Thomas Adams is known as the Puritan Shakespeare. He was a friend of the great English poet and fellow clergyman, John Donne. His collected sermons are little known, and so I will endeavor to provide some brief summaries of such from time to time.
Here is the first sermon from the first of three volumes, “Politic Hunting.”
The text is
Esau was a cunning hunter, and a man of the field; and Jacob was a plain man, welling in tents. Gen. 35:27
Adams’ general strategy is to take the two appellations of Esau: cunning hunter, and, man of the field, and think through the implications of such phrases. He will move beyond the biography of Esau and consider these matters more broadly.
As he moves into his subject, he begins with the observation that there is nothing wrong with hunting:
Hunting in itself is a delight lawful and laudable, and may be well argued for from the disposition that God hath put into creatures. He hath naturally included on kind of beasts to pursue another for man’s profit and pleasure. He hath given the dog a secret instinct to follow the hare, the heart, the fox, the boar, as if he would direct man by the finger of nature to exercise those qualities which his divine wisdom created in them.
What is best in Adams is often his turn of phrase. It is not always picturesque as it is with someone like Watson; but it is often sharp and clear:
The world is a glass, wherein we may contemplate the eternal power and majesty of God.
This is an understanding which is not unique to Adams, but it is a concise statement of the proposition.
Following a warning that we not turn lawful recreations into excessive habits, Adams turns to the concept of a “cunning hunter”. He takes to mean, “plain force is not enough, there must be an accession of fraud.”
Adams then notes the distinction between hunting wild beasts and caring for domestic animals. “This observation teacheth us to do no violence to the beasts that serve us.”
He then proceeds to consider five sorts of sinful traits which he sees exampled in Esau and shown in the world. The underlying event is Esau coming in from the field and selling his birthright for a pool of soup:
First, those of a ravenous, intemperate appetite (couldn’t Esau have just waited a few minutes to eat something other than Jacob’s stew at the cost of his birthright?). A sinful greed.
Speaking of those with intemperate appetites:
That intemperance is not only a filthy, but a foolish sin. It is impossible that a ravenous throat should lie near a sober brain.
They have digged their grave with their teeth.
Second: his wrong estimation of things:
And what, O ye Esauites, worldings, are momentary delights compared to the eternal! What a mess of gruel to the supper of glory! The belly is pleased, the soul is lost. Never was any meat, except the forbidden fruit, so dearly bought as this broth of Jacob. A curse followed both their feedings. There is no temporal thing without trouble, though it be far more worthy than the lentil pottage. Hath a man good things? He fears to forgo them. And when he must, could either wish they had not been so good, for a longer possession of them.
…Nothing then can make a man truly happy but eternity. Pleasures may last a while in this world; but they grow old with us, if they do not die before us. And the staff of old age is no pole of eternity.
There are too many, that, in a sullen neglect, overlook all of God’s favors for the want of one their affections long after.
Fourth: an obstinate adherence to his folly.
It is wicked to sell heavenly things at a great rate of worldly; but it is most wretched to vilipend them. (Vilipend: to regard as worthless, despise)
Fifth, he was perfidious.
And so the summary of Esau:
In all these circumstances, it appeareth that though Esau was subtle to take beasts, he had no cunning to hunt out his own salvation.