2019-07-15

T B Hoover on Adams and Total Depravity

The foregoing reference to evil leads to a consideration of Adams' thought relating to the condition of man before the operation of God's spirit upon his being. Along with Calvin, he holds that this condition is one of total depravity and total inability due to the pollution of  original sin. That is, the effects of sin extend to every part of man's personality rendering him totally unable in spiritual matters though capable of natural, civil and external religious good. This view of the effect of sin is
quite different from the view that fallen man possesses a plenary ability, and that be is not in a sinful state having the capability of doing all that he ought to do. Also Adams' view differs from that which claims that because original sin is involuntary it is not actual or true sin; and that the influence of the first man's sin extends enly to the sensuous nature, and not to the rational and moral nature of man. Adams' theology would not admit the claim that man is capable of keeping the law perfectly as law is
adjusted according to man's ability; and the possibility of man's being free from conscious sin - a view that allows fallen man a gracious ability enabling him to turn to God and believe.
Adams' Calvinism with respect to the nature of man's depraved condition is expressed in clear and certain terms. When discussing original sin he says; "There is a depravation and corruption of the whole nature of man, whereby he stands guilty and polluted before God, indisposed to all good, and prone to all evil." (III.19). In. the same discussion, he further indicates the extent of this corruption by calling it "a pravity and deformity of all the powers of man." Here he traces its efficient cause to the
perverseness of the first man's will, and accounts for its imputation to the human race by means of carnal propagation. This view of natural propagation as an instrument is opposed to what Adams calls the Pelagian error holding "that the guilt of the first sin was derived to other men, not by propagation, but by imitation." (I, 233) This extension of corruption to the whole of man is treated by Adams in a sermon entitled "The Bad Leaven" in which he says; "a little sin makes the whole man, in body and soul, unsavoury to the Lord." (II, 33) His position regarding man's spiritual condition by nature is one which allows no goodness in man at all, and sees him as corrupted in mind, will, and affections making him spiritually incapable without divine grace. In other words, it is a position that holds that men all have a natural corruption depriving them of all habitual goodness. His thought on this subject will be given more attention in a later discussion of God's grace as he understood it. There it will especially be treated as opposed to the Arminian viewpoint.

2019-07-02

T B Hoover on Adams and Limited Atonement

In his thesis T B Hoover writes 
Calvin's principle of limited atonement is found in the religious thought of Adams as might be expected in view of his doctrine of election. As he holds that not all are saved by eternal decree, so does he hold that Christ's atonement was limited in effect to the elect rather than extending to all men. This is not to say that Adams denies the fact that salvation is universally offered in the gospel. He readily admits this to be true and states that "the offer of salvation is general ..." (II, 43) But this admission in no way alters his belief that universal salvation is impossible. He speaks of the blood of the crucified Jesus as being effectual for the pardon of "none but those that bleed in soul for ... sins" (I, 164) and all "that will apprehend it faithfully." (II, 430). In "A Cruelfix" or a "Sermon upon the Passion," Adams' use of personal pronouns to signify the objects of Christ's atoning sacrifice might leave the impression that Christ's atonement was made for all people. Such an erroneous impression is corrected when the context of this usage is understood. Like the writer of the Scripture text of this sermon, it is Adams' intention to teach that those for whom Christ died consist only of those who either have or will appropriate Christ's death by faith. He thought of Paul's words to the Ephesians: "He hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savour" as being relevant only to God's elect. It is with this limitation that he makes redemption apply to the pronoun "us." He further shows that atonement is limited by Christ's words "I give my life" being qualified by the other words "for my sheep" and draws the conclusion that for some there is no more mercy than if there were no Saviour. (II, 366.)  This Calvinist doctrine is most explicitly seen to be Adams' in his discussion of the Covenant of Grace in his discourse upon "The Creed." Here he states that God's promise of reconciliation to raise up forlorn man from his misery is found in a covenant not with all men "but only with those to whom the free mercy of God hath given faith." (III, 205.) Here he says further: "That doctrine is repugnant to the Scripture, and unsound, which teacheth the redemption by the Second Adam to be as universal as the sin of the first; it is so, indeed, for value and sufficiency, it is not so for communication of the benefit." (III, 206.) This same thought is expressed in his treatment of a preceding portion of "The Creed" - "As the first Adam did not sin only for himself, but for all that should come after him; so the second Adam did not die at all for himself, but for all [not everybody] that should come unto him?" (III, 88) Adams finds in Christ' s words "I pray not for the world" (John 17:9) conclusive evidence for limited atonement on the grounds that redemption and intercession are related parts of Christ's mediatorship, and deduces that Christ's exclusion from his redemption follows his exclusion from his intercession. "... for whom he does not pray, he did not die: he did not open his side, if he will not open his mouth for them." (III, 208)
In summing up Adams' thought with reference to a doctrine of limited atonement, it can be said that he accepted atonement as extending in its effects generally to all men as an act of providence, and at the same time being limited in effects whereby it could be enjoyed by some and not by others as an instrument of salvation.

2019-05-09

An overlooked thesis

I have tried to gather information on academic theses concerning Thomas Adams but had so far missed this interesting 1951 thesis by T B Hoover. The interesting thing here is the more theological angle. See this page for access.

2018-06-29

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.

2018-03-29

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.

2015-10-30

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

2011-10-05

Works online


Many works by Thomas Adams can now be accessed online here