In his sermons, Thomas Manton often makes use of a methodology more commonly used by biblical counselors than expositional preachers. In fact, there is a strange breach in conservative evangelical ministry between counseling & preaching. Yet when one looks to the model of the Puritans (such as Manton), the two functions were united. Preaching & counseling differed primarily by audience not by content or method. That many preachers think it necessary to outsource counseling demonstrates a tremendous blindspot in their ministry.
When Manton provides a “use” (an application) in his sermons, he often uses the application as an opportunity to exegete the hearer.
For example, in his sermon on Psalm 119:65, Manton seeks “to persuade you to become servants of God.” However, he does not merely force the duty (as is in the most common custom in preaching). Rather, he makes a two-step movement. First, he sets forth the benefits to becoming a servant of God. Second, he addresses the internal objections which keep one from becoming a servant.
To persuade you to become the servants of God: you will have a good master if you be what you profess to be. Every Christian should say, as Paul did, Acts 27:23, ‘The God whose I am, and whom I serve.’ He is God’s, and serveth God. (1.) He is God’s by creation, for he made him out of nothing: Ps. 100:3, ‘Know ye that the Lord he is God; it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people and the sheep of his pasture;’ Col. 1:16, ‘All things were created by him and for him.’ By redemption; 1 Cor. 6:20, ‘Ye are bought with a price, therefore glorify God in your body and your spirit, which is God’s.’ By covenant; Isa. 44:5, ‘One shall say, I am the Lord’s, and another shall call himself by the name of Jacob, and another shall subscribe with his hand unto the Lord, and surname himself by the name of Israel;’ Ezek. 16:8
Now, if this is so, then why would one reject the application? Here, Manton preaches in a manner which we current limit to counseling. The preacher declares but often takes little time to understand to whom he speaks. The Word of God functions like a light to illuminate both God’s nature and the human heart — and thus interaction between the two. Here Manton takes a look into the human heart:
A man will never be hearty in his obedience and subjection till he look upon himself as God’s. See an instance in the wicked, whose ungodliness and rebellion against God cometh from looking upon themselves as their own: Ps. 12:4, ‘Who have said, With our tongues will we prevail; our lips are our own; who is lord over us?’ Their time their own, wealth their own, interest their own, bodies their own, souls their own, and therefore think they may employ all these things as they please. On the other side, take an instance of self-denial. Why so careful to serve and glorify God? Rom. 14:8, ‘For whether we live, we live unto the Lord, and whether we die, we die unto the Lord; whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord’s;’ they have given up themselves to be employed at his command.
He makes his exegesis of the human heart not based upon his psychological theory nor based upon his observation but rather based upon how the Bible describes the human being.Thus, his argument of human nature is expositional/exegetical. This sort of work requires a comprehensive understanding of the Scripture. However, it makes the hole more powerful.
Manton gives another example of this method of preaching when he presses the duty of thankfulness. He first expresses why thankfulness is right & beneficial. Then he looks to the objections: what hinders the human heart from this action? In doing this, Manton again is preaching in the manner most commonly used by counselors:
Partly when we have mercies, we know not their value by the enjoyment as much as by the want. Ὄφθαλμοί τι ἄγαν λαμπρὸν οὐχ ὁρῶσι, saith Basil—a thing too near the eye cannot be seen, it darkeneth us with its splendour. God must set things at a distance to make us value them. Therefore we are more prone to complain than to give thanks. Partly from self-love; when our turn is served, we neglect God; as the raven returned to Noah no more, when there was floating carrion for it to feed upon, Gen. 8:7. Wants try us more than blessings: Hosea 5:15, ‘In their affliction they will seek me early.’ Our interest swayeth us more than our duty. Partly from a dark legal spirit, which will not own grace when it is near us, when Christians look altogether in the glass of the law, to exclude the comfort of the gospel, and to keep themselves under the rack of perplexing fears.
Why is it hard to be thankful? Because we wrongfully look upon it as an external duty (a legalism) than a privilege and in our own self-interest. When Manton goes on to explain how to remedy this fault he makes mention of our own unworthiness to receive any blessing from God. Legalism has at its heart the concept that my conduct somehow puts God in my obligation, thus, when God blesses me it is only my due. The Gospel acknowledges how we have no claim upon God, God is not obliged to us– and yet, God blesses us supremely despite ourselves. A right understanding of the Gospel thus drives us to thankfulness. Conversely a defect in our understanding of the Gospel hinders thankfulness:
Consider your unworthiness: Gen. 32:10, ‘I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies, and of all the truth which thou hast showed unto thy servant;’ 2 Sam. 7:18, ‘Who am I, O Lord, and what is my house, that thou hast brought me hitherto?’ Pride is the cause of discontent. Where all is received freely, there is no cause of discontent: much of giving thanks if we have anything. When we look to desert, we may wonder more at what we have than what we want: if afflicted, destitute, kept low and bare, it is a wonder we are not in hell. All this is spoken because men are not thankful, We are eager till we have blessings, but when we have them, then barren in praises, unfruitful in obedience: like little children, forward to beg favours, but careless to acknowledge what they have received.