Mining the Riches of Manton #1

November 18, 2009

I wrote my masters’  thesis on Thomas Manton’s spirituality under Dr. John Gerstner at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary.  I concentrated on his 190 sermons on Psalm 119.  Gerstner gave me the grade I desired, but expressed disappointment that my studies in Manton had not brought forth anything new or creative in his thinking.  Manton had not advanced Reformed thinking.  His remarks gave me a new understanding of Gerstner’s fascination with Jonathan Edwards, for he said that Edwards never left a subject on which he had focused unchanged.  For the most part Gerstner thought that Edwards improved and deepened Reformed theology.  I wonder how many realize that it is Edwards’ profound creativity, occurring in the midst of his orthodoxy that appealed to Dr. G.

Gerstner’s reflection on Manton, however, was quite correct.  There is nothing new or creative in his writing.  There is, however, something massive and profound in his sermons.  What I found over 30 years ago was a pastor/theologian who had an extensive understanding of Puritan thinking on the Scriptures.  He is easily one of the most useful writers if one wants to get a comprehensive grasp of how the Puritan’s doctrinal-spirituality works.  Full of helpful distinctions, Manton plumbs the depths of Scripture to illuminate the range of Christian experience.  He may not have been creative like Edwards, but he shows us just how beautiful ‘meat & potatoes’ Puritan theology can be.

Let me address any skeptics who might be thinking, “190 sermons on Psalm 119?!  The Psalm itself seems to be saying much the same thing over and over.  Won’t these sermons get seriously repetitive?”

I think you will be genuinely surprised at how little Manton repeats himself.  Two famous Puritans wrote letters commending these sermons.  Both expressed admiration for Manton’s ability to see something different in each text.  Here’s what they said:

William Bates, a great Puritan thinker, wrote “The following sermons were preached by him in his usual course of three times a week, which I do not mention to lessen their worth, but to show how diligent and exact he was in the performance of his duty.  Indeed, his ordinary sermons, considering the substantial matter, clear order and vigorous full expressions, may well pass for extraordinary.  I cannot but admire the fecundity and variety of his thoughts, that the same things so often occurring in the verses of this psalm, yet by a judicious observing the different arguments and motives whereby the Psalmist enforces the same requests,…  every sermon contains new conceptions, and proper to the text.”

Vincent Alsop’s remarks echo Bates’.  “I have admired and must recommend to the observation of the reader, the fruitfulness of the author’s holy invention, accompanied with solid judgment; in that … without force or offering violence to the sacred text, he has, either from the connection of one verse with its predecessor, or the harmony between the parts of the same verse, found out new matter to entertain his own meditation and his reader’s expectation.”

Dear Reader, I invite you to join me three times a week starting Monday, November 23rd, as I digest and comment on Manton’s sermons on Psalm 119.  I will discipline my writing to no more than 600 words per post.  (No side bets on whether I can keep to that, please!)  I welcome your comments.  I can assure you, it will be an exciting journey as we learn things from one of our Fathers such things as we may never have heard before.

You can download all of the works of Manton for free here.


5 Responses to “Mining the Riches of Manton #1”

  1. Danny Hyde said

    Looking forward to these posts. I am slowly bloggin’ through Manton’s sermons on the temptation of our Lord ( as I prepare to do a PhD thesis on him.

    Is your MA thesis available on ATLA/WorldCat?

  2. Jim O'Brien said

    Danny, thanks for the response. You are my first. My M.A. thesis is not available. If I ever find my copy, I’ll see if its worth making available. Do you know about the dissertation written by a Derek Cooper, entitled, “The ecumenical exegete: Thomas Manton’s commentary on James in relation to its Protestant predecessors, contemporaries and successors.” Thesis (Ph.D)–Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, 2008]
    I hope to find it on Proquest next time I go to the library. With warmest regards, Jim

  3. Danny Hyde said

    Yes, I have Cooper’s thesis. It’s the only PhD dissertation I, Joel Beeke, Carl Trueman, and several others know of on Manton…hence he is ripe for the picking.

  4. Danny Hyde said

    Hi Jim,

    Your thesis would be worth my while to have, for, as you know, the secondary lit on Manton is sparse.

  5. Berti Kona said


    What will be your PhD topic on Manton when you get to that point?

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