John Brown on Adams

This is from John Brown's book Puritan preaching in England; a study of past and present by John Brown (1830-1922). Having spoken of William Perkins and Henry Smith he moves on to Adams

Alongside of Henry Smith, and to be accounted even greater than he as a Puritan preacher, must be placed that Thomas Adams who has been called the Shakespeare of the Puritans. Southey seems to have been the one to start the comparison when he pronounced him to be the "prose Shakespeare of Puritan theologians, scarcely inferior to Fuller in wit or to Taylor in fancy." This judgement of Southey's may be qualified and at the same time extended by saying that while Adams is not so sustained as Jeremy Taylor nor so continuously sparkling as Thomas Fuller, he is surpassingly eloquent and much more thought-laden than either. He is like Shakespeare in one thing at least; while we have his works we know extremely little about the man himself. In 1612 he was a ''preacher of God's Word at Willington," a village in Bedfordshire, four miles from Bedford town. And it may be noted by the way that a walk of twenty minutes from his vicarage door would have brought this Puritan Shakespeare to Cardington village, where, in the previous century, George Gascoigne, our earliest English satirist, was born, and that if he had extended his walk some fifteen minutes more he might have looked in at the cottage in Elstow parish where sixteen years later John Bunyan, our greatest English allegorist, first saw the light.
Adams was afterwards vicar of Wingrave in Buckinghamshire and then preacher in one or two London churches, and when we have said this we have said nearly all that can be said to purpose about the man himself. It is with his work as ''a preacher of God's Word," as he styles himself, rather than with his own personal history we are now concerned. As such we may describe him as one of the doctrinal Puritans, though he differed widely from many of the Puritans on the ecclesiastical and political questions of the time. Many of his sermons, like others of the period, were sermons on manners rather than on doctrine and lead us to think of him as a divine moralist rather than as a theologian. Yet a theologian he was, his theology being Calvinistic and Evangelical. He has a great belief that God will make that sure which we cannot make sure. He was not far wrong there, though we may not always be able to accept his way of stating this conviction of his as when he says that the Church is a number of men whom God hath set apart by an eternal decree. Still, he tempers even this when on the other side we find him saying:
"It was not one for one that Christ died, not one for many: but one for all ... and this one must needs be of infinite price."
"Some affirm," says he, "that I have made the gate of heaven too narrow, and they hope to find it wider; God and the Scriptures are more merciful. True it is that heaven-gate is in itself wide enough and the narrowness is in respect of the man who enters; and though thy sins cannot make that too little to receive thee, yet they make thee too gross and unfit to get in."
As for the preacher himself, he would have him consecrate to the service all gifts and the ripest scholarship: "Learning," says he, "as well as office, is requisite for a minister. An unlearned scribe, without his treasure of old and new, is unfit to interpret God's oracles. The priest's lips shall preserve knowledge, is no less a precept to the minister than a promise to the people."
Then, too, the life must correspond to the teaching:
"He that preaches well in his pulpit but lives disorderly out of it, is like a young scribbler: what he writes fair with his hand, his sleeve comes after and blots."
He who serves Christ must not be too eager after the applause of man:
"I do not call thee aside to ask with what applause this sermon passeth, but (it is all I would have and hear) with what benefit ? I had rather convert one soul than have a hundred praise me."
In a sermon on the Fatal Banquet to which Satan invites his guests, he has, he says, many bidders to his feast. Take a short muster of these inviters, these bidders to this banquet of vanity: they have all their several stands. In the Court he hath set Ambition to watch for base minds, that would stoop to any villainy for preferment, and to bring them to this feast. This is a principal bidder. In the Law Courts he sets inviters that beckon contention to them, and fill the world with broils. I mean the libels of the law, pettifoggers, Satan's firebrands which he casteth abroad to make himself sport, and wlio do more hurt among the barley, the commons of this land, than Samson's foxes with the fire at their tails. "Oh," says he, "that they were shipped out for Virginia, for they cannot live without making broils " - which is a little hard upon Virginia, as we cannot but think. Pride is another bidder, and keeps a shop in the city. You shall find a description of her shop and take an inventory of her wares from the prophet - "the tinkling ornaments, the cauls, and the moontires." "She sits upon the stall, and courts the passengers with a What lack ye?"
"Making a corner " in the market seems not to have been so modern an invention as we had supposed, for Adams tells us that Engrossing is another of Satan's inviters and hath a large walk; sometimes he watcheth the landing of a ship; sometimes he turns whole loads of corn besides the market. This bidder prevails with many a citizen, gentleman, farmer, and brings in infinite guests. Bribery too is an officious fellow, and a special bidder to this feast. He invites both forward and freward: the forward and yielding, by promises of good cheer, that they shall have a fair day of it; the backward honest man, by terrors and menaces that his cause shall else go westward. This kind of talk from Puritan books is now three centuries old, but I think you will feel with me there is a very modern ring about it and that it would not be much out of place even in some of the pulpits of to-day.
We remember how Shakespeare makes Hamlet exclaim, "What a piece of work is a man! how noble in reason! how infinite in faculty! in form and moving how express and admirable!" Here is an exclamation by this other Shakespeare - this Shakespeare among the Puritans, not unworthy to stand beside it. "Oh, how goodly this building of man appears when it is clothed with beauty and honour! A face full of majesty, the throne of comeliness wherein the whiteness of the lily contends with the sanguine of the rose; an active hand, an erected countenance, an eye sparkling out lustre, a smooth complexion arising from an excellent temperature and composition. Oh, what a workman was this, that could raise such a fabric out of the earth, and lay such orient colours upon dust!"
Yet on the other hand this same preacher has to pour forth his sorrowful lament that a being so nobly formed as man should yet spiritually be so insensible. "Isaiah," he says, "had not more cause for Israel than we for England to cry - 'We have laboured in vain, and spent our strength for nought.' We give God the worst of all things that hath given us the best of all things. We give God measure for measure, but after an ill manner. For His blessings 'heapen and shaken and thrust together,' our iniquities 'pressed down and yet running over.'" With his pleading words we will close our words to-day: "Come, then, beloved to Jesus Christ, come freely, come betimes. The flesh calls, we come ; vanity calls, we flock; the world calls, we fly; let Christ call early and late. He has yet to say: ' Ye will not come unto me that ye might have life.'"

