Puritanical Tuesday: Thomas Adams


Thomas Adams (1583-1652) graduated from Trinity College, Cambridge with a Bachelor of Arts in 1602 and a Master of Arts in 1606 from Clare College.  In 1604 Adams was ordained a deacon and priest in the Church of England and served many positions throughout his 69 years.

Curate (parish pastor) of Northill, Bedfordshire from 1605-1611.  Vicar of Willington, Bedfordshire in 1612-1614.  Vicar of Wingrave, Buckinghamshire in 1614-1619.  Rector of St. Benet Paul’s Wharf, St Benet Sherehog, St. Gregory’s, occasionally preaching at St. Paul’s Cross, Whitehall, while serving as Chaplain to Henry Montagu (the first Earl of Manchester) for many years.  He was a busy man employed in the service of the Church of England.  We do not know much about the last 20 years of his life simply because he never wrote anything from 1632-1652 for print.  He died in 1652 at the age of 69.

Adams was known as a powerful preacher, oft-quoted writer, and influential churchman.  He had many friends in very high places, including John Donne the Earl of Pembroke.  He had an eloquence in writing which led Robert Southey to later describe him as “the prose Shakespeare of the Puritan theologians.”  Adams was more of a Calvinistic Episcopalian himself, but held a very high regard for the Puritan lifestyle, polemics, and theology.  Another reason Thomas Adams found a home within Puritanism was due to his vehement distaste of Roman Catholicism, the papacy, and the Jesuits.  He sought to purge the Church of England from the remnants of “popery.”  This naturally put him at odds with William Laud (the archbishop of Canterbury) and would eventually lead to his inability to obtain a position within the Church for his last years.

It was 1629 when Adams organized his sermons into a large collection, which later was made into 3 volumes when printed for public sale in 1861.  Volume 1 contains his Old Testament sermons, volume 2 contains his New Testament sermons, and volume 3 contains both the rest of his New Testament sermons, meditations on the Apostles’ Creed, and a large memoir of Adams written by Joseph Argus.  Later in 1633 Adams published (what he is more well known for) a large and extensive commentary on 2 Peter.  This commentary on 2 Peter was one of Spurgeon’s favorites.  Spurgeon once said Adams double columned 900 page volume on 2 Peter was “…full of quaintness, holy wit, bright thought, and deep instruction; we know of no richer and racier reading.”  Adams works are still available today anywhere Puritan books are sold.

J.I. Packer once described Adams sermons as unambiguously Calvinistic, pastoral, lively, warm, God-centered, illuminating, filled with grace, faith, the power of Christ, and a deep vigor.  Alexander Grosart said of him: “Thomas Adams stands in the forefront of our great English preachers.  He is not as sustained as Jeremy Taylor, nor as continuously speaking as Thomas Fuller, but he is surpassingly eloquent and brilliant, and more thought-laden than either.” It is also said that the collected works of Adams had a profound influence on John Bunyan (who would soon write Pilgrim’s Progress).

Let me end this overview of Thomas Adams by quoting the man himself from his most well known magnum opus on 2 Peter.  Commenting on 2 Peter 3:9, “The Lord of not slack concerning His promise…” Adams said this: “Another cause of the Lord’s seeming slackness to deliver us for the present, is our slackness to praise Him for deliverances past.  Unthankfulness is the witch, the sorceress, whose drowsy enchantments have made us even forget God Himself.  If we forget Him, can He be blamed for slackness to remember us?”

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