Stoughton on Adams

In his Ecclesiastical History John Stoughton says

Taking Andrewes and Donne as exponents of Anglican theology, the reader may take Bolton and Sibbs as representatives of Puritan teaching. Their works were exceedingly popular with the Evangelicals of Charles I.'s reign. In rough leather binding they might have been seen on the humble library shelf of the yeoman's house, or in his hands well thumbed, as he sat in his window-seat or walked in his little garden. "The Four Last Things" led many to prepare for the future life; and "The Bruised Reed " became honoured as the chief means of Richard Baxter's conversion. The tone of piety in these men partook of a glow and ardour which made their spiritual life, at times, appear like a rapture, and rendered their death "a perfect euthanasia." ... If, to use a figure of Coleridge, the Cross shines dimly in certain Anglican authors, that Cross is all-radiant in Puritan theology. If, in the one case, the cloudy pillar hovers in the neighbourhood of the promised land without entering it, in the other, it conducts those who follow its guidance straight into a land flowing with milk and honey.
Let it not be supposed that the doctrinal Puritans in Stuart times were perpetually preaching, or writing on doctrinal subjects; or that they had the least sympathy with the sectaries. Thomas Adams is an eminent doctrinal Puritan of that age, but no sermons can be more eminently practical than his; they are the furthest removed from Antinomian tendencies. He is ever combating the vices around him, and insisting upon a solid scriptural morality; whilst his allusions to Brownists are caustic enough to have satisfied, in that respect, the taste of the most decided Anglican.


