Thomas Manton is one of my favourite Puritans. I never tire of reading his works, though I have a bit of a way to go before I have read them all – there are 22 volumes of them! Manton was a hugely influential Puritan and well worthy of study. There seems to have been a comparative lack of academic interest in Manton. For instance in the Index to British Theses a search for John Owen turns up 18 results, Richard Baxter 19 results, Thomas Goodwin 8 and Thomas Manton 0. That simply does not come close to representing the relative importance and abilities of these four men.
Where works have mentioned Manton they have sometimes incorrectly attempted to identify his theology with that of Baxter. David Field in his recent work on John Howe helpfully counters this. Field notes Manton’s respect for Baxter, “[Manton] was himself a fervent admirer of Baxter, considering himself not worthy to carry Baxter’s books after him.” (David Field, Rigide Calvinisme in a Softer Dresse: The Moderate Presbyterianism of John Howe Edinburgh: Rutherford House, 2004, 169). Given the amount Baxter wrote I don’t think he could have carried his books even if he wanted to! Now the fact that Manton admired Baxter does not necessarily mean Manton shared Baxter’s controversial theology – even Durham, who used Baxter as an almost constant sparring partner, recognised his learning and gifts. Indeed Field correctly notes regarding Manton that, contra Baxter, “… his treatment of justification is fully in line with the Westminster Confession… and he strongly asserts particular redemption over against an Amyraldian understanding of the atonement.” (Field, Rigide Calvinisme, 169).
With Manton’s “orthodoxy” out of the way I now want to turn to his exposition of Ezekiel 18:23, “Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die? saith the Lord GOD: and not that he should return from his ways, and live?” This is found in two sermons in volume 21 of his works. There is so much in here I can’t cover it in one blog post but I hope to give a flavour of his exposition of this glorious verse.
Manton begins his exposition by setting out the pastoral importance of the free offer of the gospel. If we have false views of God, that he is an “inexorable judge” then we simply have no grounds to turn to him for salvation. Manton’s aim in these sermons is to counter this view of God which he feared was held by “many men” in the church:
There is nothing so necessary to draw us to repentance as good thoughts of God. In the first temptation the devil sought to weaken the reputation and credit of God’s goodness… as if he were harsh, severe, and envious in restraining them from the tree of knowledge… In the bosom of the church this conceit possesseth many men’s hearts, that God is harsh and severe, and delighteth more in our ruin than salvation… Oh, what a monstrous picture do men draw of God in their thoughts, as if he were a tyrant, or an inexorable judge, that gave no leave for repentance, or left any hope of pardon to the guilty.
For Manton the idea that God should simply desire (yes, that word!) the destruction of the creature is unthinkable:
[Manton’s paraphrase of Ezek 18:23] Ye know it is evident that I have no such desire, no such pleasure. It dareth not enter into your thoughts that I should take pleasure in the bare destruction of the creature.
This is because Manton held that God was in his nature merciful and also had a general (non saving) love towards all men:
And as God is a merciful God, and loveth all the creatures which he hath made, so their life is more pleasing than their death; a thing more acceptable in itself to such a being as God is.
Because of these general truths that he held (God does not desire the death of the wicked, God is merciful, God has a general love for all men) Manton is able to affirm:
That the repentance and salvation of the wicked is more pleasing to God than their death and destruction…. It is not all one to God whether ye repent or no… Our prejudices against God’s nature are so deep and inveterate that he needeth to interpose an oath.
Now Manton is aware that what he is saying naturally raises some questions e.g. If what you are saying is true, why are the majority of people unbelievers? Does that mean that God is unable to work out his pleasure? Manton responds in three ways.
First, he notes that he is speaking “comparatively” not “absolutely”. Of course, God “rejoiceth in the execution of his justice… but if you compare things with things he rejoiceth rather in acts of mercy than in acts of vengeance.” Manton goes on to say in typically picturesque Puritan language, “Mercy, like live honey droppeth of its own accord. He is forced to the other [judgement]; it is wrested from him. Though the properties are equally infinite in God, yet they do diversely exert themselves towards men as to the effects. Now the world is on trial. God’s primary end is the conversion of the sinner; his second end the honour of his vindicatory justice.” (Works 21:465). Manton’s last comment reflects the typical Reformed view that it is only per accidens (by accident) that the Gospel brings condemnation. That is not its nature or end.