Adams on Genesis 25:27 (Final bit)

1. The principal is to please God, whose displeasure against double-dealing the sad examples of Saul for the Amalekites, of Gehazi for the bribes, of Ananias for the inheritance, testify in their destruction. Whose delight in plain-dealing Himself affirms: "Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!" (John 1:17).

2. The credit of a good name, which is a most worthy treasure, is thus preserved. The riches left thee by thy ancestors may miscarry through others' negligence; the name not, save by thy own fault. It is the plain-dealer's reward, his name shall be had in estimation; whereas no faith is given to the dissembler, even speaking truth. Every man is more ready to trust the poor plain-dealer than the glittering, false-tongued gallant.

3. It prevents and infatuates all the malicious plots of enemies. God, in regard to thy simplicity, brings to nought all their machinations. Thou, O Lord, hadst respect to my simple pureness. An innocent fool takes fearless steps, and walks as securely as if it stood girt with a wall of brass.

4. It preserves thy state from ruin. When by subtlety men think to scrape together much wealth, all is but the spider's web, artificial and weak. What plain-dealing-gets, sticks by us, and infallibly derives itself to our posterity. If thou wouldst be good to thyself and thine, use plainness.

5. It shall somewhat keep thee from the troubles and vexations of the world.

6. The curses of the poor shall never hurt thee. Though the causeless curse shall never come, yet it is happy for a man so to live that all may bless him. Now the plain man shall have this at last. Gallant prodigality, like fire in flax, makes a great blaze, a hot show, but plain hospitality, like fire in solid wood, holds out to warm the poor, because God blesseth it. So I have seen hot spurs in the way gallop amain; but the ivy bushes have so stayed them, that the plain traveller comes first to his journey's end.

7. It shall be thy best comfort on thy death-bed: the conscience of an innocent life. On this staff leans aged Samuel: "Whose ox or ass have I taken?"

8. Lastly, thou shalt find rest for thy soul. Thou hast dealt plainly; so will God with thee, multiplying upon thee His promised mercies.

Adams on Genesis 25:27 (More)

I. His STRENGTH: A HUNTER. Huntingin itself is a delight lawful and laudable, and may well be argued for from the disposition that God hath put into creatures. He hath naturally inclined one 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 hart, the fox, the boar, as if he would direct a man by the finger of nature to exercise those qualities which His Divine wisdom created in them.

1. This practice of hunting hath in it delight.
2. Benefit. Recreations have also their profitable use, if rightly undertaken.
(1) The health is preserved by a moderate exercise.
(2) The body is prepared and fitted by these sportive to more serious labours, when the hand of war shall set them to it.
(3) The mind, wearied with graver employments, hath thus some cool respiration given it, and is sent back to the service of God with a revived alacrity.

1. He had a ravenous and intemperate desire. This appears from three phrases he used:
(1) "Feed me, I pray thee" (ver 30); satisfy, saturate, satiate me; or, let me swallow at once, as some read it. The words of an appetite insufferable of delay.
(2) To show his eagerness, he doubles the word for haste: "with that red, with that red pottage;" red was his colour, red was his desire. He coveted red pottage; he dwelt in a red soil, called thereon Idumea; and in the text, "therefore was his name called Edom."(3) He says, "I am faint," and (ver. 32) "at the point to die," if I have it not. Like some longing souls that have so weak a hand over their appetites, that they must die if their humour be not fulfilled.