1909 Spectator Review of Sermon Collection

DR. JOHN BROWN has just published a delightful little book of selections from the writings of Thomas Adams, according to Southey "the Shakespeare of Puritan theologians " ("The Sermons of Thomas Adams," Cambridge University Press, ls. 6d. net).
Very little is known of Adams personally; nothing, indeed, save that he was a country parson in the reign of James I. who published sermons, and was the "inward friend" of some of the foremost men of his day, - of William, Earl of Pembroke, and of Sir Thomas Egerton.
Whether or no we agree with Southey (to the mind of the present writer, no man whose didacticism constantly interferes with his sympathy could be called Shakespearean), Thomas Adams's sermons show him to have been a man of genius, and at the same time a man of extraordinarily robust mind; and Dr. Brown has done a service to the public in bringing him once more before their notice.
His disposition was English in a pre-eminent degree. He accepted the Reformed theology, and preached it as the best possible vehicle for the expression of a very real devotion and the only sanction for a common-sense morality.
In secular matters he accepted the status quo as inevitable, if not divinely ordained. He hated rebellion, as he hated oppression. "The common people, like a dead sea," he said, "would be quiet enough" if no man stirred them, "if these blustering winds did not put them in tumult."
The oppressor, however, finds no mercy. Such a one shall "run full butt against the gates of hell and break his neck, and he that at the bars of temporal judgments cried out for nothing but justice, justice, and had it, shall now cry louder for mercy, mercy, and go without it."
He made dogma always the handmaid of morality. He could forgive a dissolute man, but not a hypocrite; a spendthrift, but not a miser. He could see some good in a man of opposite opinions, but none in one of uncertain mind. He regarded abstract speculation as sheer waste of force, the deliberate springing of a leak in the seaworthy ship of conviction.
The great attraction of his sermons lies in their power to express the Englishman's normal way of thinking in the best English of the best period, and to draw satiric portraits of immortal types.
Take first of all the picture of the man who suffers from "the spiritual staggers," - a cruel name, we all feel to-day, for a very sad complaint. All the same, the contempt expressed by Adams is still the sentiment of the majority:-
"Opinion is his sail : he resolves not to resolve. He knows not what he doth hold. He opens his mind to receive motions, as one opens his palm to take a handful of water - he hath very much, if he could hold it. He is sure to die, but not what religion to die in; he demurs like a posed lawyer, as if delay could remove some impediments. He is drunk when he riseth, and reels in a morning fasting. He knows not whether he should say his Pater noster in Latin or English, and so leaves it and his prayers unsaid."
Such a man can find no place of rest in a period of transition, whether he live in the time of Elizabeth or Edward VII. "To-day he goes to the quay to be shipped for Rome, but before the tide come, his tide is turned. Even his published utterance pins him to no conclusion. The child of his own brains within a week he is ready to judge a bastard."
Many a man born in England of English parents has, in Adams's eyes, no right to the name, but is a "semi-atheistical cosmopolite."
"He receives many judgments, retains none, embracing so many faiths that he is little better than an infidel. Thus his breast is full of secret combats, contradictions, affirmations, negatives; and, whiles he refuseth to join with others, he is divided in himself."
Our preacher regards the Bible, in theory, as an absolute authority, but when the New Testament puzzles him be has not much hesitation in setting it aside. A stick, he tells us, is a better protection than the Gospel against a dog who is going to bite.
Persecution revolts Adams. At the same time, be has an instinctive dread of "singularity." It is easy to think too much, he is convinced. Because a man is thoughtful he is not to regard every province of thought as his own:-
"There is a generation of men that are too laborious: curious statesmen in foreign commonwealths, busy bishops in others' dioceses, scalding their lips in their neighbour's pottage. This is an ambitious age of meddlers; there are almost as many minds as men, sects as cities, gospels as gossips : as if they laboured the reducing of the old chaos and first informity of things again."
But if Adams has a poor opinion of the men whose convictions are dissolved by much thinking, he has still less of those whose action is hampered by want of courage:-
"He conceives what is good to be done, but fancies difficulties and dangers, like to knots in a bulrush, or rubs in a smooth way. He would bowl well at the mark of integrity, if he durst venture it. He bath no journey to go, but either there are bugs, or he imagines them. Had he a pardon for his brother (being in danger of death,) and a hare should cross him in the way, he would no further, though his brother hanged for it. He owes God some good-will, but he dares not show it. When a poor plaintiff calls him for a witness, he dares not reveal the truth, lest he offend the great adversary."
Worse than all, "he calls his trembling by the name of conscience." With one terrible sentence our author finishes his condemnation. "His religion is primarily his prince's, subordinately his landlord's." While, however, the preacher reprehends those who fear the great, he has a good deal of belief in race and no quarrel with money. "For us, beloved," he says,  we teach you not to cast away the bag, but covetousness." The rich, he assures his audience, have no monopoly of any fault, not even of pride. "Not seldom a russet coat shrouds as high a heart as a silken garment"
Money made by oppression must, he is certain, bring a curse, and a few doles cannot cover the sin. "Perhaps, you think to make amends for all, for you will increase the Stipend of the vicar." God is not deceived because the oppressor bestows  a little whiting " upon a church, or "a wainscot seat for his own worship," nor even by his founding "a little almshouse" to "give twelve pence a-piece a-week to six poor people."
"Riches be God's blessings, (not only in themselves, so they are always good, but to us,) when they are gotten honestly, disposed justly, lost patiently. As much happily might be said, secondly, for honour, wherein I will briefly consider how and when it is of God."
In this "second" matter Adams is peculiarly frank. He says what a very great number of persons still think, but what no one dare say in the pulpit to-day. "That is then only true honour where dignity and desert, blood and virtue meet together; the greatness whereof is from blood, the goodness from virtue. Among fools dignity is enough without desert; among wise men desert without dignity. If they must be separated, desert is infinitely better. Greatness without virtue is commended by others' tongues, condemned in thy own heart. Virtue, though without promotion, is More comforted in thy own content than disheartened by others' contempt. It is a happy composition when they are united." 
In all this little book there is not a suggestion of unction. Adams bathes the hypocrite who has "plenty of divinity," but no humanity "to offer to the suffering. Faithfulness and kindness and patriotism he pleads with all his might. Perhaps the most eloquent passage in all his eloquent sermons describes how "the habit of sin takes away the sense of sin." He supposes that in the beginning Conscience says to a man, "Master, look to thyself." "But he stops her mouth with a violent hand. Yet she would fain speak to him, like the importunate widow, to do her justice. He cannot well be rid of her, therefore he sets her a day of hearing, and when it is come faileth her. She cries yet louder for audience ; and when all his corrupt and bribed affections cannot charm her silence, he drowns her complaints at a tavern, or laughs her out of countenance at a theatre. But if the pulse beats not, the body is most dangerously sick; if the conscience prick not, there is a dying soul."
To illustrate his kindness, let any one who is interested in his writings read his exhortation to the masters of apprentices. Not only does he warn the cruel in terms that must, one hopes, have made a few of these child-persecutors tremble, but he counsels the well-meaning but injudicious to avoid "harsh language, uncomfortable checks, and the discouragement of continual snibs."
As to his patriotism, there is a sermon preached before a company of soldiers (Dr. Brown does not quote it) in which the case for "a nation in arms" is put as surely it has never been put since. What a fine character! - if one may judge of a man by his sermons - convinced, law-abiding, conservative, kindly, and courageous: a true Englishman!
His religion was of a very sincere and very common type. He rested assured that Christ died to save his soul and God lived to preserve his country, that every man knew right from wrong, and if he did not the Scriptures were at hand to explain the difference. As to that higher teaching, those words which were spoken on the Mount of Olives and seemed likely to turn the world upside down, perhaps the man with the "staggers" knew as much about that as he did. Like most of us, he put it aside reverentially as something redounding to the eternal glory of its Author, not to be brought down to the common level of a necessarily faulty practice.


