Theologian Thursday | Thomas Manton

Throwback Theology Thursday - Thomas Manton

Many clamor to Twitter, Instagram and Facebook on Thursday to reveal nostalgic old pictures of themselves and their friends. Being the reminiscent type, we at CBD would like to introduce you to some of our old friends. On Thursdays, we’ll introduce you to a theologian with our Throwback Theology Thursday series! These throwback posts are meant to help Christians experience the legacy that has been left to us to learn from and build upon. If you like this or learned something, let us know!

Whenever I find hidden treasure in history I get so excited, I just need to share. That treasure that had been unearthed for me in college was Thomas Manton. He has received a bit more attention recently, but I don’t think the attention he is owed. Thomas Manton was an English puritan who lived from 1620 till 1677. He attended the University of Oxford for his clerical training, and graduated at the age of 19. Manton then became a prolific author and writer, penning many treatises, sermons, commentaries, and books.

One of the books that Manton was most famous for was his commentary on James, and more specifically the introduction to that commentary. Not long before Manton wrote his commentary, a delightful German theologian name Martin Luther wrote his own commentary on James. In Luther’s commentary he infamously stated that the Book of James was an “epistle of straw.”. Manton shows no mercy in responding to such an audacious claim and defends the integrity of the James’ Epistle. Manton goes at great length to even excuse Luther, even though he loved James’ writing.

Although Thomas Manton has this claim to fame, his writing otherwise is not typical of his time. He is not given to writing in long poetical discourses, instead the mark of Manton’s writing is clarity and being conscice. If we look at his ministry, this may be due to his primary interest in pastoral ministry. It could have been that he was more concerned with educating those in his congregation than writing long theological programs. One such evidence of this is an introduction that he wrote to the Westminster Confession of Faith for his congregants. He desired for the families in his church to be educated as to serve the Lord. Here is an excerpt from that text, (it’s a bit lengthy but worth it):

Dear Reader,

The devil hath a great spite at the kingdom of Christ, and he knoweth no such compendious way to crush it in the egg, as by the perversion of youth, and supplanting family-duties. He striketh at all those duties which are public in the assemblies of the saints; but these are too well guarded by the solemn injunctions and dying charge of Jesus Christ, as that he should ever hope totally to subvert and undermine them; but at family duties he striketh with the more success, because the institution is not so solemn, and the practice not so seriously and conscientiously regarded as it should be, and the omission is not so liable to notice and public censure. Religion was first hatched in families, and there the devil seeketh to crush it; the families of the Patriarchs were all the Churches God had in the world for the time; and therefore, (I suppose,) when Cain went out from Adam’s family, he is said to go out from the face of the Lord, Gen. 4:16. Now, the devil knoweth that this is a blow at the root, and a ready way to prevent the succession of Churches: if he can subvert families, other societies and communities will not long flourish and subsist with any power and vigor; for there is the stock from whence they are supplied both for the present and future…

I do therefore desire, that all masters of families would first study well this work themselves, and then teach it their children and servants, according to their several capacities. And, if they once understand these grounds of religion, they will be able to read other books more understandingly, and hear sermons more profitably, and confer more judiciously, and hold fast the doctrine of Christ more firmly, than ever you are like to do by any other course. First, let them read and learn the Shorter Catechism, and next the Larger, and lastly, read the Confession of Faith… I shall add no more, but that I am, Thy servant, in the Lord’s work. (Read the whole thing here.)

Here we see a Pastor, deeply convicted about his duty to minister with extreme practicality. Manton thought that Biblical and theological education belonged in the family unit. He thus wanted to encourage those families under his care to endure theological education in the home, or there would be dire consequences. It does not seem that this conviction was birthed from fear or superstition, instead an evangelistic and pastoral desire to see all come to faith.

We can take a serious lesson here from Manton. The church is charged to teach those younger than us in the faith, so that the message of Christ will continue throughout all ages. That comes with many complications, and joys. Although he has written the above text explicitly for families, it still applies more generally. The church ought not be marked by biblical ignorance, but rather by biblical thoughtfulness and theological excellence.

Books by Thomas Manton

  1. The Works of Thomas Manton Volumes 1-22
  2. An Exposition of the Epistles of James
  3. By Faith: Sermons on Hebrews 11

Books about Thomas Manton

  1. The Risen Christ Conquers Mars Hill: Classic Discourses on Paul’s Ministry in Athens
  2. Meet the Puritans: With a Guide to Modern Reprints

– Author: Andrew Keenan

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