Arthur Middleton on John Woolton’s ‘The Christian Manuel I’

Anglican devotional writing goes back to John Woolton’s The Christian Manuell of 1576. An opponent of Puritanism he was consecrated Bishop of Exeter in 1579. He suffered from asthma and when advised to rest he cited the Emperor Vespasian’s words that a bishop ‘ought to die standing’. Two hours later while on his feet he dropped dead aged 58 in 1594.

The Christian Manuell was to show ‘how needefull it is for the servaunts of God to manifest and declare to the world: their faith by their deedes…and their profession by their conversation.’ He commends his readers to ‘Follow God’; and desire ‘to know, love and serve God who is the last and perfect end of true wisdom,’ which is first, to know oneself and secondly, to know God, wherein is found true felicity.

Human wisdom is insufficient to supply knowledge of God or the right way to live. In God’s light we see light and supremely in Christ the light of life. Scripture and ancient writers insist that Christ is set out as our example and rule

to follow; first, as the author and giver of forgiveness, justice, life and eternal salvation to all believers; secondly, as an example to those who in word and deed call themselves Christian. ‘Christ said and did, taught, and followed; to the end that all his scholars might learn to perform in work that which they profess in word.’ [Ibid, p. 6] This must stem from ‘not I’ but ‘Christ who liveth in me,’ through partaking of his Spirit, virtue and holiness. The Christian profession cannot be weighed by ‘tongue and talk’ but by ‘deeds and life’ as Cyprian taught that the testimony of a man’s life is more effectual than that of his tongue and that works have a more lively speech and eloquence even when the tongue is silent.

Essentially, ‘all justified men should walk in a new obedience’ hence, daily self-examination with prayer is an essential discipline. This manual is influenced by the biblical, patristic and classical sources that inform it. The test of faith is a visibly good life. Woolton cautiously suggests ‘although we are justified before God freely, without

works.. .yet the immutable will of our God is, that all justified men should walk in a new obedience, doing those works that are acceptable to God.’ His aim is to stir men to piety, virtue and holiness of life and correctly to balance faith and works. In caring for the mind and body all one’s studies and occupations should be conditioned by and referred to our concern for ‘a blessed life.. .to correct and frame manners to true religion and sincere worshipping of God.’ Without this disposition of mind we cannot be Christian, nor be assured of eternal salvation nor enjoy a quiet conscience. Christians are to be different from non-Christians.

Maintaining a healthy body by careful eating and avoiding abuse is important; ‘that we may be more ready to do our duty in our vocations and callings.’ Restraint in eating and drinking is advised ‘that our power and strength may be refreshed and not oppressed’. Excessive abstinence is discouraged because it inhibits our actions. Moderation is a necessary and commendable virtue, a certain ‘perpetual sobriety and temperancy in diet’ avoiding the over-indulgence and unrestrained living that kills. Sanity in all things is to be commended.