Adams on conscience

Deeds prove more than words; never tell me your science, show to me the fruits of your good conscience ...
Knowledge directs conscience; conscience perfects knowledge ...
Conscience is to the soul as the stomach is to the body ...
(5) The fifth is the manual, the pocket-book, the bosom-book of our conscience. The other books will manifest what we should have done; this, what we have done. We cannot except against it, because it hath always been in our own keeping, and nothing shall be written in it, but what is subscribed by our proper hand.

It hath three offices: first, to give in testimony of something acted or omitted. Secondly, to examine whether the action or omission were lawful or unwarrantable. Thirdly, to give judgment according to that evidence.
It can both bind and loose; it binds a man faster than the Philistines bound Samson, and looseth him sooner than the angel loosed Peter. It is a private law within man : when law and chancery too have done with him, (and that not seldom is long before it hath done with him,) then conscience taxes him in hand. It is a true looking-glass, that represents all blemishes, without favour or flattery. It is below God, but above man, a vice-god ; and deals with us here, as God will do hereafter. There is a bill framed out of the law, it is high treason against our high Sovereign's crown and dignity: our works are the evidence, and conscience is the witness, which will not be bribed to give a false testimony.
If the main course of our life be gracious, and our conscience will speak for our works, that they proceed from a sound faith and honest heart; we are then quit by proclamation, for nobody comes in against us: the world may not, our sins shall not, our conscience must not, the angels dare not, God will not, the devil cannot, for he is the father of lies, and his word will not be taken.
But if otherwise, all these will be against us: there need no subpoenas to fetch in witnesses; they come unsent for, and cannot be kept back; they will speak the truth, and all the truth. As intelligencers for statesmen mingle themselves with all companies, but use their best art to keep themselves concealed; so the conscience is God's informer, a spy in the soul, mixing herself with all our thoughts and actions: it is indeed the reflection of the soul upon itself. Though we know not what this conscience is, yet this conscience knows what we are. As Pilate asked Christ, What is truth? John xviii. 38, when the Truth stood before him; so many ask what is conscience? when indeed conscience is within them.
Exposition of 2 Peter, 34, 588, 670


Works online

Many works by Thomas Adams can now be accessed online here

St Benet's Today

This article appeared recently in The Times

The appointment of a new incumbent will breathe fresh life into the historic church of St Benet’s Paul’s Wharf.