Secondly, Manton distinguishes between the secret and revealed wills of God. He distinguished between God’s “liking and approbation” which is the revealed will and the “choice and resolved pursuit” which is the secret will. So “God may be said to like the salvation of all men, yet not to intend it with an efficacious will.” According to the revealed will we are at liberty to say that “He is unfeignedly pleased with the salvation of men”. (Works 21:465). Manton comments elsewhere, “Some scoff at this distinction, but the thing is as evident as daylight.” (Works 18:227).
Thirdly, Manton distinguishes the various ways God is related to us. First, we are related to God as he is our sovereign Lord. Here we are speaking of God’s sovereign will, his secret will and therefore we must note that “so God willeth not the salvation of all”. That is to say he has not decreed it. Now what we have here is a classic illustration of the dangers of “proof texting” from theologians. If you went to Manton with the intention of proving that God does not will the salvation of all men, well there you have it. But a couple of paragraphs earlier he had said that God does will the salvation of all men. So the actual truth is that Manton does and does not believe that God wills the salvation of all men – it depends in what sense you are speaking. Too often internet (and print!) polemics against the free offer ignore these distinctions and so make men like Manton and Durham stand on their heads. Second, we are related to God as lawgiver where he tells us his “desire”. Here we are dealing with the revealed will. Thirdly, we are related to God as judge who does in this respect take pleasure in the execution of his justice. Applying these to the free offer of the gospel Manton notes it is God as lawgiver, that is God as revealed, that we have to do with. As revealed in the gospel God “did that for us which he was not bound to do, namely, in that he did provide us a Saviour, and open a door of hope for us… and call us to repent and believe in Christ, even every creature… with a promise of pardon, life, and salvation… he manifesteth the more grace and goodwill to our salvation, and that he is more ready to pardon than punish…” (Works 21:466-7).
Manton then moves on to argue that it would be “contrary… to the nature of God” to simply desire the (eternal) death of men. Manton bases his arguments on God’s wisdom, goodness (“They were accounted monsters of men that glutted their eyes with cruelties; and can we imagine that God will make sport with the eternal ruin of his creatures.” Works 21:467) and mercy (“Therefore we ought to conceive of him that he can have no pleasure in our death, for mercy is an attribute that inclineth God to succour them that are in miseries. How then can our destruction be more acceptable to God than our salvation?” Works 21:468).
Manton closes his sermon with seven evidences that God takes no pleasure in our eternal destruction (Works 21:468-71). They are:
- God warns men that they are sinners.
- God “hath offered you free pardon upon the terms of faith and repentance… It is the great business of the Word to call men to faith and repentance… Surely God would not have given such directions, made such promises, found out such a way for our recovery, but he taketh pleasure in our conversion rather than our destruction.”
- God has provided a “redeemer”. It is probably on the basis of sections like this that Manton’s position on the extent of the atonement gets questioned. Manton makes his position on the extent of the atonement clear in his sermon on Is 53:6 where he explains what he means by seemingly universal statements (Works 3:328-331).
- “With what passionateness and meltingness of expression he wooeth me to return… such an affection God beareth to us that he expostulates, prayeth, entreateth that we would return and be reconciled.” Manton cites Deut 5:29, Hos 11:8, Is 57:16, Ps 81:13, Matt 23:37, Luke 19:42. It is interesting that Manton relates Christ’s weeping over Jerusalem to God rather than just to the human nature of Christ.
- God has, 2 Cor 5:20, “appointed men in our nature to offer you mercy”.
- God is merciful to all in providence.
- God welcomes all who turn to him.
There you have a typical Puritan exposition of the theological underpinnings and evidences for the free offer of the gospel. As an aside Manton held to a universal application of 1 Tim 2:4: “It is the will of God’s pleasure that they ought to seek after an interest in Christ. So it is said, 1 Tim. 2:4, ‘God will have all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth;’ voluntate praecepti, by the will of his command: and by virtue of this we are bidden to preach the gospel to every creature… God is serious and in earnest in these offers and publications of Christ to all. That he mocketh no man you shall see: do but try him, accept him, and he will be as good as his word. It is not made to you fraudulently, and with an intent to deceive, but God is serious. God is bound to no man, and wicked men refuse him out of their own perverseness. And indeed we should rather admire his mercy that he giveth Christ to any, than quarrel at his justice that he doth not give him to all.” (Works 3:224).
I do like Manton!
Next week I’ll post something on Durham’s essay on the extent of the atonement where, among other things, he criticises William Twisse for his views on the extent of the atonement. Yes, you read that right, Durham criticises the Prolocuter (Chairman) of the Westminster Assembly for his view of the extent of the atonement! If you want to know why you’ll just have to wait until next week.