Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Thomas Manton's Epistle to the Reader

In the second edition of the Westminster Confession published in 1658, it is prefaced by an epistle to the reader from Thomas Manton. The document is a wonderful statement on the importance of family religion. The role of parents in teaching children godliness is emphasized, particularly that of mothers, and as instruments towards that end the Shorter and Larger Catechisms, and Confession of Faith, are commended.

Manton makes several references throughout the epistle to the fact that his work builds on the work of another author who sought to remain anonymous.

I had, upon entreaty, resolved to recommend to thee with the greatest earnestness the work of catechizing, and, as a meet help, the usefulness of this book, as thus printed with the Scriptures at large: but meeting with a private letter of a very learned and godly divine, wherein that work is excellently done to my hand, I shall make bold to transcribe a part of it, and offer it to public view.
The author having bewailed the great distractions, corruptions, and divisions that are in the Church, he thus represents the cause and cure:...
Thus far he, whose name I shall conceal, (though the excellency of the matter, and present style, will easily discover him,) because I have published it without his privity and consent, though, I hope, not against his liking and approbation. I shall add no more, but that I am, Thy servant, in the Lord's work,

It has been discovered that the author whose name was concealed was none other than Richard Baxter. The story behind this is an interesting one.

Thomas M'Crie the Younger, Annals of English Presbytery, p. 221-222:

In the ordinary copies of the Confession, there is prefixed an epistle to the reader by Dr Manton, wherein there are some sentences introduced from another divine. "Thereby hangs a tale." This "very learned and godly divine" was no other than the celebrated Richard Baxter, who had been solicited by the publisher of the Confession to send a recommendation of the book for the use of families. Baxter consented, but only on the condition that the whole of his recommendation should be inserted or none. To his no small displeasure he found, on the appearance of the book, that not only had his name been omitted, but the following sentence, which, he says, was not pleasing to all, had been omitted: "I hope the assembly intended not all that long Confession and those Catechisms to be imposed as a test of christian communion, nor to disown all that scrupled every word in it. If they had, I could not have commended it for any such use, though it be useful for the instruction of families" (Sylvester's Life of Baxter, p. 122).

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