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Thomas Boston

Thomas Boston

Thomas Boston was a Scottish church leader. He was educated at Edinburgh, and licensed in 1697 by the presbytery of Chirnside. In 1699 he became minister of the small parish of Simprin, where there were only 90 examinable persons.

His autobiography is a record of Scottish life, with humorous touches, intentional and otherwise. His books, The Fourfold State, The Crook in the Lot, and his Body of Divinity and Miscellanies, had a powerful influence over the Scottish peasantry. His Memoirs were published in 1776 (ed. GD Low, 1908). An edition of his works in 12 volumes appeared in 1849.

      Born in 1676, in the town of Duns, in the Border country of Scotland, Thomas Boston learned through his childhood experiences to sympathise with the Presbyterian cause. His father, John Boston, was a strong opponent of Prelacy; and for this Nonconformity, he suffered a period of imprisonment. Thomas spent at least one night in Duns jail with him "to keep him company." When James II, in 1687, gave liberty of worship to dissenters from the Established Church - which he did out of regard for his RC subjects, John Boston was not slow to avail himself of his new-found liberty. He used to wait on the ministry of Henry Erskine, the father of Ebenezer and Ralph Erskine, with whom Thomas Boston was to be so closely associated in after years in making a stand for the free offer of the Gospel. It was while attending one of these services that Thomas, then a boy of 11, was converted. He refers to the event in his Soliloquy on the Art of Man-fishing, which he published while still a young licentiate.

      After graduating from the University of Edinburgh, he was licensed as a preacher of the gospel in 1697. But he was not ordained until 1699, when he became minister of the parish of Simprin. It was there that he first preached the sermons which were later published under the title of Human Nature in its Fourfold State. Simprin was a discouraging field of service, but under his zealous ministry it became, to quote his own description, "a field which the Lord has blessed."

      In 1707, Boston was transferred to the parish of Ettrick, where he found the people sadly divided by separatism. The Cameronians, who repudiated the Revolution Settlement of 1688, stood aloof from his ministry, and, while among the parishioners generally there was much zeal for the church, there was but little vital godliness. Not until 1710, three years after his induction to Ettrick, did Boston dispense the sacrament of the Lord's Supper there; and, indeed, even after laboring for a further five years there, he concluded that all had been in vain. But when, in 1716, he received a call to Closeburn, his people at Ettrick showed the utmost anxiety at the prospect of losing their minister. But the transferral never took place. Boston stayed at Ettrick and witnessed a great work of grace in what had been a spiritual wilderness. It is noteworthy that whereas at his first dispensation of the Lord's Supper there, only some 60 persons communicated, at his last communion, in 1731, the number of participants was 777.

      It was during his Ettrick ministry that his Fourfold State was first published, and by it his ministry was extended far and wide. But the doctrinal content of those discourses had been greatly influenced by his discovery, in a humble home in Simprin, of Edward Fisher's treatise The Marrow of Modern Divinity. This little book had the effect of giving Boston a fuller insight into the grace of God as the sole cause of salvation; and it immediately "gave a tincture," as he put it, to his preaching.

      Boston was a man of scholarly attainments, a first-class Hebraist, and a theologian of such eminence that Jonathan Edwards judged him to have been "a truly great divine." Never a robust man, he had a full share of tribulation, as his Autobiography so touchingly shows. He left behind him 12 volumes of collected writings. The two books which did most to extend his ministry throughout Scotland, and even England and America, were The Crook in the lot and Human Nature in its Fourfold State.

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Thomas Boston


From Thomas Boston's "Human Nature in its Fourfold State" Section I. MAN'S LIFE IS VANITY "For I know that you will bring me to death, and to the house appointed for all living." Job 30:23. I come now to discourse of man's eternal state, into which he enters by death. Of this entrance, Job takes a s... Read More
Thomas Boston


Then He shall say unto those on the left hand, "Depart from me, you cursed ones, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels!" Matthew 25:41 INTRODUCTION Were there no other place of eternal lodging but heaven, I should here have closed my discourse of man's eternal state; but as in... Read More
Thomas Boston

Of The Providence Of God

Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? And one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father. - Matt. 10:29 Our Lord is here encouraging his disciples against all the troubles and distresses they might meet with in their way, and particularly against the fear of men, by the considerati... Read More
Thomas Boston

The Crook in the Lot - Part 1

A just view of afflicting incidents is altogether necessary to a Christian deportment under them; and that view is to be obtained only by faith, not by sense; for it is the light of the world alone that represents them justly, discovering in them the work of God, and consequently, designs becoming t... Read More
Thomas Boston

The Crook in the Lot - Part 2

Directions for rightly managing the application for removing the crook in the lot. 1. Pray for it, and pray in faith, believing that, for the sake of Jesus, you shall certainly obtain at length, and in this life too, if it is good for you; but without peradventure in the life to come. They will not ... Read More
Thomas Boston

The Crook in the Lot - Part 3

III. What it is in humbling circumstances to humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God. This is the great thing to be aimed at in our humbling circumstances. And we may take it up in these eight things. 1. Noticing God's mighty hand, as employed in bringing about everything that concerns us, eit... Read More
Thomas Boston

The Resurrection

From Thomas Boston's "Human Nature in its Fourfold State" "Marvel not at this– for the hour is coming, in which all who are in the graves shall hear his voice– and shall come forth; those who have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and those who have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnat... Read More

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