2. His folly may be argued from his base estimation of the birthright; that he would so lightly part from it, and on so easy conditions as pottage.

3. Another argument of his folly was ingratitude to God, who had in mercy vouchsafed him, though but by a few minutes, the privilege of primogeniture; wherewith divines hold that the priesthood was also conveyed.

4. His obstinacy taxeth his folly, that, after cold blood, leisure to think of the treasure he sold, and digestion of his pottage, he repented, not of his rashness, but (ver. 34) "He did eat, and drink, and rose up, and went his way" — filled his belly, rose up to his former customs, and went his way without a Quidfeci? Therefore it is added, "he despised his birthright." He followed his pleasures without any interception of sorrow or interruption of conscience. His whole life was a circle of sinful customs; and not his birthright's loss can put him out of them.

5. Lastly, his perfidious nature appeareth, that though he had made an absolute conveyance of his birthright to Jacob, and sealed the deed with an oath, yet he seemed to make but a jest of it, and purposed in his heart not to perform it. Thus literally; let us now come to some moral application to ourselves. Hunting is, for the most part, taken in the Holy Scripture in the worst sense. So (Genesis 10:9) Nimrod was a hunter, even to a proverb; and that "before the Lord," as without fear of His majesty. Now, if it were so hateful to hunt beasts, what is it to hunt men? The wicked oppressors of the world are here typed and taxed, who employ both arm and brain to hunt the poor out of their habitations, and to drink the blood of the oppressed Herein observe —

I. The persons hunted.
II. The manner of hunting; and,
III. The hounds.

1. The poor are their prey: any man that either their wit or violence can practise on.
2. You hear the object they hunt; attend the manner. And this you shall find, as Esau's, to consist in two things — force and fraud. They are not only hunters, but cunning hunters.
3. Now for their hounds. Besides that they have long noses themselves, and hands longer than their noses, they have dogs of all sorts. Beagles, cunning intelligencers - the more crafty they are, the more commendable, Their setters, prowling promoters; whereof there may be necessary use, as men may have dogs, but they take them for mischievous purposes. Their spaniels, fawning sycophants, who lick their master's hands, but are brawling ever at poor strangers. Their great mastiffs; surly and sharking bailiffs, that can set a rankling tooth in the poor tenants' ribs. Thus I have shown you a field of hunters; what should I add, but my prayers to heaven, and desires to earth, that these hunters may be hunted? The hunting of harmful beasts is commended: the wolf, the boar, the bear, the fox, the tiger, the otter. But the metaphorical hunting of these is more praiseworthy; the country wolves, or city foxes, deserve most to be hunted.

Adams on Genesis 25:27

Two things are observable in the holy patriarchs, and commendable to all that will be heirs with them of eternal life.

1. Their contempt of the world. They that dwell in tents intend not a long dwelling in a place. They are moveables, ever ready to be transferred at the occasion and will of the inhabiter. "Abraham dwelt in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise" (Hebrews 11:9). The reason is added, "for he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God." These saints studied not to enlarge their barns, as the rich cosmopolite (Luke 12.), or to sing requiems to their souls, in the hoped perpetuity of earthly habitations. "Soul, live; thou hast enough laid up for many years." Fool! he had not enough for that night. They had no thought that their houses should continue for ever, and their dwelling-places to all generations; thereupon calling their lands after their own names (Psalm 49:11). God convinceth the foolish security of the Jews, to whom He had promised (by the Messiah to be purchased) an everlasting royalty in heaven, by the Rechabites (Jeremiah 35:7), who built no houses, but dwelt in tents, as if they were strangers, ready on a short warning for removal. The Church esteems heaven her home, this world but a tent, a tent which we must all leave, build we as high as Babel, as strong as Babylon. When we have fortified, combined, feasted, death comes with a voider, and takes away all.

2. Their frugality should not pass unregarded. Here is no ambition of great buildings; a tent will serve. How differ our days and hearts from those! The fashion is now to build great houses to our lands, till we have no lands to our houses; and the credit of a good house is made, not to consist in outward hospitality, but in outward walls.

Lowndes' British Librarian

In 19th century editions of Lowndes' British Librarian we find this entry

1166. Commentary or Exposition upon the Second Epistle of Peter, by Thomas Adams. London, 1633, foL, 84t.
The writings of Thomas Adams abound in illustrations, many of which are so far fetched and foreign to those usually employed, that his works are frequently read as much for amusement as for instruction.