archbishop Usher said, “He was one of the best preachers in England;” and Charnock, “That he was the best collector of sense of the age;” and Waller the poet observed, “That he never discoursed with such a man as Dr. Manton in his life.” He was faithful in reproving sin. Duke Lauderdale, who pretended to carry it with great respect for him, in some company where the Doctor was present, behaved himself very indecently: the Doctor modestly reproved him; but the Duke never loved him afterwards. He was once at dinner at Lord Manchester's, in Whitehall, when several persons of great note began to drink the King's health, a custom then in vogue, and which was commonly abused to great disorders. When it came to him he refused to comply with it, apprehending it beneath the dignity of a minister, to give any countenance to the sinful excess it so often occasioned. It put a stop to it at that time, and Prince Rupert, who was present, inquired who he was.
In the interval, between the Restoration and his ejectment, Manton was greatly esteemed by persons of the first quality at court, which, however, he improved, not for himself, but for others. The following instance is worth recording. Mr. James, of Berkshire, an honest and worthy person, was at the point of being cast out of his living. He came to London to make friends to the Lord Chancellor Hyde, but could find none proper for his purpose. He was at length advised to go to Dr. Manton, to whom he was yet a stranger. It was late in the evening, when the Doctor was in bed. He told his case to Mrs. Manton, who advised him to come again in the morning. He answered, with great concern, that it would be too late, and that if he could not put a stop to it that night, he and his family must be ruined. On so pressing a case the Doctor rose, and went with him to the Lord Chancellor, at York-house, who, spying the Doctor in the crowd, called to him to know what business he had there at that time of night. When he acquainted him with his errand, my lord called to the person who stamped the orders upon such occasions, and asked him what he was doing? He answered, “That he was just going to put the stamp to an order for passing away such a living.” Upon which he bid him stop; and told the Doctor his friend should not be molested.
Upon a public fast in Covent Garden church, for the persecuted Protestants in the valleys of Piedmont, Dr. Manton had got Mr. Baxter and Dr. Wilkins to assist him. Baxter commenced, and preached on Amos 6:6, “But they are not grieved for the afflictions of Joseph.” He, after his manner, took a great compass, and grasped the whole subject. Manton succeeded him, and had chosen the same text; he was obliged often to refer to the former discourse, and to say every now and then, “As it has been observed by my reverend brother.” Dr. Wilkins sat very uneasy, and reckoned that between them both, he should have nothing left to say; for he had fixed upon the same text too. He insisted upon being excused, but Dr. Manton obliged him to go up into the pulpit, and by an ingenious artifice he succeeded admirably. Before he named his text, he prepared the audience, by expressing his fears of their narrow-spiritedness
and little concern for the interest of God in the world; for, says he, “without any knowledge or design of our own, we have all three been directed to the same words;” which, spoken with the majesty and authority peculiar to the presence and spirit of that excellent person, so awakened the attention and disposed the minds of the people, that he was heard with more regard, and was thought to do more good, than both the former, though he had scarce a single thought throughout the sermon distinct from the other two. Dr. Manton's sermons in the Morning Exercises are:—How may we cure distractions in holy duties?—How to improve our baptism.—Man's impotency to keep himself out of misery.—The Scripture a sufficient rule of Christian faith. The following skeleton of his sermon on Distractions in Holy Duties, will give the reader an idea of his character as a sermonizer.
Source: Samuel Dunn. Memoirs of the Seventy-Five Eminent Divines whose Discourses form the Morning Exercises at Cripplegate, St. Giles in the Fields, and in Southwark. London: John Snow, 1844.