The Rev Aneirin Glyn is relishing the prospect of revitalising St Benet Paul’s Wharf, the only Welsh church attached to the Church of England in London, when he is installed as priest in charge next month. He wants to make the Gospel known to all Welsh people in London, not just Welsh speakers (of which there are estimated to be as many as 50,000 in London), by teaching the Bible in a relevant and engaging way. He adds, with a smile: “For people who are learning Welsh in London, if there are ways to minister to them then we will look at doing that. I am also able to speak English.”
Demand to learn Welsh in London is certainly on the rise. There were 60 places available on the most recent course at the London Welsh Centre in King’s Cross; it was oversubscribed and the number of places on the next course has been expanded to 75.
“London has a large Welsh community and I would love St Benet’s to be the place where they can hear the great news about Jesus in the language in which they are comfortable,” says Glyn, 35, who comes from Cardiff and whose mother tongue is Welsh.
Glyn is married with three children and describes himself as “bilingual”. He was born in Cardiff to Welsh parents, both doctors; the family moved to Flintshire when he was 10 and he was educated “through the medium of Welsh” until 16. He was keen on rugby at school, playing in the second row (he is 6ft 3in) and supporting both Cardiff Blues and Llanelli Scarlets, his father’s team. At 18 he read mathematics at St Hugh’s College, Oxford, later gaining a D.Phil in pure mathematics at the same college. He then spent three years as an international student worker at St Ebbe’s in Oxford. A master’s degree in theology at Oak Hill College followed before he joined St Helen’s, Bishopsgate, as a curate in 2009. His role at St Benet Paul’s Wharf will be in addition to his position at St Helen’s, one of the biggest Evangelical Anglican churches in the City, where he helps to lead the well-attended Sunday afternoon service.
Glyn says that attending either of the two Sunday services at St Benet’s “is a great way to learn the language — it’s a great place to hear Welsh spoken and lived out”. Hymns are sung in Welsh, although worshippers can use a sheet with the words in English. The Church in Wales prayerbook is used (it has Welsh on the left-hand page and English on the right), and readings are in Welsh (but can be followed in an English Bible).
Glyn himself reads the Bible in English and in Welsh, using the English Standard Version and Y Beibl Cymraeg Newydd (The New Welsh Bible), and is equally happy in both. But he says: “I think for some people in London, Welsh is the language in which they think and speak. We want to meet people where they are. Some people ‘feel’ Welsh, so if that happens then we will gladly welcome them and share the Gospel in Welsh.”
He wants to breathe new life into the Grade I listed City church, which was founded in 1111 and rebuilt by Christopher Wren after the Great Fire. The church oozes history: it has been the church of the College of Arms since 1555; Shakespeare mentions it in Twelth Night (Act V, Scene I); Inigo Jones was buried there in 1652; Henry Fielding married his second wife there in 1747; and it became one of the City Guild Churches in 1954.
Services in Welsh have been held at St Benet’s — also known as the Metropolitan Welsh Church — since 1879, when Queen Victoria signed an Order in Council removing it from a list of churches to be demolished and granting its use to Welsh Anglicans for the conduct of services “according to the Rites of the Church of England” in perpetuity. Latterly, however, the church has had a rather chequered history. In 2008 it was closed briefly after the congregation had dwindled to only a handful of people. The Ven David Meara, the Archdeacon of London, who was appointed in 2009, draws a line under the episode and talks of a brighter future: “It is a new chapter in the life of St Benet’s. You can talk about a revival of ministry — it is quite clear that things have been in the doldrums.
“The church has been without a permanent priest in charge for a number of years and it has been the wish of the Bishop of London to appoint a priest not just fluent in the Welsh language but one who will help grow the church and reach out to the large Welsh-speaking community in London and beyond. The London Welsh Centre is obviously one potential source of partnership, although there are many others. I think for the first time, with a young and lively chap in Aneirin Glyn, who is a fluent Welsh speaker, there is a real chance St Benet’s will flourish.”
The central location of St Benet’s clearly makes possible a large “gathered community”, Meara believes. He adds: “The Bishop is keen for Aneirin and his team to take advantage of social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook as a way of building a network within the Welsh-speaking London-based community and to host evenings where we can show Welsh films and hold Welsh social functions. Its website could be hugely developed to build up St Benet’s as a worshipping community and as a centre for Welsh life in London.”
St Benet’s already holds events such as the celebration of St Dwynen’s Day (essentially, a Welsh equivalent of St Valentine’s Day) in January. Glyn hopes to run more of such events and to tap into the heart of the Welsh community in London, which includes London Welsh RFC, London Welsh FC, London Welsh Cricket Club, London Welsh Chorale, London Welsh Male Voice Choir, Ysgol Gymraeg Lludain (a primary school based in Harlesden, North London), the networking forum Wales in London and even an independent Welsh dairy in Fulham, Morgan’s.
Glyn will take up his post at St Benet’s on October 2 in a service conducted by the Bishop of London, the Right Rev Richard Chartres. Members of the congregation could potentially include Huw Edwards, the BBC News presenter, who is a fluent Welsh speaker and writer (he is the author of a book on Llanelli chapels; 12 of its 33 chapters are in Welsh) and is the president of the London Welsh Trust, which runs the London Welsh Centre. “He said he had heard about my appointment and in passing said he might be interested in coming along,” Glyn says.
St Benet’s, as noted, is well connected. Earlier this week the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, who was previously Bishop of Monmouth and Archbishop of Wales and occasionally takes services at St Benet’s, dedicated a memorial at the church. Needless to say, the bulk of the service was conducted in Welsh.


Adams on the wise men

The Bible is to us what the star was to the wise men; but if we spend all our time in gazing upon it, observing its motions, and admiring its splendour, without being led to Christ by it, the use of it will be lost on us.


Adams on sinful silence

In the Three divine sisters Adams says this
This one office of love is almost forgotten in the world. Our eyes and ears are conscious of many horrid sins, whereof we make also our souls guilty by our silence. Like chameleons, we turn to the colour of our company. Oppressions, that draw blood of the commonwealth, move us not. Oaths, that totter the battlements of heaven, wake us not. Oh, where is our kindness! Whilst we do not reprove, we approve these iniquities. He is conscious of secret guiltiness that forbeareth to resist open iniquity. Thou sayest it is for love's sake thou sparest reprehension. Why, if thou love thy friend never so dearly, yet thou oughtest to love truth more dearly. Let not, then, the truth of love prejudice the love of truth.